Craig Seymour
October 19, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Ja rules! The New York City bred hip hopper and sometime actor (September’s ”Turn It Up”) Ja Rule takes the top spot on Billboard’s album chart this week by selling 275,000 copies of his second album ”Rule 3:36.” But the Ja man better watch out. There are two other rappers on his hit making heels: Nelly (No. 2) and Mystikal (No. 3). Rockers Creed jump four spots to No. 4 on the strength of their radio hit ”Are You Ready?” And 98 Degrees — the little boy band that couldn’t… debut at No. 1 ?- use their brawny biceps to hold at No. 5 after three underwhelming weeks on the chart.

Faring far better, of course, is chart topper Ja Rule, whose album sales are being fueled by the radio smash ”Between You and Me.” But scoring such a hit wasn’t a sure thing for the rapper whose raspy voice and thuggish lyrics have sometimes met resistance from radio music directors. ”We worked hard on this single to make sure that people couldn’t use excuses not to play Ja Rule,” says Kevin Liles, president of Ja’s label, Def Jam. One key move: using female vocalist (and Def Soul artist) Christina Milian to croon a sweet, melodic hook on the song. ”It’s edgy but not too risky for radio,” says Liles. ”It’s very sing alongish.” And music directors agree. ”It’s our No. 2 most requested record,” says Lisa Lisa, of WKYS-FM in Washington D.C. ”It’s a great song because it has street appeal and also a feminine touch.” E-Man of L.A.’s Power 106 concurs: ”Females especially love it, because it’s easier to listen to than his other stuff.”

Ja’s top o’ the charts debut marks the second time Def Jam has scored a No. 1 album in the past five weeks. (LL Cool J’s ”The Greatest of All Time” hit the top spot in mid September.) And it’s a much needed win for the Universal Music Group — comprised of such labels as Island/ Def Jam, Interscope, and Motown — which recently experienced two major blows: the disappointing 98 Degrees sales and this week’s surprisingly low No. 13 debut of the Wallflowers’ new album, ”Breach,” which has yet to yield a hit. ”Rock has gotten much harder since their last record,” explains Dan Fein, music director of Philly’s Y100, citing rap metal acts like Limp Bizkit and Papa Roach. ”We have a saying around here that it’s a ‘Nookie’ world and we’re just living in it.”

Rounding out the top 10 are some familiar faces: Madonna (No. 6), Baha Men (No. 7), 3 Doors Down (No. 8), and Eminem, who moves up two places to No. 9 after spending his first week out of the top 10 since ”The Marshall Mathers LP” came out in May. At the 10 spot are the great hopes of alt rock, Radiohead, who debuted at No. 1 last week with their experimental and un radio friendly ”Kid A.” Wonder if it’s too late for them to throw some female vocals on a track?

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