US rap star Ja Rule today agreed to go to prison for two years in a gun case, becoming the second platinum-selling rapper set to do time after arrests in the aftermath of a star-studded hip-hop concert in July 2007.
The rapper-actor - whose gravelly voice, thuggish tough talk and duets with R&B divas made him one of rap's biggest stars in the early 2000s - pleaded guilty to attempted criminal possession of a weapon.
Superstar Lil Wayne was arrested separately the same night and later pleaded guilty to the same charge.
Speaking in a low voice, Ja Rule said nothing beyond "guilty" and "yes" to a Manhattan judge's questions as he admitted to a charge that involved attempting to have a loaded gun outside one's home or workplace.
Police said they found a loaded .40-calibre semi-automatic gun in a rear door of his car after it was stopped for speeding.
His plea deal promises the 34-year-old rapper a two-year prison term compared to the 15-year stint he could have faced if convicted of the original gun charges. He remains free until his sentencing.
"This isn't a good day," Ja Rule said as he headed to a waiting vehicle, waving to some fans who recognised him behind his dark sunglasses. His lawyer, Stacey Richman, declined to comment.
He's due in court on February 9 to set a date for his sentencing.
"Because of your guilty plea here today, you'll have a record of having committed a violent felony. This is a very serious matter," Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Richard Carruthers told him.
Ja Rule is the latest in a series of big-name rappers poised for incarceration, a line-up that has raised questions about the line between art and reality in a genre rife with tales of gang life.
Hip-hop stars including Tupac Shakur, Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Shyne, Mystikal, Gucci Mane and TI have been in prison for periods ranging from months to years. Lil Wayne spent eight months in a New York City jail earlier this year.
He and Ja Rule were stopped, separately, after leaving the Beacon Theatre on July 22, 2007. Lil Wayne had just headlined a show there featuring other rappers including Ja Rule; the two had recently joined forces on a single called 'Uh Oh'.
About an hour after Ja Rule's car was pulled over, Lil Wayne's tour bus was stopped about a mile away. He admitted last year that he had a loaded semi-automatic .40-calibre gun on the bus.
Lil Wayne, 28, was sentenced in March to a year in jail, gaining early release last month because of time off for good behaviour.
Under state prison policies, Ja Rule might be able to shave up to six months off his sentence by meeting behaviour and other requirements.
Ja Rule's road manager and uncle, Dennis Cherry, and the artist's driver, Mohamed Gamal, were arrested with him. Cherry has pleaded not guilty to weapon-possession charges and is due back in court next week. Gamal has since died.
Ja Rule, born Jeffrey Atkins, scored a Grammy Award nomination in 2002 for the best rap album with 'Pain Is Love'. He also has appeared in movies, including the 2001 film 'The Fast And The Furious' and 2003's 'Scary Movie 3'.