February 6, 2009

My Gut Reaction: Ludacris - Theater Of The Mind (November 24, 2008)

Hip hop historians and people who frequent blogs may remember that Kanye West had some in-store competition when 808s & Heartbreak, his Sea Change, hit the shelves during the week of Thanksgiving. Around my way, 'Ye had a lot of competition, and he ultimately failed to sell many copies of his breakup album. Sure, he ended up completely dominating the Billboard charts anyway, but that just goes to show that my area is either immune to trends, or completely backwards.

Anyway, since I'm clearly not reviewing Day & Age by The Killers, it would make sense that this write-up be about the other Def Jam rap album released that day, Theater Of The Mind by Ludacris. After taking some time off to act, as most rappers who want to remain commercially viable eventually do (Chris must have a really good agent, since he managed to appear in Crash, the completely-undeserving preachy-ass drama that won Best Picture, and Hustle & Flow, a much better film that, inexplicably, won an Oscar for Three 6 Mafia for Best Song), he recorded and released his sixth solo album. Taking cues from his new day job, though, he explained to everybody that would listen that each song on Theater Of The Mind was to sound like a mini-movie, and even went so far as to claim that his disc didn't feature guests, it featured co-stars. Indeed, the back cover is filled with phrases such as "co-starring Plies" and "co-starring Ving Rhames".

However, I refuse to list the guest stars in such a manner on general principle.

What starts off as a lame-ass rap album intro on par with Redman's "Roller Coaster Malpractice" gimmick quickly turns into a one-verse wonder from the star attraction. I'm sure The Smoking Section was thrilled to get a mention on a major label rap album, but is Luda really encouraging his listeners to download his shit for free? Because if he is, I know that at least all of my readers will be all for it.

The song structure (rapper as boxer, training and performing in the ring with adversarial rhymes) is nothing new, but I've always been a fan of tracks such as these. This particular incarnation is a cross between Ghostface Killah's "The Champ" and "2nd Round K.O." by Canibus, except minus the LL Cool J-bashing (although Luda does manage to bring up Ladies Love in one of his verses). A pretty good way to start, this.

I realize that this song was supposed to be a huge deal, coming after the battles between Ludacris and T.I., but I wasn't impressed with either rapper's contribution. I'm sure T.I. has some better songs in him yet, although everything I've heard from him has been radio-friendly piffle, so I have nothing to substantiate that claim. Regardless, this song isn't very good.

I actually really like this song. T-Pain's Auto-Tune isn't nearly as annoying as it has been on his other countless songs and guest appearances, and the idea of rapping about beer goggles is hilarious to me (although, admittedly, Luda is unable to truly focus on the subject matter, falling back on his tried-and-true formula for the majority of the song). The video is also amusing. For some reason, T-Pain's delivery of the hook reminds me of some 1980's era pop music, specifically the work of Wham!, and that makes this song that much more appealing to me. Fuck what everyone else might think, this song just works.

Not a bad song, but it is awfully boring. Considering the fact that Luda and The Game have a reasonably decent back-and-forth rapport during the first two verses (which concern Chris touching down in Cali and, apparently, hiring Jayceon for protection or something), I feel bad for Willy Northpole, who seems to have been added either as an afterthought or because he won a contest co-sposored by Sprite and Reebok.

This was pretty bad. Luda's weed carriers, Playaz Circle, remain unimpressive (which isn't surprising, since their biggest song to date features them bragging about their status as "duffle bag boys"; they might as well have called their song "Weed Carriers 'R' Us"), and although it was funny to hear Marcellus Wallace say the name "Tity Boi" out loud (man, that's a sorry-ass rap name), there was still no valid reason for him to be on here. Also, I call bullshit on Officer Rick Ross and his boasts: I highly doubt the federal government would send him a letter classifying him as a "hustler". Why would taxpayers let that kind of wastefulness fly? That shit is just ridiculous.

The hook is pretty terrible, and the title was just a convenient swipe from Chris Rock's autobiographical television programme (the extra 'e' was added for no reason, really). Luda's stand-up routine set to a boring Don Cannon instrumental is alright, but I much preferred Chris Rock's roasting of the man at the end of the track, where he brings up a point that I've been trying to make ever since I saw Hustle & Flow.

I've sat through one-third of this video exactly one time, and all I can recall is feeling pity for Chris Brown, who both looked and sounded as if he were suffering from an epileptic seizure during his half of the chorus. Of course, the fact that there are two different singers on the hook is already silly enough. Darkchild's beat (with an assist from Sean Garrett) approaches that Middle Eastern sound that I swear went out of fashion five years ago, but whatever. Luda's pop rap for the ladies is on in full force, and in that respect he's alright, but I don't ever need to hear this shit again.

