Ja Rule and Cam'ron aren't particularly distinguished gangsta rappers. But at their best, they're irresistible pop stars whose ideal medium is the three-minute single, the guilty pleasure that sounds terrific in clubs or booming out of passing cars, but doesn't inspire much contemplation. So why, for the love of 2Pac, do R.U.L.E. and Purple Haze, Rule and Cam'ron's latest albums, each run over 70 minutes long? Chances are it's mostly a matter of hedging bets. After all, the more songs on an album, the better the chances that one will hit. To its credit, R.U.L.E. contains a knockout single in "New York," a swaggering East Coast anthem dominated by sinister synths straight out of The Warriors and magnetic guest turns from ringers Fat Joe and Jadakiss. Then again, the song's production and guest spots are so strong that they render Rule's verse irrelevant. (Hell, replace it with another from Joe or Jadakiss, and the song would actually improve.)

Ja Rule has always been the kind of blatant 2Pac worshipper who hoists himself up on the cross, then whines that people are out to crucify him. Taking 2Pac's tortured-thug persona to comical extremes, Rule falls into a lazy default mode of overwrought melodrama, which can be amusing in small doses, but becomes exhausting when stretched to album length, especially when joined to anonymous production, irritating skits, and the kind of raspy shower-stall warbling that 50 Cent adroitly pegged as sounding suspiciously like Cookie Monster.

Just as "New York" renders Rule irrelevant, Cam'ron's breakthrough hit "Oh Boy" boasted a cotton-candy beat so maddeningly infectious that it rendered Cam'ron and Juelz Santana's rhymes superfluous. Alas, rappers who live by the blatant crossover ploy die by it as well, and the much-delayed Purple Haze essentially arrived in stores D.O.A., thanks to a series of non-starting singles and "Girls," a bizarre semi-cover of "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" distinguished solely by its stunning miscalculation. Like most pop gangstas, Cam'ron is only as good as the beats behind him. Fortunately, he's embraced Roc-A-Fella's hyper-soul in-house production style, with its ecstatic, sped-up samples and glistening beats. Too bad his lyrics remain nursery-rhyme simple. Cam'ron boasts a certain belligerent charisma, but with the exception of two fine Kanye West productions and "Dope Man," an homage to West Coast G-funk built around the wiggling synths of "Funky Worm," Purple Haze lumbers drearily through a sea of gangsta-rap clichés. Ja Rule and Cam'ron can keep on putting out hideously bloated would-be magnum opuses all they like, but that doesn't mean that anybody already privy to their finest moments on Top 40 radio should waste money on them.

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