NEW YORK – Ja Rule headed to prison Wednesday for up to two years in a gun case, bidding a stoic but upbeat farewell-for-now to family and fans at a New York courthouse.
The multiplatinum-selling rapper and actor — whose gravelly voice, thuggish tough talk and duets with R&B divas made him one of rap's stars in the early 2000s — signed autographs for fans on his way to be sentenced. He pleaded guilty in December to attempted criminal weapon possession; the case stemmed from gun found in his luxury sports car in July 2007.
"See y'all later," he told family and friends in the courtroom audience as he was handcuffed.
"Love you!" called the group, which included his wife, Aisha, and his mother and mother-in-law.
Dressed in a white T-shirt, gray pants and a gray hooded sweat shirt, he replied, "Love you, too."
With that, Ja Rule, 35, was led away to start serving his sentence. He'll briefly be in a city jail before heading to a state prison yet to be determined.
He also faces the possibility of a federal prison sentence for failing to pay taxes on more than $3 million in income; he pleaded guilty to that in March. He faces up to three years in prison in that case, though his will push for any prison time in that case to be served at the same time as his New York term.
His sentencing in the tax case has been set for Monday. But it will likely be postponed to later in the summer, said his lawyer, Stacey Richman.
In the meantime, Ja Rule heads to prison with an album on the way and, he has said, plans to write and otherwise keep busy behind bars.
"Out on my patio having my last free moment," he tweeted before heading to court.
"I love all my fans," he added. "Pain is love!!!"
Born Jeffrey Atkins, Ja Rule emerged as a hardcore rapper in the late 1990s but then became known for his collaborations with female pop singers, including Jennifer Lopez and Ashanti. He scored a best rap album Grammy Award nomination in 2002 with "Pain Is Love" and has sold nearly 20 million albums during his career.
He also has appeared in more than a dozen movies, including the 2001 film "The Fast and the Furious" and 2003's "Scary Movie 3."
He now is also the latest in a long line of prominent rappers to do time. The list includes Lil Wayne, who was arrested separately on a gun charge the same night as Ja Rule after a show they both played at Manhattan's Beacon Theatre. Lil Wayne also pleaded guilty to attempted criminal weapon possession and spent about eight months of last year in a city jail.
Police said they stopped Ja Rule's $250,000-plus Maybach sports car for speeding and found a loaded .40-caliber semiautomatic gun in a rear door. The gun wasn't registered, and he was charged under a New York law that generally bars people from having firearms outside their homes or workplaces.
"He stood up and took responsibility for everything," Richman said.
Ja Rule said Monday on Fox 5's "Good Day New York" that "I try not to regret anything I do in life, because you go through life and you do things, and you man up to them."
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said the rapper's sentence "should put all illegal gun owners in New York on notice."
Ja Rule's road manager and uncle, Dennis Cherry, and the artist's driver, Mohamed Gamal, were arrested with him. Gamal died before his case was resolved. Cherry's was closed without jail time after he met various conditions.
Originally from Queens, Ja Rule now lives in Upper Saddle River, N.J., with his wife — whom he has known since high school — and children, 15, 11 and 9.
He spent the final days before his prison term putting finishing touches on his next album, "Pain Is Love 2," expected out in late July or early August, manager Ron Robinson said.
"Toward the end, he had new songs that he was passionate about," the manager said. Thinking about his impending prison term "turned up a lot of feelings for him."
Ja Rule had some previous brushes with the law, including pleading guilty to assault for punching someone at a Toronto nightclub in 2004. He was fined $1,200. He said he was provoked by a crowd shouting derogatory remarks about his feud with rapper 50 Cent, who had derided him in songs and interviews.
Ja Rule recently told TMZ.com he plans to keep busy behind bars by writing a book, getting his GED and possibly taking up the guitar.
"I'm gonna try to make good of my time while I'm inside," he said.
Ja Rule might be able to get out in as little as 18 months by meeting requirements for good behavior and other standards.
"See you in 18," he told reporters and fans on his way into court. "One love."