Ludacris is one of those rappers who seems to be ubiquitous, but not necessarily because of his work behind the mic. The former hip hop radio disc jockey-turned-Hollywood star (see: Fast Five) has come a long way with his career in rap, which is still somehow going strong, even though the man has been in the game for over a decade now. You can chalk that up to the man's ability to keep up with the times: it's hard to be labeled as irrelevant when you align yourself with the newest trendsetters and refuse to quit working. But before the release of the album I'm talking about today was a time when Luda could have potentially vanished from the scene.
Christopher "Ludacris" Bridges, Atlanta-based rapper and, apparently, a cannibal who feasts almost exclusively on the legs of young women, recorded and released his third album for Def Jam Records (and fourth overall), Chicken-N-Beer, in 2003, after taking a short hiatus that involved breaking him into Hollywood. After scoring a glorified cameo in the Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg vehicle The Wash (which also included future Academy Award winner Marshall Mathers in the role of "Crazy Disgruntled Car Wash Employee" well before his lead role in 8 Mile), Chris snagged a spot in the John Singleton-directed 2 Fast 2 Furious, the first sequel in what improbably became the Fast & The Furious franchise, and he also filmed a role in the Paul Haggis movie Crash, which has since become one of the most unliked flicks to have ever won the Best Picture statue at the Oscars. But Luda had nothing to do with that perception, so let's move on.
Ludacris didn't completely disappear from our chosen genre while he chased his Screen Actors Guild card, though: to appease his growing fanbase, he released the first single from the 2 Fast 2 Furious soundtrack, "Act A Fool", although it ended up flopping on radio airwaves, mostly because it wasn't very good. That might actually be the reason why he quickly got to work on Chicken-N-Beer: in the music industry as a whole, you're only as good as your last hit song, and if you take too much time off from the spotlight, you may as well not exist anymore. This holds especially true in hip hop, where short attention spans rule the roost. This may also be the reason that "Act A Fool", which was originally up for consideration for the tracklisting for Chicken-N-Beer, was instead demoted to being a bonus track on the album's European pressing, although that shouldn't be seen as any sort of punishment for my readers across the pond.
Although a single from the project had been leaked months before, nobody paid attention to the upcoming release date of Chicken-N-Beer until the Kanye West-produced "Stand Up" materialized. "Stand Up" became the man's first number one single, and the project ended up selling millions of copies, thereby cementing Luda's legacy as one of the most popular Southern rappers who also happens to be pretty goddamn gifted behind the mic, although nobody ever wants to mention this in a public forum for some reason.
Fuck it, I'll do it then.
1. SOUTHERN FRIED INTRO
Anytime you insert a child onto your rap album intro, it will be an automatic failure, especially if the child drops a few curse words. It isn't adorable: that's just poor parenting. But the kid (who probably doesn't belong to our host anyway) doesn't pop up until the final minute, so until then, you get to enjoy Luda's two entertaining-as-shit verses over DJ Nasty and LVM's guitar sample-driven instrumental. This is the rare rap album intro that sounds better than most actual songs, so that was a nice touch.
2. BLOW IT OUT
For the first true song on Chicken-N-Beer, Ludacris goes back to the “Move Bitch” well, molding several verses around a song title that doubles as a stadium chant-slash-something you yell out loud at other drivers. There isn't much imagination to be found on here, but this was still a hit on the radio regardless. There are a couple of interesting points to make, though: he claims his fans are racially diverse and embraces them (everyone except for Asians, who apparently don't exist within Luda's universe, or at least none of them listen to any of his records), and our host also throws shots toward both Bill O'Reilly, who infamously got Luda dropped from a Pepsi campaign for being a black rapper (there was probably a little more to it than that, but tell me that the guy isn't a bit racist), and Pepsi themselves, for acting like pussies and actually cowing to O'Reilly's demands. Since Pepsi tastes like battery acid anyway (except for the Throwback version, which should just be added to their standard repertoire anyway; the addition of high fructose corn syrup has truly fucked up Pepsi's flavor for the worst), I'm not really shocked: everybody knows that rap artists love Coke anyway. (See what I did there? Clever, right?) I also realize that I've gone through this entire paragraph without mentioning that motherfucking Ron Browz, a boil on the asshole of hip hop, produced this song.
