I find him in my brother’s CD case, wedged between Kanye’s Late Registration and Game’s Documentary. He has a serious mug; mouth holds a tooth pick, hand grips a Franklin, the expression of a pimp. He has cornrows that hid underneath a red, oddly tilted hat and near the bottom were big bold letters that read Ludacris. Big and bold like his music, like his videos, like his style. I won’t say this was my introduction to Ludacris, Atlanta radio treated his singles how Chick-Fil-A employees treat customers, but it was my first, full album experience. The music was like being slapped by a well powdered palm, only making the cover more meaningful. That was in 2004, a decade ago, and Red Light District wasn’t even his first album. Incognegro, his debut project, is so old Justin Bieber was still wetting the bed, retro Jordan’s were modern, and Good Times was the closest you ever got to reality television.
Needless to say, Ludacris is getting old. Hip-hop's a young man's game and in 2014 Luda can feel like a relic, a blanket of nostalgia to tuck in '90s babies who’re reliving their glorious, club years. His last solo album, Theater of the Mind, came and went four years ago, and I won’t mention the 2010, lackluster Battle of The Sexes. His short-lived “beef” with Drake and poor usage of an Ebola like flow will haunt the latter half of his career. Stardom in rap allowed him to crossover into movies like Hustle and Flow, and the noteworthy Fast & Furious series, but with these accolades I’ve read kids call him an actor that raps as a hobbyist. Comment sections have no respect for elders, or really anyone for that matter. Despite having more hits than a Mayweather fight, there seems to be some real doubt if Luda is capable of being truly relevant again in the modern era of rap music.
So much time has passed since he proved to be elite. There’s the occasional, glimmer of hope like his "Errbody Remix," and but then you hear his version of Makonnen’s "Tuesday" and search to find him a nice retirement home by the beach. His latest single, "Good Lovin," with Miguel, has gotten fairly positive reviews, but I notice many boasting that Miguel is the song’s sole savior. People are craving the slightest hum from the silent Miguel, Luda supplied an appetizer to appease their hunger, but what happens once he doesn’t have the songbird backing him?
The Afro Luda I remember was comedic, raunchy, and sincere. He had this common man’s quality to his music; tunes for the car, barbershop, or the club. He wasn’t in the trap with T.I and Jeezy, too focused on "Growing Pains" and "Number One Spots." He could spit bars, entertain, and woo your women while eating chicken and drinking beer. It was the kind of energy that felt new, authentic, and original.
In 2006, Luda signified change by cutting his hair, and released my personal favorite Ludacris album to date, Release Therapy. The tone was more serious, adult, a huge leap toward artistic maturity. He was no longer Ludacris the persona, but Chris Bridges the man. The animated flows that spoke of hoes and Blueberry Yum Yum are replaced by a voice with heart touching subject-matter, growth that won him a Best Rap Album award at the 2007 Grammy Awards. I look back on these albums and see the appeal; he was disturbing the peace, and every move he made was unpredictable and edgy. The same man that made "Runaway Girls" made "Area Codes," it’s this versatility, and all the qualities I previously stated that made Chris Bridges one of the most glorified hip-hop artists from 1999-2007.
But reminiscing on his golden albums doesn't answer if Ludacris is relevant in the ears of today’s music listeners. Truthfully, he isn’t aging well; his music lost the vitality that shook up the industry in the early 2000s. The charisma is still there, the bars appear sporadically, but there is a lack of impactful records. For him to truly enter a new era, he has to approach it with a new artist mentality. The same hunger that fueled Word of Mouf is needed if he wants to break into this new, unorthodox era. That goes for all the old artists that release records from the abyss, featuring all the new talent, hoping it keeps them relevant a year longer. I want to see Luda innovate; create the music that made him exciting, there isn’t an age limit on innovation or creativity. Give us a reason to listen other than your name is attached to it.
Be bold again, be big again, be unapologetically ludicrous.
[By Yoh, aka Yohdacris, aka @Yoh31]