01/13/2003 at 01:00 AM EST
It's not that Ja Rule doesn't understand wife Aisha's anxiety. "She loves Jeffrey," says the hip-hop star, referring to his given name, Jeffrey Atkins. "It's Ja Rule that worries her sometimes—rapping about sex and drugs, the girls in the videos. It's my job!" Still, he says, "I try not to stress her out. And she keeps as short a leash on me as she can."
He's not complaining. Although proud of his newly released fourth album, The Last Temptation
, two recent hit singles ("Always On Time" with Ashanti and "I'm Real" with Jennifer Lopez
) and a starring film role in November's Half Past Dead
, Rule, 26, seems more excited about the next date on his schedule: A third child with 26-year-old Aisha, whom he married in 2001, is due in April. Meanwhile he's "the lenient parent" to Britney, 6, and Jeffrey Jr., 2. "My family is what it's all about," he says.
Family values rule at work too. Despite his bad-attitude image, "he's gracious, sweet and sincere," says Dead
director Don Michael Paul. "He was very open to learning and was always there for the other actors."
Raised in Queens by single mom Debra, 46, a retired nurse, he dropped out of school in 11th grade and sold drugs. "When you're young, you're stupid to a lot of things in life," he says. But he stopped dealing when Britney was born, and got serious about rap. His 1999 debut album, Venni Vetti Vecci
, went platinum. He plans to stop recording after completing one more album and focus on films. His goal? "As long as I'm sitting on $100 million by the time I'm 35," says Rule, "I'll be happy."