Review: Watching Ja Rule & Ashanti Live Sent Me Into A Tear-Inducing Timewarp Of Joy
Sydney sweats through some 2000s hip-hop classics.
Music 1y

Words by Christopher Kevin Au

On December 19, 2016 it was revealed that Ja Rule, Ashanti, Eve, Chingy and Clinton Sparks would be touring Australia together in a meeting of 2000s hip-hop immortals.

Now, just over three weeks later, we have witnessed this greatness come into fruition at the Hordern Pavilion, reminding us that du-rags are a legitimate fashion accessory and that Ja Rule is not only still alive, but he’s jacked as fuck and can still spit a verse with undeniable NYC pizazz.

We arrive at Hordern Pavilion extremely sweaty and moist, with Sydney hitting an overwhelming 38 degrees earlier in the afternoon. The uniform is basketball jerseys for the gentleman and crop tops for the ladies – I would say that it’s extremely ‘lit’ except that people didn’t say ‘lit’ in the 2000s – they didn’t even have flame emojis. Poor bastards. 2000s teens said words like ‘phat’ and ‘bling bling’ while wearing visors without a hint of irony, and it was bloody marvellous.

The merchandise available to purchase is plentiful and diverse, including a Ja Rule snapback and a shirt bearing Chingy’s website URL. My inner baller tells me to make it rain on the merch stand, but my inner financial adviser tells me that my money could be better spent on pork gyoza this weekend. Eventually, I’m pried away from the merch stand without a commemorative garment, and things only get sadder when we walk inside to realise that we have missed Chingy’s set because we spent too long eating ramen for dinner.

Shit happens, and the night soldiers on. Clinton Sparks takes over the decks and drops a lot of EDM as well as ‘What You Know’ by T.I. Seven thumbs up. Soon enough, he’s replaced by Eve’s DJ Martin 2 Smoove who drops songs from every white person’s Spotify hip-hop playlist, including ‘California Love,’ ‘Get Low’ and ‘Hypnotize’ in between a flurry of airhorns. I love airhorns! He also engages in a little hype man banter, where he asks the crowd who parties the hardest in Australia, etc etc. This is followed by his playfully teasing statement, “I hear that Adelaide is the party capital of Australia!”

Damn. While I have absolutely nothing against Adelaide – the city which gave us the GOAT Lleyton Hewitt – I have never, ever heard someone call Adelaide the party capital of Australia. Someone’s telling Martin porky pies! Anyway, I live in Sydney which has a clubbing scene on life support and a 1:30am lockout, so Adelaide is probably laughing at us right now.

Soon enough, Eve’s dancers jump onstage and begin waving a giant red flag in the air, and for a minute this feels like a relentless Communist invasion. Just when I start to panic and fear the demise of capitalism, Eve glides onstage in a sequin outfit to the immortal notes of ‘Ruff Ryders Anthem,’ looking like an angel sent from hip-hop heaven. She plays all of her quintessential jams including ‘Gangsta Lovin,’ ‘Who’s That Girl?’ and Gwen Stefani collaboration ‘Rich Girl,’ which then leads us to their more omnipresent duet, ‘Let Me Blow Ya Mind.’

At this point, I’m wishing that I got a Meet & Greet pass because I have so many questions to ask Eve about Gwen Stefani. Are No Doubt ever releasing another album together? Who’s amazing idea was it to fill the ‘Rich Girl’ video with pirates? Can my missus be one of Gwen’s Harajuku dancers even though she is Filipino? The hypotheticals and possibilities are endless.

By the time I stop daydreaming about Gwen Stefani’s future career, Eve’s enjoyable set is over. Ruff Ryders for life! During the changeover, a dramatic scuffle breaks out and security swarm a small group of punters at the front left of the dancefloor. One of the security guards looks like Goldberg – I’m waiting for him to spear someone through the emergency exit doors and back to the days of WCW, but that never happens.

The lights dim and soon enough, Ja Rule and Ashanti – the backbone of Murder Inc and certified 2000s chart dominators – stroll onstage for their joint R. Kelly collaboration ‘Wonderful.’ For the next hour, they trade places onstage to perform their respective solo hits, and they both have plenty to choose from. I spend five minutes wondering where Irv Gotti is but then I forget about it.

Ja Rule blazes through everything from ‘Thug Lovin’ to ‘Clap Back’ to ‘Livin It Up’ to my personal favourite Big Apple anthem, ‘New York.’ The crucial ‘I’m Real’ remix even gets a run, where the crowd (including me) fills in for Jennifer Lopez with lacklustre harmonisation but commendable spirit. Two gold stars for effort. Basically, Jeffrey Atkins spits everything you want and more.

Meanwhile, Ashanti spends her time gyrating onstage in a leather miniskirt and it’s actually heaps mad. She delivers ballads galore and some acapella segments to show that she really can give the vocal chords a workout – ‘Rock Wit U,’ ‘Baby’ and ‘The Way That I Love You’ all have the crowd swaying, while the entire venue engages in a mass singalong for the unforgettable ‘Foolish.’ So many feelings for this GOAT R&B anthem.

Then, the real magic happens at the end of the set – Ja Rule and Ashanti joining forces for ‘Always On Time’ and ‘Mesmerize,’ which sends me into a tear-inducing timewarp of joy. The onstage chemistry is undeniable, and for a few minutes this really does feel like high school again: Back to the days of discmans, Travel 10s and baggier pants. What a time to be alive, discmans were so phat! After that, the night ends and Ja Rule yells for a few minutes with no music playing.

While Murder Inc’s fall from the mainstream may have been less graceful than some of their other 2000s counterparts, there was nobody that could craft a catchy crossover hip-hop collaboration like Ja Rule and Ashanti. While tonight’s set could have flowed a little more smoothly – the downtempo ballad/emo rap song/ballad arrangement meant that the performance became briefly sluggish – it was filled with brilliant flashes of nostalgia and plenty of heart.

Yes, Ja Rule’s voice is still sounds like gravel and Ashanti can still pull those heartstrings. Some things haven’t changed since the 2000s, and we don’t mind that at all.

January 12, 2017
Editors Pick