Simon Vozick-Levinson
July 13, 2007 AT 04:19 AM EDT

The heavens parted. A torrential downpour pounded the Earth’s surface without mercy. And then, like a vision, he appeared: the one, the only Ja Rule. All kidding aside, there was something appropriate about the apocalyptic weather that surrounded my encounter with the Queens rapper last night. Ja hasn’t released an album in three long years, and many assumed that his career had been effectively terminated by his 2002-2003 dustup with a then-invincible 50 Cent. But anything can change given enough time: 50’s most recent singles have been commercial disappointments, and, meanwhile, Ja has crept back onto the radio with his furious new cut “Uh Oh,” a collaboration with New Orleans’ Lil Wayne. Wayne and the resurgent Ja spent yesterday traveling around New York City, shooting the “Uh Oh” video; I met up with them on the Harlem block where they planned to wrap up the day’s filming.

The aforementioned thunderstorm delayed the shoot for a solid three hours, so I sought shelter in Ja’s warm, fragrant tour bus, where he was relaxing with longtime associate Irv Gotti and a few other pals. Ja was in high spirits, eager to talk about the “refreshing, brand new” vibe of his latest work. But he was also surprisingly willing to talk about the career setbacks he’s faced. His new album, due this September or October, is called The Mirror: “I was actually looking in the mirror and it hit me. I looked at myself and said, ‘Yo, Rule, this is your moment of truth.’ I gotta let [fans] know what it felt like — what Ja, the artist, the man, the father, the husband, was going through.” And what was his vision for the “Uh Oh” video? “It’s going to look like organized confusion.” Meaning…? (Note: I’m about 80% sure he didn’t mean Organized Konfusion, the acclaimed ’90s backpack rap duo, but no promises.) “It’s gonna be real intense,” Ja explained, “a lot of light and camera tricks. Me and Weezy got a lot of energy when we’re in front of that camera.”

Leaving the bus, I noticed that the hoodied guy strolling past me was, in fact, Lil Wayne (a.k.a. Weezy F. Baby) himself; a sizable crowd of passersby soon made the same realization and scrambled to whip out their camera phones. It wasn’t hard to understand their excitement.Wayne released his solo debut in 1999, the same year as Ja’s, so he’s hardly a newcomer — but in the last year he’s been on an extraordinary hot streak, releasing an enormous volume of uniformly stunning material. Not for nothing, he is often dubbed today’s best rapper alive (by himself, myself, and many others). Turns out he’s a pretty dope lip-syncher, too: As soon as the tape started rolling, he began flailing to the beat and acting out his lyrical similes like a player in the world’s sickest game of “Charades.”

Soon Ja ran out to join him. They made quite the dashing pair in their matching all-black outfits, Wayne’s regal dreads next to Ja’s smooth dome. Take after frenetic take, they mugged wildly under the floodlights, alone or together, as various portions of “Uh Oh” blasted into the night. In between they swigged liberally from their thirst-quenching beverages of choice — a styrofoam cup of indeterminate contents for Weezy, a bright-orange flagon of something called”Nutcracker Tropical Fruit Liqueur” for Ja. Gotti presided over the whole scene, hunched near a live monitor and bellowing instructions (“Stay static!” “Do that again!”) at his stars. It was well after 10 the time I made my exit, and I got the feeling that Ja and Wayne weren’t leaving the premises any time soon; hopefully whatever I missed will turn up on YouTube before long.

So, PopWatchers, are you looking forward to seeing “Uh Oh” inaction? If you look closely, you might even see the blurred outline of your humble blogger in the corner of the frame! (Probably not, though.) Any other thoughts on Ja Rule’s career rebirth?

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