Ludacris & the Second Act Rap Blues

The veteran emcee will soon became the rap version of Joe Rogan.

The first time I ever watched Fear Factor, host Joe Rogan was smiling from ear-to-ear while a man ate maggots and cheese off of a dinner plate. Beginning in 2001, Rogan would guide money-hungry contestants through a series of thrilling and humiliating stunts that made the show a TV staple over 12 seasons, but it wasn't until years later that I learned his job as show host wasn't his first big gig.

By the time he took over as host of Fear Factor, Rogan was already an established stand-up comedian with multiple major sitcom roles under his belt. Meanwhile, I was seeing him for the first time, completely unaware of his prior successes and years in the public eye.

In 2017, we may soon witness the same thing happen to Ludacris.

I barely flinched when the video for the veteran ATL emcee's latest single “Vitamin D” dropped earlier this week, but by that time a picture of Luda with Playstation 2-era abs had already started making the rounds on Twitter. The memes were great, but with them came a large cluster of fans who genuinely thought Luda had actually tried and failed to Photoshop himself to sexiness. Sadly, today's generation of rap fans grew up without ever getting to bear witness in live time to Luda's sense of humor through his jacked forearms in the "Get Back" video or Baby Luda dancing next to Shawnna in “Stand Up.”

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Ladies and gentlemen, it's official: Luda’s now got the Second Act Rap Blues.

It’s time to face facts: Ludacris has been making music for almost 20 years. His debut Incognegro dropped in 1999, followed by his breakthrough release Back For The First Time a year later in 2000. While most rap fans know that Luda has a history of hits—and if you don't, check the tape—his last solo single to reach either Platinum certification or the top 50 of the Billboard Hot 100 was seven years ago—2010’s “My Chick Bad." Despite guest appearances from Big K.R.I.T. and Usher and production from Just Blaze and !llmind, Luda's last studio album—2015’s Ludaversal—was dead on arrival (pre-release single "Good Lovin" peaked at No. 91). And even with the social media buzz and a Ty Dolla $ign feature, the "Thong Song"-sampled “Vitamin D” probably isn’t gonna pop anyone’s bottles, either.

Like other rappers before him, Luda wisely diversified his portfolio early in his career. He co-founded the Disturbing Tha Peace label imprint in 2000, owns his own brand of cognac, and opened a Chicken ‘n Beer themed restaurant at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta just last year. He’s also been acting for over 15 years, starting with a bit role in 2001’s The Wash and eventually locking down the role of Tej Parker in the Fast & Furious franchise. Once you’re more recognized for racing cars on the big screen and playing a cop on Empire than you are for your music, though, you’ve crossed the invisible line between one kind of celebrity and another.

Of course, Luda’s not the first rap star to face this transition. Will Smith was already a triple-Platinum recording artist before he took on his career-redefining turn as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which, ultimately, led to him becoming the biggest box office draw on the planet for over a decade. Ice-T originally blazed trails as one of the first rappers to warrant a parental advisory sticker on his album cover in 1987 and is now best known as Detective Fin on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Nick Cannon went from covering Will Smith’s songs with Lil’ Romeo and 3LW to breaking into acting with Drumline to hosting Wild ‘N Out and the squeaky-clean America’s Got Talent (and eventually to rap beef with Eminem). 

I’ll always love the time I spent with Ludacris’ music. While not always sharp, his sense of humor was bizarre and unique to hip-hop at the time and helped elevate videos like “Stand Up” and “Rollout (My Business)” into all time classic territory. However, after signing on to host a show that forces contestants to devour bugs for the amusement of its viewers, it's only a matter of time before kids start to wonder if the host of Fear Factor ever had a first act. 


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