Beg for Mercy (Interscope)

Little Louie Vega Wish, 621 Johnson Avenue 10 p.m. Friday, November 21, 216-902-WISH
Bloodied repeatedly at the hands of 50 Cent, Ja Rule should find some small redemption in his rival's latest project. After all, wasn't it 50 who called Ja a pop-loving wanksta? Who claimed Ja would "do anything to sell a record"? Who continues the assault on the debut from his group G-Unit, right down to the final track ("I Smell Pussy"), which pretty much speaks for itself?

The Ja vs. 50 dispute was a dubious argument to begin with, since the only real difference between the two is those nine bullet wounds 50 constantly brags about getting. After deposing Ja as the king of hip-pop, 50 rode the same radio-friendly hooks straight up the charts. And with Beg for Mercy, the distance between the two has become nonexistent.

But the real problem here isn't hypocrisy; it's an affliction more common to posse records. On his own, 50 has the thuggish charisma to overcome pedestrian lyrics; saddled with the equally average Banks and the Cash Money leftover Young Buck, it's a different story. Even with help from Dr. Dre and Eminem, the boilerplate about rims, rhymes, and ice simply overwhelms a decent collection of sinister funk. When your most inspired verses are a thug reworking of "Footprints," last seen mounted in a plaque at your dentist's office, it's time for a truce with Ja.

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