JA RULE; "Venni Vetti Vecci"; Def Jam; ** 1/2

This former member of the underground rap crew Cash Money Click got his big break last year with an appearance on Jay-Z's bouncy "Can I Get a . . . " single, a radio hit that was included on both Jay-Z's Grammy-winning "Vol. 2 . . . Hard Knock Life" album and the "Rush Hour" soundtrack. Subsequent collaborations with DMX and others have created an enormous street buzz for the husky-voiced, hard-core New York rapper.

On his debut (due Tuesday), Ja Rule sticks largely to current rap lyric staples--confrontational rhymes about the inferiority of other rappers and his own sexual prowess. He veers from this path on the touching "Daddy's Little Baby" and the venomous "Only Begotten Son," two tracks that offer a glimpse into his personal life. A solid but unspectacular writer, Ja Rule benefits from his edgy voice and the spectacular instrumentation that backs him, as exemplified on his current "Holla Holla" single.

Producers Irv Gotti, Self, Tyrone Fyffe and others keep their beats spare, with pounding drums, undulating bass lines and wicked synthesizer tweaks serving as the foundation for soundscapes that contain as much bounce as bite.


Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).

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