3. STAND UP (FEAT. SHAWNA)
The notorious Kanye West-produced second single from Chicken-N-Beer, which led to a lawsuit brought about by IOF, a regional rap crew who even the judge had to concede that nobody had ever heard of: cut to 'Ye and Luda dancing out of the courtroom. The music is atypical of West's soulful tendencies, as it appears to have been crafted for the clubs specifically, but there wasn't anything soulful about “Stronger”, either. The beat does fit Luda's crass commentary perfectly, and it still holds up today, especially the line about the diamonds on his chain feeling like “a midget was hanging from [his] necklace”. Wrong on so many levels, but it's still fucking funny.
4. ROB QUARTERS (SKIT)
Mildly amusing, but less so when it isn't your first trip to the rodeo.
5. SPLASH WATERFALLS (FEAT. SANDY COFFEE)
This was a curious choice for a single. Luda's song for the ladies, which caters to them directly while demanding that they drop their panties immediately, is intermittently paced, goofily censored on the radio edit (the phrase “fuck me”, which is so prevalent that it counts as a part of the instrumental, is altered to “touch me” for mass consumption, thereby losing the main point of the track, as Ludacris wants to both make love and fuck, as they can legally be considered different actions), and not ready for prime time. I understand there was a remix produced by Raphael Saadiq released at one point: the only question is, why?
6. HARD TIMES (FEAT. 8BALL, MJG, & CARL THOMAS)
Ludacris recruits Southern stalwarts 8Ball and MJG to wax poetically on the trials and tribulations of life. The hook is indecisive, settling on simple repetition in lieu of actual expression of any sort, and DJ Nasty and LVM's beat is a bit meandering, but lyrically, all of the participants fire on all cylinders, especially the invited guests, who apparently had something to prove (as this song was released before the duo dropped their first Bad Boy album).
7. DIAMOND IN THE BACK
The Academy Award-winning Three Six Mafia's DJ Paul and Juicy J supply the most subdued instrumental I've ever heard from that camp (although, admittedly, I don't really remember much from them aside from their radio singles). The beat is awfully relaxing, and Luda's delivery provides Chicken-N-Beer with some much-needed contrast. Luda's dreams about his future actually help make this one of the best tracks on the entire goddamn album, because there isn't anything excessive about it: he manages to sound even more down to earth. Huh.
8. SCREWED UP (FEAT. LIL' FLIP)
Chris and his invited guest, a wily leprechaun who tries, unsuccessfully, to hide his breakfast cereal from child-sized poachers, brag about their rampant drug use while the chorus, which consists of loud repetition of the phrase “Fuck you!” before a quieter voice steps in to read the song's title, tries to jolt you out of your slumber. Lil' Flip tries to make the argument that “breakfast and head” is somehow better than “breakfast in bed”: why do they have to be mutually exclusive? Luda also officially runs out of ways to say “I was high when I wrote this / Forgive me if I go astray” on this very song.
9. T-BAGGIN' (SKIT)
Okay, this one still kind of holds up.
10. P-POPPIN' (FEAT. SHAWNA & LIL' FATE)
The few times I was paying attention to BET's long-defunct late night video program Uncut, the video for this song, an unconventional choice for a first single, was playing. Considering the entire song is about strippers popping their respective pussies, it's kind of amazing that Luda convinced his “What's Your Fantasy?” partner Shawna to contribute a verse, since the very concept of the track is sexist beyond belief. (What isn't that amazing is the sheer amount of nudity in the video itself. According to the always reliable Wikipedia, the “P-Poppin'” video is raunchier than Nelly's “E.I. (Tip Drill Remix)”.) And yet, I have a feeling that there are a lot of chicks that love this song, a fact that Ludacris was banking on when he allowed it to appear on the final cut. The song itself is simple and plain, but it serves its purpose.