Plies is one of those rappers that puzzles me. Have you ever heard the guy give an interview? He comes off as a humble man who seems to be appreciative of all of the attention bestowed upon him, and some of his comments even lead you to believe that he may be above some of the more questionable content of his music. But then you listen to the motherfucker, and you realize that all he seems to talk about are "bust-it babies" that exists solely as receptacles for his ejaculate. Sigh. Anyway, this song sucked, but hearing Luda utter the phrase "doctor girlfriend" made me laugh out loud, even though he didn't intend to make a reference to The Venture Bros.


Since the song is about lyricism and how it appears to be fading in hip hop faster than your brother's jean shorts, the fact that Lil' Weezy appears makes me vomit in my mouth more than a little bit. Wayne manages to bring listeners the second reference to toasters within a three-song sequence, though, so that was weird. I liked Luda on this track, so this isn't the worst song ever recorded or anything, but, honestly, actual lyricists may be offended by Wayne's contribution here.

12. MVP
Before I ever read about Theater Of the Mind, I couldn't say that I saw this collaboration coming. DJ Premier supplies Luda with one of his slightly-bargain-basement beats that still sounds pretty damn good, and Ludacris rips it to fucking pieces. However, I feel compelled to clarify something that I don't recall seeing on anybody else's blog: Ludacris is not the first Southern rapper on a Primo beat; he is merely the first rapper to have one all to himself (and, to be honest, I'm not even sure that's true). Scarface appeared on GangStarr's "Betrayal", and Bun-B (from U.G.K.) popped up on that Termanology song that I wrote about a few months back. Still, this song is really good, although I'm sure Primo could have selected better Luda sound bites than what ended up on the wack-ass "chorus".

For a track featuring two hip hop heavyweights, the beat is surprisingly lackluster. Luda and Nasir sound good but, in a move that will shock longtime readers, I thought Hova's verse sucked balls. Also, his abrupt jab at former mentor Jaz-O was both unnecessary and cruel. Ultimately, this track was incredibly disappointing on so many levels.

The message presented is a good one, but the execution was dull. I didn't need to hear Spike Lee on a rap song ever, and I can't even remember Common's verse, that's how memorable it must have been. All in all, it makes you wish that the album ended two songs ago.

THE LAST WORD: Theater Of The Mind has a handful of songs that are pretty entertaining, but for the majority of my listen, it sounded as if Chris Bridges wrote some of his verses with the help of a thesaurus, Mad Libs, and a paint-by-numbers set he picked up at Wal-Mart. His many jokes still manage to be funny, or at least they were on my first listen, but he surrounds himself with inferior guest stars (and yes, I'm including T.I. and Jay-Z in that category), and he doesn't seem to be enjoying himself until "MVP", which, by no coincidence, is the only real song he appears on by himself. I still like "One More Drink" for what it is, but that leaves twelve other tracks that range from meh to decent, which isn't enough to warrant running out to purchase it. Maybe he'll have a bigger budget for the sequel, which Ludacris has already promised for later in 2009.


Ludacris - Incognegro / Back For The First Time


  1. I have seen other blogs note the fact that Cee-Lo had a Primo beat on 'Evening News' from his 2004 album "Cee-Lo Green... Is the Soul Machine".
    Whether you want to argue whether he's a rapper or singer, he is Southern.

  2. No, Cee-Lo would totally count. After writing this post, I also recalled Devin The Dude's "Doobie Ashtray". Either way, Luda was definitely NOT the first Southern rapper on a Primo beat. I still liked the song, though.

  3. Primo still got it in him.

  4. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessFebruary 08, 2009

    "Doobie Ashtray" wraps me up in a cocoon of satiety every time. If I ever trade in my horticultural license I'll probably end up listening to that song before going to buffets and watching animated films.

  5. Oh, and about that first Southern rapper thing, apparently Jermaine Dupri was on a Premo joint called "Protectors of 1492."Seems kind of strange...

  6. Yeah, although Ill admit im not a Jay-Z fan, i was pretty surprised at how much his verse sucked on Do It For Hip Hop, sounded like a freestyle gone wrong
    and Nas amazes me, how he goes hard for a Rich Boy Remix but kinda bored me on a track wit Jay n Luda... like really? 'Stay tuned to in the mind of Nas, coming up next, the really good reason why he passed on Empire State Of Mind!' Yes that still pisses me off everytime i hear the song, 'cause it could have been a perfect launchpad for Distant Relatives...

    (oh, i really care about that album btw, I was born in Brooklyn, raised in Queens and now live in Jamaica)

    I was disappointed with T.I./Luda collabs on both their albums too, they were pretty lackluster, sad way to end a somewhat entertaining 'Beef' (refers Mos Def's track) lol

    Good review as usual max! very balanced opinion