When the brass at Gotham-based Def Jam Records decided to throw a party for two of their most recent hip-hop success stories — Queens native Ja Rule and Atlanta’s Ludacris — they couldn’t resist celebrating their good fortune in Los Angeles, providing just another not-so-subtle reminder that East Coast rap records continue to outperform their Left Coast counterparts.
At the very sold out and VIP-heavy House of Blues Tuesday — anybody who’s anybody is in town for the Soul Train Awards — the two headlining rappers, with help from plenty of guest vocalists, offered uneven and short sets that concentrated on their many hits but failed to prove that either of them has the skills to sustain truly meaningful careers.
Ludacris — who records for Def Jam South — has been featured on a number of high-profile collaborative singles over the last year; however, when the HOB stage lights shined on him, he was less than impressive, with weak content, monochromatic vocal delivery and an overall uninspired perf.
He vocalized enthusiastically on how much he loves money, women, guns and weed, but he failed to justify his mega-sales with anything resembling originality or true insight, and he was unable to sustain the crowd’s enthusiasm throughout his entire set. He received a plaque from Def Jam at gig’s end boasting of sales of more than 5 million copies of his “Word of Mouf” disc.
Ja Rule, sporting his trademark black head bandana, was more engaging in his closing turn by virtue of his exceedingly magnetic personality and distinctive deep voice — though he too suffers from a lack of significant lyrical material. “Livin’ It Up,” from his 2001 hit album “Pain Is Love,” was a smart and raucous opening number that finally set the house in motion, although Ja Rule’s vocal flow wasn’t always that impressive.
Highlight of the set was a duet with Ashanti on the popular track “Always on Time.”
Disappointing was the closing tease version of the 1999 track “It’s Murda” as Ja Rule was handed an award for selling more than 7 million copies of “Pain Is Love.” He then ran off the stage as his entourage baited the crowd.
A short opening slot featured such performers as Beanie Sigel, the Roc and Freeway doing tracks from the “State Property” (Roc-A-Fella Records) soundtrack, including the hit “Roc the Mic.” Rapper and Roc-A-Fella co-CEO Jay-Z, accompanied by no less than four bodyguards, took the stage as well, but despite being egged on by the rowdy aud, he didn’t perform but simply strutted around.