He doesn't pop up on this site all that often, but Chris “Ludacris” Bridges was, at least at one point, one of the most underrated rappers in the game. His elastic flow, jokes, and genial shit-talking ranks him with some of the best that ever did it, and that's not me being sarcastic. Unfortunately, he is oftentimes discounted because of many factors: his choice in subject matter, his beat selection, the company he keeps, and even his home base, Atlanta, since we're all supposed to only follow one messiah from that region, and that slot was taken by OutKast's Andre 3000 years ago. Hell, he's even distanced himself a bit from our chosen genre, choosing to take roles in high-profile movie sequels that feature cars driving fast instead. Most hip hop heads write him off as a guy who excels at singles, mainly because he has released a bunch of catchy-ass singles, but they don't dig far enough to discover that Ludacris can actually rap, and is also pretty funny when he wants to be.
Although I can't speak on behalf of his more recent material, as I haven't heard any of it yet, the early moments in his catalog are still, at best, entertaining as shit, and at worst, interesting experiments. It's worth noting that his albums rarely sound anything like the singles he unleashes upon radio airwaves, proof positive that he knows how to cater to many audiences at once. Which makes sense when you remember his past life as a radio deejay alongside Mrs. Carmelo Anthony back in the day.
2004 saw the release of The Red Light District, Luda's fourth major label album (and fifth overall). It takes its title from the infamous districts around the world (but most often linked to Amsterdam) where Sting would plea with Roxanne to not go to work every evening. At this point, Def Jam's Southern division stopped pimping their star and saw fit to let the man do his thing, as he had sold millions of albums for them over the previous few years, which is one of only a handful of explanations as to why The Red Light District wasn't pumped full of cameos from both his merry band of Disturbing Tha Peace weed carriers (which included the unfortunately-named Tity Boi, better known as 2 Chainz today) and/or his Def Jam labelmates, aside from one goofy guest spot filled almost as a practical joke, considering the fact that this album dropped in 2004. Instead, he ran mostly with people he actually wanted to work with, recruiting folks for hooks merely to emphasize his point, and even borrowed a collaboration from a Nas album that was released just one week prior.
Musically, The Red Light District doesn't stray too far from Luda's wheelhouse. A-list names such as previous collaborators Timbaland and Organized Noize share space with lesser-known producers, presumably as a cost-cutting measure, although Ludacris will tell you it's because he wanted to employ newer, hungrier talent. Although I don't recall most of this project, it spawned four successful singles, including “Number One Spot”, which still receives frequent airplay on Sirius XM's Hip Hop Nation for some fucking reason, and “Get Back”, a song Luda performed on Saturday Night Live with the musical backing of Canadian pop/punk band Sum 41, also for some fucking reason.
So why can't I remember anything about The Red Light District?
Luda's always been pretty good with his one-verse wonders, and this rap album intro is no exception, as he utilizes Timbaland's banging beat to quickly speak his mind before the actual program begins. Although the verse is chock-full of the standard boasts we've all come to expect from Chris Bridges, they're still delivered with a sense of humor that only a few rappers today still seem to have. This wasn't a bad way to start things off.
2. NUMBER ONE SPOT
This is a bad way to start things off, though. An extended riff on the Austin Powers spy spoof series (built around a sample from Quincy Jones's "Soul Bossa Nova", a song closely identified with the Mike Myers creation even though it was released thirty-six years before the first film in the series was even released), “Number One Spot” is one of Luda's rare misfires when it comes to singles, as our host sounds confined within the parameters of the beat, which only allows him to move in a few contradictory directions. Luda's possibly one of the best rappers still working today (yeah, I said it), but you wouldn't know it from this gimmicky horseshit, which couldn't end soon enough (not unlike the third flick in the series, Austin Powers in Goldmember, which was fucking terrible). Even amidst all of the ridiculous and forced Austin Powers references, though, I still enjoyed our host's quick potshot at frequent enemy Bill O'Reilly, though.
