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Beats Per Millennium - Ludacris: Theater of the Mind

Ludacris: Theater of the Mind

I think the moment things got quantifiably silly was this past Saturday Night Live, with musical guests T-Pain and Ludacris. It was pretty funny when Andy Samberg busted out the vocoder, but there was something not quite right about T-Pain guesting on a Ludacris song and Ludacris guesting on a T-Pain song. Maybe what’s so silly about it is that it makes so much sense – here, you have two of the best support men in hip hop supporting one another. As far as I can tell, neither of them have any connection between them other than their albums came out at roughly the same time and they are each on both, and that neither of them had a gigantic breakout single that would justify putting either one of them on the show solo.

The problem is, it’s diluting hip hop. We’ve heard every voice with every other voice together. Pick up the T-Pain record. The T.I. record. Nas. The Game. Kanye. Jeezy. Wayne. It’s getting exhausting. You know what was fucking fun to listen to? Chamillionaire and Slick Rick. Lupe Fiasco and Snoop Dogg. Rhymefest and Wale. Prodigy and the British Ron Paul aliens. I want to see Atmosphere on a Wayne record, OK? His record went top 10. Put LL Cool J, The Cool Kids, Coolio, and Kool Moe Dee on a record and see what happens. Remember when Kanye put Lupe on “Touch the Sky” and everyone went apeshit? Every rapper should do more of that. Pull someone up. Someone good, not Plies. I don’t think any rappers have the balls to do any more of that, actually – I think there’s so much envy about fleeting success that everyone’s just nervous that if they don’t compile an all-star roster, they will have to be judged on their own merits and they may be rejected. It might be that rappers are too lazy to program more numbers into their cell, but it might just be that they’re nervous that people won’t like them for them.

Why am I bringing all this up? Luda’s record features collaborations with T.I., T-Pain, The Game, Rick Ross, Chris Brown, Chris Rock, Plies, Jamie Foxx, Lil Wayne, Nas, Jay-Z, and Common. Upon seeing the tracklist, I only really wanted to hear from Chris Rock and Common – Chris Rock is a hoot and a holler, generally, and Common rarely retreats from his teepee (Common lives in a teepee) to do guest verses – much less on a Ludacris album. Luda is killing every verse he gets recently, and he cedes 35% of his albums to rappers we’ve heard far too much from in the last year. And if there’s any MC that I’d like to hear just rap for an hour, uninterrupted, it may well be Ludacris.

Take “Undisputed,” a track without any guest rapping. Luda spends a lot of time rapping about his nuts, and it’s really funny. A few weak lines, but a lot of good punchlines. Plus, between that song and “Wish You Would,” there are no fewer than four cracks about basketball – specifically, references to the Kings, the Pacers, the Timberwolves and the Heat – references which definitely take a little more work than finding something that rhymes with LeBron. Or “Everybody Hates Chris,” featuring Chris Rock, which features one of the catchiest hooks of the year. Chris Rock’s monologues at the bookends of the track are uninspired, but Luda is otherwise in top form all by himself.

I’d be remiss, though, if I didn’t mention “MVP.” He’s got one or two decent lines, but it’s just sloppy in relation to some of the earlier tracks on the record. The production is carrying this entire track – the star here is DJ Premier. The same can’t be said for “I Do It For Hip Hop,” one track later. It’s Luda’s attempt to prove he can one-up Nas and Jay-Z on the same track, and he pulls it off, despite strong contributions from the other two. It’s especially convincing because the beat sounds like vintage Nas, like the track was designed for Luda to upstage him specifically. A track with a title like that is begging to be too pretentious to acknowledge, the “real hip hop” mantra, but it ends up sounding like three old-timers kicking back and remembering the old days. It doesn’t have the drama of the first two Nas/Jigga collaborations, but it’s almost like Nicky Barnes and Frank Lucas sitting down for New York Magazine, just two old former rivals remembering when they started out.

He takes a swing at storytelling rap with The Game and Willy Northpole (whose page was deleted on Wikipedia because he’s “non-notable” so that tells you what you need to know) on “Call Up The Homies” and the story isn’t actually very interesting because it is about driving around and shooting people and going to strip clubs and big titties and going to the Waffle House. “Southern Gangsta” features Rick Ross and… Ving Rhames? Ving just provides an introduction to each rapper that lasts 20 seconds, but Rick Ross manages to start out his verse: “I got a letter from the government / the other day / I opened it, read it / it said we were hustlaz.” he could have dropped every word in that except for the last one. Why doesn’t he just do a rap where he just says the word “hustlin’” over and over again? You’d think he’d just make it easy on himself.

When Luda is on, he’s on. When he’s off, when he’s ceding choruses to T-Pain or Chris Brown, it just blends in with the rest of the rap world. When he spends a whole track rapping about his balls, he’s brilliant. When he writes a love ballad and lets Jamie Foxx have the entire last two minutes of the song, it sounds more like a Jamie Foxx song than a Ludacris song. Which is fine, if you like Jamie Foxx. But you shouldn’t be buying a Ludacris song because you like Jamie Foxx. You should be buying it because you like Ludacris. Half the album is inspired, the other half just sounds like everything else we’ve heard this year. And I still don’t buy the “this album is like a movie!” concept. Bullshit.

Posted by Joe Kaiser at Nov 29, 2008 02:40 AM