11. HIP HOP QUOTABLES
How is it possible that Erick Sermon gave Luda a better beat than anything that Keith Murray has been gifted over the past several years? Chris rhymes for three minutes straight, layering punchline over punchline like a hip hop Jenga game, pulling out the more lyrical pieces as necessary. His references to fighting plaque reminded me of his cameo on The Simpsons, where he was fighting tooth decay as Ludacrest. I don't know if this ever became a true hip hop quotable in The Source (I had long since quit caring about that publication at the time of this album's release), but this song is still very fucking entertaining.
12. BLACK MAN'S STRUGGLE (SKIT)
Not funny at all. Kind of gross, actually.
13. HOES IN MY ROOM (FEAT. SNOOP DOGG)
After finishing up a live show in Long Beach, Luda's ready to fuck, and special guest star-slash-Long Beach ambassador Snoop Dogg tries to hook him up, but when Luda returns to his hotel room, he's surprised to see it filled with unattractive “hos”. This was a pretty high concept for a rap song, but the backstory exists only to provide an excuse for Snoop and Luda to consistently insult the chicks who were only looking for a good time. It even devolves into another dig at Bill O'Reilly toward the end (where Snoop even jumps into the fray, referring to the Faux Noise jackass with a homophobic slur). Probably would have made for a better skit than a song, and even that is pushing it.
This just reminded me of Chingy's “Holidae In” (which also featured Luda alongside Snoop Dogg, oddly), and that is never a good thing.
15. INTERACTIVE (SKIT)
16. WE GOT (FEAT. I-20, TITY BOI, & CHINGY)
This DTP posse cut is fucking hilarious, but not until our host steps in to tie the room together: I-20 and the unfortunately-named Tity Boi play their violent threats entirely straight, while Chingy tries too hard to destroy his image as a radio-friendly cartoon who now has absolutely no career. But once Luda takes the stage, the laughs keep coming. He quickly refers to himself as “the nicest in [his] group”, which is supposed to mean that he's the most likely to let you live, but we all know what he's really talking about. He even directly references the coughing sound effect that somehow made in into the DJ Paul/Juicy J instrumental, placed there as if on a dare. The overall effort is a mixed bag, but Luda comes thisclose to salvaging it.
17. EYEBROWS DOWN (FEAT. PLAYAZ CIRCLE)
The (awful) chorus seems to imply that “Eyebrows Down” will be yet another violent excursion into a neighborhood you'll never want to visit, but Luda's lyrics are strictly autobiographical, as he explains how he first started rhyming and describes releasing his debut, Incognegro, independently. So, yeah, the song makes no sense: the beat doesn't bring the dramatic intensity required for an artist to tell their life story, and Ludacris is not exactly the most violent rapper ever, so this ended up being a strange brew, a weird way to cap the evening.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Unfortunately, Chicken-N-Beer is a mixed bag. As per usual, Ludacris Bridges brings his talent for crafting creative rhymes to the table, but this time around, his reliance on overused hip hop clichés (such as pussy, power, bad skits, and gimmicks a la “Blow It Out”) clouds the final product. At this point, Ludacris is entitled to make any kind of album that he wants, but his regression on Chicken-N-Beer is baffling, especially because it seems that Luda is winking at the audience several times throughout, openly aware that he is simply coasting. Maybe he was too busy with the scripts his agent kept handing him to worry about the songs themselves. When he pays attention, the results can be outright transcendent, but when he doesn't even bother to try, we get songs such as his collaboration with Lil' Flip (where the chorus, just to remind you two, consists almost entirely of the phrase “Fuck you!”). A shame.
BUY OR BURN? Burn this one. The tracks listed below still hold up, and a few of the other songs on the album feature decent Ludacris contributions (see: “We Got”), but there is no need to run out and buy this, ever.
BEST TRACKS: “Diamond In The Back”; “Hip Hop Quotables”; “Stand Up”
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