3. GET BACK (FEAT. DOLLA BOY)
This spiritual cousin to Word of Mouf's “Move Bitch” is another example of a miscalculation on Def Jam's part when it came to choosing singles from The Red Light District: this overt failure to communicate may be the reason why this project underwhelmed me. Over Tic Toc (of The Medicine Men, formerly Beats By The Pound)'s already tired-sounding instrumental, Chris tries to act hard before eventually admitting that he's just having a bad day and isn't generally this antagonistic. Kind of a cop-out, if you ask me, but nobody cares, because “Get Back” sucks. As this song dropped during the tail end of the “rap-rock mashup please” phase from the early part of the millennium, “Get Back” was also released as a version featuring forgotten rock band Sum 41 providing the score for Luda's misguided threats. And yes, that version sucks, too. (It's available as a bonus track on the UK version of this album, so on behalf of the United States, we're very sorry.)
4. PUT YOUR MONEY (FEAT. DMX)
Hearing Earl on the hook sounding like his old excited self got me amped for “Put Your Money”, despite the fact that the hook is the only part of the song where DMX even appears: Luda handles all three verses for dolo. And then I just got angry. What a waste of a guest star, I would have shouted, had I not been by myself in front of a computer typing out this very sentence. For that alone, this song loses any reason for you to give a shit. Moving on...
5. BLUEBERRY YUM YUM (FEAT. SLEEPY BROWN)
Although it tries very hard, “Blueberry Yum Yum” is ultimately a low-key, low-profile, low-man-on-the-totem-pole weed rap that doesn't make the idea of smoking out sound especially interesting. The Organized Noize faux-upbeat instrumental aside, this song is dominated by our host, whose marijuana-laced exploits (which, when diluted, all seem to be variations on “Boy, I sure am hungry!”) aren't appealing, entertaining, or, well, anything. Chris Bridges merely is on this song, making no effort to involve the audience in any fashion, and that is troubling for a guy whose very job requires him to brag his ass off. This shit was boring as hell.
6. CHILD OF THE NIGHT (FEAT. NATE DOGG)
I suppose Ludacris and the late Nate Dogg (R.I.P.) had so much fun recording the former's “Area Codes” that a re-teaming was all but inevitable. Oddly, the duo tackle more serious subject matter than having a bunch of good-to-go vagina at every port, as “Child Of The Night” touches on Luda's childhood (in a non-biographical, generic kind of way), back when he was a “bad boy” before he chose instead to do “good”. This song wasn't terrible, but the DK All Day beat was a bit too cheerful, and Luda loses the plot during his final verse. Nate's contribution only serves to remind today's listeners that we're never going to get another new hook from him ever again. See, now I'm depressed.
7. THE POTION
If you've ever seen the Jay-Z concert documentary Fade To Black, you may remember the scene where Hova is listening to Timbaland play him some beats he had recently conjured up; before he eventually bought what ended up becoming “Dirt Off Your Shoulders”, the instrumental for “The Potion” was one of the options Timmy offered up. That scene diffused the appeal of this song for me, because, even though I know better, I still like pretending that every rap song is a collaborative effort between the artist and the producer. Still, “The Potion” is one of the better songs on The Red Light District, since Luda has always felt comfortable over Timmy's unorthodox-to-the-point-of-being-mainstream beats, and his work on here is no different, even when he's the second choice. Although his lyrics are instantly forgettable, though.
8. PASS OUT
As a whole, this Needlz-produced trifle is as lame as the people Luda threatens during the hook. However, the third verse is actually a mini-masterpiece, as our host quickly and effortlessly explains how the music industry really isn't for everyone. Which isn't even close to what this song was supposed to be about, but, well, you know.
10. SPUR OF THE MOMENT (FEAT. DJ QUIK & KIMMI J.)
Seems like it has all of the ingredients for an epic West Coast excursion: LT Moe's beat approximates laid-back G-Funk, feeling as much like a backyard barbecue as a song actually can, and Cali stalwart DJ Quik contributes lyrics. So what went wrong? The beat is almost too generic and contrived, Quik's contributions were awful (he even gives the song its title, albeit in a motherfucking stupid way: during the intro, our host asks if anyone else has ever wanted to throw a huge party without sitting down to plan it first, and Quik chimes in with, “In Compton we call [that feeling] 'spur of the moment', as though that's some sort of West Coast gangsta slang and not a turn of phrase that literally everyone uses), and Chris sounds like he wants very badly to catch the next flight back to Atlanta. Sigh.
