R.U.L.E.

Ja Rule

For at least half a decade, Ja Rule has been selling the idea that every thug needs a lady. Somebody should have advised him long ago to get a sense of humor, too.

The Queens rapper's latest disc, "R.U.L.E.," is a stinker in the same way that every Ja Rule disc is a stinker: He takes himself so seriously that it becomes difficult to take him seriously at all.

Never mind the formulaic duets with chirpy R&B babes (it's Ashanti and Claudette Ortiz this time) or the endless dissections of life as an embattled hip-hop star. Those elements are just bland or predictable. He doesn't wrestle with any real demons -- he merely borrows them, ad nauseam, from gangsta rap's stockpile. The synth-heavy single "New York" puts it all on display. While Ja lazily rants about his ability to acquire and use semiautomatic firearms, the song's guest stars do the work of slinging actual wordplay. Fat Joe flicks a jab at boxer Roy Jones Jr., and Jadakiss raps about being "in the hood like them little motorcycles / stickup kids hoppin' out with them old rifles." He sounds tuned in. Ja doesn't.

The rest of the disc is a succession of slick, radio-ready hooks (R. Kelly and Kelly wannabe Lloyd also get cameos) combined with typically growly, singsongy musings from Ja. His recent long-distance jousting with Eminem and 50 Cent obviously had no lasting effect: Instead of trying to freshen up his game, Ja sticks with Plan A on "R.U.L.E.," and it's a simple plan indeed.

-- Joe Warminsky

On R.U.L.E., the rapper takes himself a

little too S.E.R.I.O.U.S.L.Y.