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Ludacris is a Southern rapper who hails from Atlanta and is probably one of the most prominent emcees (MCs) on the Southern scene and his style of hip-hop is sweeping the USA everymore and dominates plenty of the nightclubs out there.
Theater of The Mind is Luda's sixth album and is to be compared to some very strong albums, namely 'Back For The Very First Time' 'Red Light District' and 'Word of Mouf', although his previous record, 'release Therapy' was somewhat lacklustre record, although it did very well commercially. For this album Luda had forsaken his usual upbeat, light-hearted style for a more commercial approach on most of the tracks. I have reviewed 'Release Therapy' earlier on ciao and was forced to give it a lowly 2 stars, (although it does feature a couple of good tracks.) So let's hope this next album takes him back to his best.
I have yet to listen to Theater of the Mind and will be doing so as I write this review so I'm writing this with great expectations but wavering hope. Here goes...
=== The Album ===
[Track 1 - Intro]
A strange cinema style announcement at the beginning of this intro gives a strange feel but Luda jumps in soon with an introductory verse familiar of his strong style. Some very good punchlines to his rhymes. Good signs so far. Luda has never had any problems with his lyrical skills and style, but his last alum featured some weak guests so my eyes will be on the entourage, not just the main event.
[Track 2 - Undisputed]
This track features an intro from boxing champ Floyd 'Money' Mayweather, the conqueror of Rick Hatton. The beat is fair, a little slow but its inconsequential when Ludacris takes the centre stage. Some complex lines and inventive rhymes are on show and my initial fears are drifting away towards the back burner.
[Track 3 - Wish You Would]
This track features T.I. who isn't one of my favoured artists but I'm willing to give it a chance. My intial impression is a very 'dirty south' vibe, a slow, slithering beat with a low tempo but Luda is still delivering top rhymes. The chorus also features 8TRIX, (I think) his style is reminiscent of someone who you wouldn't dare share the shower with in prison. Quite unsettling and not really my kind of thing. The track isn't as good as the last but Luda still flows smoothly. T.I. raps to a decent standard but doesn't even nearly match Luda. Although to be fair that would take a gargantuan effort.
[Track 4 - One More Drink]
This features T-Pain, someone who I'm not really familiar with, but seems to be very successful in the US. A nice upbeat tune with a distinctive R&B vibe. A piano plays throughout the verses and Luda has some good-natured lyrics. This isn't really my preferred type of track from Luda but I'm used to the American (and British) obsession with R&B and I'm bought off by a good verse or two from Luda.
[Track 5 - Call Up The Homies]
This track features 'The Game' from G-Unit and Willy Northpole and it has a much more gangster vibe to it. Luda and Game share the chorus and back each other's verses. the beat is simple, with a drum and clap mix and a basic sample. A fairly simplistic track all round and not great to be honest. Not without some decent rapping and it has its moments but not exactly original.
[Track 6 - Southern Gangsta]
This track features an army of guests, including Hollywood veteran Ving Rhames (of Pulp Fiction, Con Air and much more.) Another slower beat but Luda is really coming up with some inspirational rhymes. The first guest 'Rick Ross' is pretty poor to be honest, a disposable rapper if I'm truthful.I've heard worse but I'd prefer Luda to just have rapped an extra verse. The 'Playaz Circle' take the last verse and whilst it's better than the last verse it's not a patch on Ludacris' verse. I wish Luda would have just done this track alone.
[Track 7 - Everybody Hates Chris]
This track features one of my heroes and favourite comedians 'Chris Rock' so I have been looking forward to it. The track opens with a funny opening from Chris Rock and jumps into a brassy beat and Ludacris raps about his bling and harems of girls. Original. The track is quite good, mainly due to the absence of unwanted guest rappers. Plenty of decent lines and one of the better tracks, but still not enough to get it a high score. My favourite bit is the Chris Rock material from a gig in Atlanta that just rips Ludacris to bits at the end of the track.
[Track 8 - What the Girls Like]
R&B vocalists Sean Garrettt and Chris Brown take care of the chorus. The beat is full of clap-drums and drops back to the basics for much of the time. I can see this adorning many US dancefloors but I'm not a massive fan of R&B as I said before. that said, it's much better to have Ludacris on the tracks and it gives them a definite credibility.