11. WHO NOT ME (FEAT. SMALL WORLD & DOLLA BOY)
Ludacris frequently includes tracks on his solo albums meant to showcase his weed carriers, but the problem is that, no matter how the guests sound behind the mic, they're always decimated by our host's elastic, playful flow. That's pretty much the story of “Who Not Me”: Small World and Dolla Boy, 2 Chainz's partner in Playaz Circle, don't stand a chance once Luda steps into the booth to provide the only quasi-memorable part of this Craig King-produced exercise in mediocrity.
12. LARGE AMOUNTS
Yeah, the sampled hook is corny, but I dug the rest of this Vudu-produced confection. Luda uses his three verses to extoll the benefits and drawbacks of being rich, but does so in a manner that sounds genuine, helpful (he advises the listener that they need to pay their taxes because the IRS is no joke, and besides, women don't want to be with someone who's having issues with the tax man), sweet (he threatens to fuck up anybody who harms his daughter), and actually funny (unlike most rappers, whose jokes fall flat). Our host chats it up all throughout the hook as well, but his ad-libs actually add to the experience as a whole. A nice surprise I had completely forgotten about.
13. PIMPIN' ALL OVER THE WORLD (FEAT. BOBBY V.)
I got nothing.
14. TWO MILES AN HOUR
Luda's ode to his many vehicles and his love of driving starts off in hilarious fashion (the song is dedicated to those “who put more into their car than they do their relationships”: the matter-of-fact was Chris states this makes it even goofier) and proceeds to grow absurd (thanks to the imagery of a famous rapper literally driving only two miles per hour down the street), but the joke mostly lands on the strength of DJ Toomp's instrumental, which keeps things moving as slowly as you would expect. The chorus was weird and off-putting, but this was enjoyable enough anyway. Still kind of strange that it was sequenced immediately after “Pimpin' All Over The World”, Def Jam's awful choice for the fourth single from The Red Light District, though.
15. HOPELESS (FEAT. TRICK DADDY)
Luda throws listeners off the scent by making you believe that the Heazy-produced “Hopeless” is going to be somewhat inspiring, but in reality our host uses his two verses to complain while guest star Trick Daddy Dollars gets borderline racist, possibly alienating any of Luda's white fans who can't understand exactly what kind of experiences Trick is referring to because of their skin tone, economic status, or obliviousness. Kudos to our host for not censoring his guest, and I realize I'm coming across as too dramatic right now, since the verse (and outro) are hardly incendiary, but I don't think cramming all of these thoughts into the end of the project was the best move. Had the song sounded better, maybe it would have mattered, but nope.
16. VIRGO (FEAT. NAS & DOUG E. FRESH)
The final song of the evening is the one borrowed from Nas's own Streets Disciple. Chris sounds pretty entertaining alongside the legendary beat box, but The Nasir Jones Experience didn't know how to have fun behind the mic back in 2004 (still doesn't in my opinion), so he sounds stilted and awkward. Groan.
FINAL THOUGHTS: You know, it's possible for everything to work on a technical level and still have the final product be bland as shit. That's pretty much what happened on The Red Light District, which now answers the age-old question I introduced several paragraphs ago of why I couldn't remember how any of this sounded. Christopher's under-reliance on guest stars is refreshing, as he is confident enough in his own abilities to know how to carry the weight, and the beats didn't uniformly suck or anything, but there is still absolutely no reason for anyone to ever seek this album out. The Red Light District is the aural equivalent of Ludacris spinning his wheels: he knows he's good at what he does, but doesn't feel challenged anymore, and that lack of inspiration shows in his work. Why he felt the need to release new music when he obviously wasn't feeling it is probably a question better left asked of his Def Jam superiors. Two million people didn't feel the way I do, since The Red Light District moved tons of units, but that still doesn't mean that you're missing out on anything if you choose to sidestep this entry in the man's catalog.
BUY OR BURN? Burn this one only if you absolutely have to have all things Ludacris. Otherwise, I don't know, go watch that crappy movie Crash again? (The Paul Haggis preachy shit, not that David Cronenberg film, unless you're into that sort of thing, in which case, more power to you.)
BEST TRACKS: “The Potion”; “Large Amounts”
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