Some people are great flashes of light and their flash in the pan careers achieve great heights before fizzling out into mediocrity. Ludacris isn’t one of those people. His albums, the first seven of them were mostly ratchet affairs before there was a term for it, an outpost between crunk and heartfelt hips, toes and waists moving, wit and introspection. But, to fast forward for just a second, at the release party of his eighth studio album Ludaversal he said this about waiting four long years between albums, “When you hear my voice and you hear the aggression and you hear the hunger that’s what Ludaversal is all about. My Def Jam family… I feel like this is a rebirth.” He’d then go on to make a declaration of sorts, “To me this is album number one. I love all those accolades, but there will never be a time where I wait four years to drop an album.” The crowd went up in “Woo!” and clapping, but as the dust settled Luda’ looked a bit forlorn. If this was the mountain he was truly choosing to climb again, he’d made it really hard on himself already by the count of his previous success, and the game has changed significantly since the days of “Fantasy,” and “Move Bitch.” But let’s take a second to start at the beginning.
From Incognegro With Love
Ludacris’ government name is Christopher Brian Bridges as well know, and he was born in Champaign, Illinois, but it’s his second home that made him possible: Atlanta, Georgia. Everyone knows he began as a DJ on Atlanta’s 97.5, and the platform eventually lent him the ear of Timbaland who’s ridiculous production work on “Phat Rabbit” helped launch his career. That song would eventually end up on his independently released debut Incognegro, and he shot like a cannon out into the then 2000s landscape, locally, that is. It’s said that Luda’ and his team at DTP sold over 50 thousand records out of his trunk. The very next year would see the twin towers fall and change the New York City skyline forever, but in the south, in the gaping wake of the OutKast breakup, and just before Lil Jon’s version of Memphis “crunk” music would help make Atlanta the new geographic center of Hip Hop, he would be scooped up by Def Jam’s very own Kevin Liles. In a comment to Forbes, Lile’s described the rapper this way, “Nobody believed in Ludacris, so Ludacris put out his own album; you can’t get more businessman than that. He’s engaging, he’s personable. That right there was part of his foundation to be in different businesses. Because to be diversified in business, you have to be a diversified person.” And being a diversified person was what “Chris Lova Lova” was about.
That first official Def Jam release (a repackaged version of Incognegro with a few upgrades like Neptunes production and a remix of “Phat Rabbit”) went on to sell over three million records worldwide, ushering in the age of the Luda’ (shouts, screams, yells, whatever), and making a clean break from 90s east coast rap dominance both in theme and in performance. For all of its luster, only the likes of DMX, Jay Z, Meth and Red, and a young Eminem were truly selling records on the East Coast by the end of the decade. For example, The Roots ‘99 effort Things Fall Apart went platinum in 2013 according to RIAA. In a word, the game was ripe for the picking.
Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems
Some artists that are like gleaming metallic statues standing in a crowded subway, arms crossed, and suddenly they begin to move. Their style is spontaneous and essentially cheap, forgone conclusions that become popular and then fade into oblivion. Not Luda’.
Chris and the DTP crew slid into the game fierce with a string of straight up hits. “What’s Your Fantasy” peaked at number 10 on the Hip Hop/ R&B charts, and was quickly followed by “Southern Hospitality” (a blessing from The beat Gods called The Neptunes). The party continued into his second album Word Of Mouf, which went on to go over 4 times platinum (oh how any artist anywhere would kill for those types of sales these days) and featured hits like “Area Codes,” “Move Bitch,” and a bonus track called “Welcome 2 Atlanta” featuring Jermaine Dupri. And for all the accolades about what we would eventually call turn-up, Luda has always been a fierce lyricist who mostly left his collaborators clamoring for the exit after getting bodied on a verse. But all was not right in Luda’s world. For all his mainstream success, he was a mixed bag to critics.
Even we gave his second effort a 3.5 out of 5, with Demarco Williams at the time saying, “Kids used to hearing funny, hard-knocking songs from Luda will be hard-pressed finding Word Of Mouf more witty than some of his past stuff.” DX’s very own Soren Baker, then writing for the LA Times focused on the jokes stating, “This animated Atlantan packs his energetic lyrics with more jokes than a stand-up comic.” But Robert Christgau of the Village Voice packed his review with explosives, “Nevertheless, he is or impersonates a no-class pimp motherfucker, and if he never reached one of the nine-year-olds O’Reilly yammers about, he would still be coarsening public discourse. Song after song pumps the pimp theory that all women are whores.” He wasn’t the only one at the time taking issue with Luda’s language. Bill O’Reilly went on a veritable crusade against the emcee after catching a whiff downwind that the ATLien was getting cozy with Pepsi. The man whose story about getting shot at in an Argentine war zone and saving a man’s life that was contradicted resoundingly by all who’ve known him claimed he, “espouses violence, intoxication, and degrading conduct toward women.” All of this after he was protested outside of a concert in L.A because of what some deemed misogyny.
So what’s a man to do? The pimpin’ and the ho’s, though spoken playfully and buoyantly, were coming home to roost. But in typically ludicrous style he kept it in stride. The world was his oyster, and that included all those Cadillac grills. In fact, his next album, Chicken & Beer, and the controversy that swirled around him at the time led to a reinvigorated Christopher Bridges. In his sit down with radio host extraordinaire Sway he spoke about what’s made him so elastic over the long tenor of his career, “I’m competitive, man!”