[Track 9 - Nasty Girl]
The beat is by veteran US hip-hop producer Swizz Beats so I hold out hope for this track. The song features US rapper 'Plies' who has collaborated with Ne-Yo before now. From the start it's plain to see that this isn't a proper hip-hop track and is once again more of an R&B number with a rapper on it that seems to be all that comes out of America nowadays. Not so enamoured with this one. Better than much of the R&B about but not what I was hoping for from a Luda album.
[Track 10 - Contagious]
Featuring singer and actor Jamie Foxx, I'm expecting more of the same from this track. Definitely a slow jam, I can tell from the first five seconds. This is basically a rap ballad, as wholesome as it gets, which isn't saying much as the sexual references are abundant. I got no problems with that but I don't think I'm gonna be walking down the street with Luda telling me what he wants to do with jamie Foxx in the background.
[Track 11 - Last of A Dying Breed]
This track features hit US sensation 'Lil Wayne' but whilst I'm not his biggest fan I'm just happy that this is a proper rap song again. Lil Wayne raps with more feeling than I'm used to hearing from him and whilst he's far from the best I've heard, this track has a decent blend between the two rappers and the beat.
[Track 12 - MVP]
Just Ludacris for a change. Finally, a proper hip hop beat, pounding drums and a nice instrumental sample. I think the drums are the same that were used in the track 'Virgo' that Luda did with Nas. Thats a proper song. Not the fastest Luda is capable of but at least a more familiar style. I'm not sure whta I think of this track, I guess I'd have to say it's indifference.
[Track 13 - I Do It For Hip Hop]
I hold out most hope for this song and have done since this album went all R&B on me about tentracks ago. It features Nas & Jay-Z, so if anyone can make Ludacris remeber what real rapping is, these are the guys to do it. The beat is chilly and basic but Luda raps with a good flow. My breath is baited for the featured guests... Nas is next up and his verse is good with some pretty decent lyrics. Jay-Z doesn't really break much of a sweat and has kind of let me down a bit really. Not a bad song, some top quality guests but I would have preferred a lot more energy in the song.
[Track 14 - Do The Right Thing]
This track features Common and movie director, Spike Lee and whilst I've heard of both guests I have given up hope of a high tempo song where the rappers really demonstrate their skills. A retro, and somewhat soulful beat and a good verse from Luda but it;s reached the point where that isn't enough for me. The track lacks originality and I don't care much for it.
[Track 15 - BONUS TRACK - Papachasin]
Featuring Cyco-Ward, another low-level Southern rapper, this track promises no more than any of the other tracks, and delivers no more either. I wouldn't have missed this if it wasn't included.
=== Overall ===
I have to be honest, I'm disappointed. I held out hope for this album, and the first two tracks suggested I may have had reason to. But thsi album has just degenrated into an anonymous blend of Crunk, R&B and the worst parts of Hip Hop and is only brightened by some good and at times funny lines from Luda.
None of the guests add much to the album, in many cases they cause the deterioration of some of the tracks and even Jay-Z is a let down. Nas is quite good but the song he features on is unambitious and slow for three of the strongest rappers ever to grace the industry.
My problem is that Ludacris has shown in the past that he is capable of much more. The new directin he has taken to is not something I, or a lot of like minded people will appreciate and I feel it is a waste of a real talent. His skill is still evident but the ambition and impact of his songs has reduced significantly in the last two albums.
If I had to sum this album up in three words it would either be 'R and B' or 'What a Shame.' Pick your preference. I apologise for the length of this review, the album promised so much and delivered very little.
also posted on ciao.co.uk
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Intro - Ludacris
2 Undisputed - Ludacris, Floyd Mayweather
3 Wish You Would - Ludacris, T.I.
4 One More Drink - Ludacris, T-Pain
5 Call Up The Homies - Ludacris, The Game, Willy Northpole
6 Southern Gangsta - Ludacris, Rick Ross, Playaz Circle, Ving Rhames
7 Everybody Hates Chris - Ludacris, Chris Rock
8 What Them Girls Like - Ludacris, Chris Brown, Sean Garrett
9 Nasty Girl - Ludacris, Plies
10 Contagious - Ludacris, Jamie Foxx
11 Last Of A Dying Breed - Ludacris, Lil Wayne
12 MVP - Ludacris
13 I Do It For Hip Hop - Ludacris, Nas, Jay-Z
14 Do The Right Thang - Ludacris, Common, Spike Lee
15 Let's Stay Together - Ludacris
16 Making of Theater Of The Mind - Ludacris