Jeffrey Atkins-commonly known as JA Rule, the Queens-based rapper with four platinum records under his belt and an album to be released this coming August-may be finding new ways to put his mark on the hip-hop industry.
Atkins was sentenced Monday to a little over two years in prison-for tax evasion.
"At least they're moving in the right direction," says Felicius Longtooth, an attorney in upstate New York. "Granted, this is not Mr. Rule's first run-in with the law."
Indeed, Atkins has had his fair share of legal issues over the years. The list of transgressions: an assault charge in 2003, marijuana possession in 2004, and a gun possession conviction in 2007 for which he is currently serving two years. But the added 28 month sentence for unpaid taxes from 2004-2006 will be JA's first non-violent, non-drug-related charge.
"Maybe this will jumpstart some national consciousness," says Jerome Live, CEO of BootyScrubbing Records, an independent label. "Tired of these people out here thinking all we hip-hop heads do is smoke weed and bust guns. We got class too."
One man may have issue with the claim that Atkins is the first to create ripples in rap's criminal trends: Clifford Smith a.k.a. Method Man a.k.a. Mr. Meth a.k.a. Tical a.k.a. Johnny Blaze.
"Lot of people don't know Meth started this," says a close friend of Smith who asked not to be identified. "Couple years back, he paid a stack to keep himself out [of prison] too."
Indeed Method Man-a rapper/actor who is part of the hip hop collective Wu-Tang Clan-was cited for tax evasion in 2009. In March of 2010, Mr. Smith pleaded guilty to the charge and paid a $106,000 fine.
Some fear that the claims by JA Rule's camp that he's started a trend could spark a feud between the two New-York-based rappers.
"Wouldn't be surprised if we get a couple diss records out of this," says a man listening to headphones in front of Madison Square Garden. "Could get ugly."
Others are pleading for the rappers not to let things get out of hand.
"Didn't Tupac and Biggie teach us anything?" one woman hanging her clothes outside her window cries. "JA should know better than to go around starting stuff. He can't handle it. Remember that whole thing with 50 Cent? When's it going to stop?"
With tensions on the rise and an attack imminent, the only question now is: who will emerge the self-proclaimed King of Non-Violent Criminal Charges? Only time will tell.