The Luda Empire Strikes Back & The Beginning Of Luda The Actor
Let’s be clear, though he’s had a tremendous amount of straight up success, Luda’s a survivor. Someone your mom’s would point at and say without ego, “Why can’t you be like him?” And the sting would burn and burn until the resentment in your soul turned to motivation. The resentment in Ludacris’ soul after what Bill O’Reilly did to him burned throughout Chicken & Beer to more resounding success. A young Kanye West produced “Stand Up,” which rocketed to number one on the Billboard Hot 100. The track featured Shawna, the female emcee on DTP that helped Ludacris’ become a sensation with “Fantasy,” among others. They’d just come off the Disturbing Tha Peace album Golden Grain with Shawna’s two-piece delivery summoning “Posted” into near greatness, but it was neither a commercial darling nor a critical success. On “Hoes In My Room” he quips that the person who probably let those nefarious ones in was probably Bill O’Reilly, while Snoop straight up called him a “faggot” and a “white bread, chicken shit-nigga” (they both had beef with good old Bill at the time).
The album went on to go certified double platinum, another resounding success for the emcee. But sales began to dwindle as the mp3 turned CD’s into things your little sibling threw at people Mortal Kombat style and and cases began to hold more weed than music. The double platinum record was the lowest selling album since his independent debut. Plus, there was competition coming. A waning New York sound began to birth revitalized artists. One would be 50 Cent, who dropped his ‘02 mixtape Guess Who’s Back to great effect. It culminated with a visit to Aftermath and a meeting with Em’ and Dre. History was made next with his 2003 classic Get Rich Or Die Tryin’. The new king of New York was taking up an Optimus Prime amount of space in Hip Hop at the time. And although his label was West Coast, Fif’ was a dominating force everywhere. Of course, Luda had an out. The John Singleton directed 2 Fast 2 Furious came calling and in a phone conversation with DX he said this about the franchise, “It’s amazing how far everything has come. The films just keep getting better and better.” All in all that film would go on to gross 236 million worldwide, and it would set off an acting career that would vie more and more heavily in Luda’s life.
The very next year he released Crash. Luda played a minor character role in that one, but the film caught the eye of the Academy even though it was blatantly stereotypical and overly simplistic. He came back the very next year with The Red Light District, and although it featured tracks like “Pimpin’ All Over The World” and “Get Back” the album was a down moment for Ludacris. It only went platinum, which was the baseline for his success at the time. It would be his next record, Release Therapy, that would mark the pinnacle of his career in music thus far. For that one he’d win a Grammy for “Best Rap Album” in 2007.
“Release Therapy” Goes Grammy As Tragedy Strikes
Another record and another debut at number one on the charts for Ludacris’, but Release Therapy was different. Its tone was decidedly darker than his previous outings, and it featured the Mary J Blige alley ooped “Runaway Love.” It was Luda’s first stab at any kind of social commentary, and he chose the abuse of young girls to do it. It was ballsy. The single peaked at the second slot on the Billboard Hot 100, and marked a shift in the way he was viewed by both the viewing and Grammy voting public. It turns out he was also going through his own troubles at the time. His father was dying, and he devoted his Grammy winning speech to the man who raised him. What exactly he was going through is detailed on Ludaversal’s “Ocean Skies.” “I’m getting really, really personal on this album,” Luda told DX. And on the song itself he describes his father as “having a curse” and losing his father “to the bottle.” But through it all, again, Luda persevered. But he wasn’t without fault his whole career. His DTP compatriots began to go their separate ways. Tity Boi was gaining traction with Playaz Circle making their way into the public consciousness off Lil Wayne’s magnetic hook on “Duffle Bag Boy.” And his relationship with Shawna was going downhill fast after rumors that she was signing with Timbaland. No one would have been capable of blaming her, as her career stalled multiple times despite having a prodigious talent.
Her career completely stalled with the supposed duel album she was almost promised by Luda’ (or straight up promised, depending on who you ask) that ended in her not being featured on the album at all. That album? Battle Of The Sexes. The reception? Decidedly mixed with the LA Times referring to it as “fizzy pillow talk and respectfully tawdry club fodder.” But all of this is a testament to Luda’. Lil Wayne was in his prime during this period, and still the man’s star power stood firm. In ‘05 a judge actually used a Ludacris lyric to put “ho” into the official judicial record. Though that wouldn’t be the last time Chris would find his lyrics being used against him in court.
The End Of The Beginning Or The Beginning Of The End?
In the time between 2010 and 2015 Luda’s had more than a few stops and starts, and the thing that kept him visible was film, specifically the Fast and the Furious franchise that he’d become a staple of. And as his acting career grew, his dalliances have became more real. He’s got a daughter. A 12 year old from an older relationship, and now he’s got another from a newer, more sordid one. The custody battle was fast and furious, and even though Luda’s been on the Forbes Cash Kings list for a while, he plead that he couldn’t pay his 15K a month in child support because the final installment of the Fast and Furious franchise, Furious 7 suffered from a scheduling delay when one of the franchises stars Paul Walker met his end in a fiery car accident. Paul was known as a generally amazing human being, and Luda’ described him this way, “Paul was better person than almost anyone knew, and it was tough to do anything without him. The film shut down for seven months, but eventually, we had to do get back to shooting the film.”
It was a touching homage to Paul, who they kept alive through CGI and stunt doubles of his brothers, no less. Now, with Ludaversal officially out into the wild today, we’ll see if the viewing public is still willing to give Ludacris their hard earned cash. “I had to leave the game so that I could come back inspired and with something to talk about!” Luda told HipHopDX. “I’m a risk taker, man. I’ve never been afraid to take risks and that’s what has helped me define my career so far… With this one, it’s my most personal yet. People are going to get to take a peek and see into my life.” Now let’s see if Ludacris can pull the greatest artistic trick of all: the comeback.