Ja Rule and Ashanti Want To Be Your Valentine, Also Relevant Again

The prom king and queen of 2001 have returned.  (Stephen Lovekin / Getty Images)

Romance in the digital age is notoriously complicated: People say things to each other online they wouldn't in person; then there's the ever-present possibility that the nice dude you met on an app will turn out to be a violent lunatic or worse in real life.

All in all, it's almost enough to make you nostalgic for the late '90s to early aughts, amirite? A time when you asked out your crush by passing them a note in AP Bio. Or maybe you copy/pasted some emo lyrics expressing your feelings for them as your AIM away message?

If you were really lucky, said object of desire might go with you to the Spring Fling -- where, between the years of 1999 and 2006, you would probably find yourself getting down to at least one Billboard-charting, Irv Gotti-produced R&B banger. And for a few years there, more likely than not, one of those songs featured Ja Rule or Ashanti or both.

Well, fire up that old instant messaging client, bust out your sparkly belly button ring, and head on down to 1015 Folsom this Valentine's Day weekend, where the onetime star racehorses in hip-hop label Murder Inc.'s stable have already sold out a show on Sunday, Feb. 14. Demand was so high for this leg of their so-called Natural Born Killers tour, in fact, that the venue announced a second show (on Monday, Feb. 15) just this morning. Tickets go on sale this Friday, Feb. 5 at 10 am.

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But why, one might ask, if one were not between the ages of 13 and 21 in the year Y2K, why on Earth is anyone excited about this?

Suffice it to say, there's no real contemporary equivalent to this rapper-and-R&B-crooner duo. It may help to emphasize that there was a time in this country when anything Ja Rule touched with his signature flow -- and by signature I mean it sounded like Cookie Monster gargling sandpaper in between bong rips for the duration of a court-mandated anger management session -- turned to stacks of cash. His reign also coincided with a golden age for the music video as a medium, as the Grease homage below can help underscore.

Ashanti, for her part, is well-known by those in the industry as a gifted songwriter, while her voice is sweet beyond sweet. But she was primarily packaged for listeners as the bad-guy rappers' kid sister, "the princess of hip-hop and R&B," the soft, feminine half of the call-and-response hooks on songs like Fat Joe's "What's Luv."

She was also poised, at one time, to be a legit superstar: After playing second fiddle for several years, Ashanti's 2002 self-titled debut hit the Billboard charts at No. 1, in large part thanks to "Foolish." From 2002 to 2003, she won eight Billboard Awards, two American Music Awards, two Soul Train Music Awards and a Grammy.

And then?

Then she started dating Nelly, and Murder Inc. got investigated by the FBI for (allegedly) running on actual murder and drug money; her third, fourth, and fifth records didn't do so well. She dabbled in acting, but by 2014 she was on the county fair circuit with Eddie Money.

Okay, so that's a condensed and possibly biased version of the story, but it's true that her Wikipedia entry is full of sad sentences like this: "A second single, the ballad 'Don't Let Them,' garnered little chart success after Def Jam refused to fund a music video due to Irv Gotti's legal troubles during his money laundering trial."

What I'm trying to say here is: Ashanti was awesome. Ashanti kinda got the shaft. But Ashanti is back, y'all -- at least she's trying to be.

In November of 2015, the singer quietly released a new pop single called "Let's Go," the first off a full-length that's supposedly forthcoming this year. You can see the video for it -- and the only slightly awkward "drink more water" campaign tie-in with Michelle Obama's Partnership for a Healthier America -- at DrinkUpAshanti.com. Said website encourages fan interaction by telling viewers to "rehydrate" the new tune, and also includes the disclaimer: "Do not throw actual water on the video."

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Ja Rule, meanwhile, after beefing with 50 Cent and like 4000 other people, serving time for gun possession, and writing a memoir, premiered an MTV reality show in 2015 called Follow the Rules. He also keeps saying he has an album coming.

Time will tell what the future holds for this pair in terms of an actual return to cultural relevance. For now, it seems both Ashanti and Ja Rule still have enough marketing savvy in the tank to know when they need each other -- when, exactly, it would be foolish not to team up for a weird-sounding film collaboration and accompanying national reunion tour.

In other words, you can't blame 'em: the time was simply right for the prom king and queen of 2001 to cash in on their former selves -- to unironically celebrate, at the very least, a few golden, well-produced years in the sun.

And from the speed with which these shows are selling out, it looks like a lot of us are happy to help them do just that.

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