Ludacris – Theater Of The Mind

Band: Ludacris
Album: Theater of The Mind
Genre: Hip Hop/Rap
Label: Disturbing Tha Peace

1. Intro
2. Undisputed
3. Wish You Would
4. One More Drink
5. Call Up The Homies
6. Southern Gangsta
7. Everybody Hates Chris
8. Nasty Girl
9. What Them Girls Like
10. Nasty Girl
11. Contagious
12. Last Of A Dying Breed
13. MVP
14. I Do It For Hip Hop
15. Do The Right Thang

There is a common misconception in the world of hip hop that top 40 success means you’re a sell out or a flash in the pan style artist. Generally, this is actually a pretty accurate statement as many rappers seem to find the key terms [40s, bling, crunk, Bentley, etc.] and stick to doing nothing, but word vomiting the same lingo over 13 more tracks. However, with the rise of Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco, this perception is continually proven wrong, but I think too many people are overlooking Ludacris. It’s hard to believe someone who sells so well is underrated, but as he has made overly clear on his latest release Theater Of The Mind, Luda has skills far superior to others in the game today.

Theater has a solid build that doesn’t quite fit the idea of a concept album, but there are some ideas that are carried throughout the release that make it feel very complete. One example of this would be, that instead of songs featuring other people, they “co-star” other artists. This, and various spoken word and rhymes about theater or a movie ties the album up with a nice bow.

Much like Release Therapy, this release starts with an intro and while intros in rap tend to be hype tracks of trash talk, Luda simply uses a small interlude of spoken word to lead off into a heavy beat with ferocious vocals. As we all know, Ludacris is known for his smooth rhymes that are club ready and those tracks are on this album still [“What Them Girls Like” has one of the best hooks of the year], but it’s what’s outside of the radio friendly tracks that holds the real gold. From, “Undisputed,” on, Ludacris takes the listener on a lyrically heavy journey that finds a serene balance between “product placement” rhymes and straight raps. The maturity in his writing has never been so apparent and he’s much better for it. Unlike most in the game, Luda has realized you can’t ride one sound/idea for your whole career.

Those of you who look to hip hop for solid beats need look no further than, “Wish You Would,” which throws more high hat and bass than some will probably be able to handle. The track also works solid as the beat’s pace is 2x as fast as the vocals, but they balance so well you will be hard pressed to notice. There is a club remix awaiting, “Call Up the Homies,” as the claps and bass jsut beg for synth overlays [I give it a month before you hear this on Thirsty Thursdays].

One other aspect that can’t be overlooked is the double edged sword of guest appearances. The majority of the album has “co-stars” whose participation both makes and breaks various tracks. The highlight of the album comes in, “Last Of The Dying Breed,” which find Luda teaming up with this year’s hip hop megastar Lil’ Wayne for an all out lyrical war on weak rappers. The track stands on it’s own, but Weezy’s verse just takes it to a new level [one not met by any other track on the album]. However, for this great track, there are some weaker appearances to take the album down. “One More Drink,” has T-Pain in all his vocoder glory taking a track from legit smooth hip hop, to over produce garbage. Likewise, “Southen Gangsta,” tries to be too theatrical with Ving Rhames doing a spoken word intro and Rick Ross’ heavy voice bringing down the energy.

In the end, Theater Of The Mind is example A as to why Ludacris deserves more credit than he’s given from the hip hop world. Yes, he is radio friendly at times, but there’s a difference between radio friendly and radio made. Luda speaks from his heart with precision unheard of in most of the music scene today. I’m more than excited about this new wave of hip hop lyricism that artists like Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, Ludacris, and others are bringing to the mainstream and Theater Of The Mind is the perfect example of what Lil Wayne means when, on, “Last Of The Dying Breed,” he says, “hip hop isn’t dead, it just had a heart attack.”

*Written By: James Shotwell*
Grade: 8/10

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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