I’ve spent the last few years telling anyone who will listen that Ludacris is one of the best rappers alive, maybe even better than Jay-Z. Almost everyone thinks I’m crazy. I’d insist that if you factored in his dynamic delivery, unbelievable consistency and sheer volume of work (his guest features alone are better than most rapper’s careers), he’s absolutely in the top three. As hard as I tried, every argument ended the same way: someone would play the “classic album” card, and I’d be done for. If only Ludacris could release a truly classic album, …
DJBooth Album Review
Luda and I must think alike, because even though he’s the top-selling Southern rapper ever, he spent his last album Release Therapy demonstrating his more serious side, winning a Grammy for his efforts. His campaign to earn some well-deserved respect continues with his latest effort Theater Of The Mind, but while the album showcases his range as an artist like never before, it unfortunately still falls short of classic. Theater has lofty goals as a concept album – it was conceived of as a musical movie - but ultimately it feels more like a collection of unrelated scenes than a singular masterpiece. (By comparison, American Gangster was a more cohesive and cinematic album.) I was hoping for an album that would settle the “just how good is Luda?” debate once and for all. Looks like the controversy will continue.
Ludacris became famous for his raunchy and punch line-heavy flow on What’s Your Fantasy, a tradition that proudly continues on Theater Of The Mind. One More Drink is exactly the kind of catchy R&B single that he’s built his empire on. At this point Luda could make tracks like this in his sleep, and the decent but not great Drink sounds like it, right down to T-Pain’s relatively auto-tune chorus. Much better is the up-tempo What Them Girls Like, a speaker shaking track that will have booties poppin' from coast to coast, especially with an appearance from the increasingly grown Chris Brown. If these tracks were movies – and I’d throw Nasty Girl into this category - they’d be comedies like American Pie or the kind of softcore porn HBO shows late at night; enjoyable in moderation, but you can only watch some many times before it gets boring.
By contrast Theater Of The Mind takes a decidedly action movie turn, with the usually fun-loving Luda seemingly determined to join T.I. on house arrest on a weapons possession charge. Speaking of which, Ludacris and The King officially end their ridiculous beef on Wish You Would, by far the grimiest track on Theater. While T.I.’s arrest record make his hard talk believable, Luda wisely chooses to concentrate more on his bank roll than his arsenal. On a similar tip is Call Up The Homies, the kind of track that sounds good in theory, but doesn’t work in practice as Game and Luda just don’t have good chemistry. It’s the same story on Southern Gangster, Theater’s attempt at a musical gangster movie. Luda’s a legitimately good actor, but even he can’t convincingly pull off playing the action hero.
The finishing stretch of Theater Of The Mind is what I’m calling Ludacris’ Hip-Hop Masterpiece Theater, four straight tracks designed to win over anyone still hesitant to take him seriously as an MC. The most obvious examples of Luda’s musical mission for respect have a surprisingly east-coast underground feel. MVP surprisingly uses a Premier beat to demonstrates Luda’s lyrical range, and Do The Right Thang brings together some 9th production and a Common verse for Luda to flex socially conscious side. They’re both dope tracks, but in the end it comes down to I Do It For Hip-Hop, the track that was supposed to be incontrovertible proof Luda’s every line the rapper Nas and Jay are. Luda definitely goes toe to toe with the two New York heavyweights on Hip-Hop, but it’s not his best work, which ironically comes on high-energy bangers like the devastatingly banging and decidedly Southern Last Of A Dying Breed.
I don’t usually do this, but let me close with a brief address hip-hop nation. Listen, if you rate MCs based entirely on how much they sound like Biggie, than I feel sad for you. While you’re busy counting all the ways Theater Of The Mind isn’t as good as Reasonable Doubt, I’ll be enjoying one of the most original and prolific rappers to ever grab a mic. Ludacris is in my top-five, and I’ll go to my grave arguing he deserves to be there.
DJBooth Rating - 4.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 11/23/08
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