February 20, 2014

Ludacris - The Red Light District (December 7, 2004)

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.

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.

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.)

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...

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

I got nothing.

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.

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.

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”



Catch up with Luda by clicking here.


  1. Totally reasonable and fair review, but Pimpin All Over The World is a classic and it taught me how to pimp.. if you use the first lines of his verse on any girl it has a 90% success rate. And the beat is dope

  2. I strongly disagree with your assessment on this album. This was the kind of response I expected for Release Therapy. Luda once said: 'Every album that I drop has more than ten bangers' and this was (at the time) no exception. Ever since I was young Ludacris was once of my favourite rappers. However I disagree with your opinion on him being one of the best rappers out today: his latest mixtape called #IDGAF was some lazy ass shit. Battle of the Sexes was also pretty awful. If you had dissed my favourite track on this joint 'The Potion', then I would be posting a much stronger-worded comment on this blog. So consider yourself lucky here. However your general evaluation of this album is questionable. I hope when you say you've 'got nothing' on 'Pimpin' All Over The World', you mean you've 'got nothing on the track' - similar to when Bruno Mars singing 'Beautiful girls, all over the world, I could be chasing but my time would be wasting, they got NOTHING ON YOU, BABY' and means he's got nothing on the beautiful girls. Bobby Valentino also was personal favourite singer of mine. I guess you ain't bout that pimp life Max. And I guess you just don't have the audacity to praise much of the Atlanta rap scene other than the obvious Outkast. This was one of the best hip hop albums of 2004.

  3. Funny hearing 2 chainz referred to as ludacris' weed carrier as popular as the guy is these days. Always enjoyed ludacris though, dude can rap and has a sense of humor. I don't condone anything he has released since 2010 tough.weak sauce.

  4. My confusion in this review lies in your anger at DMX only being on the hook of "Put Your Money". As if the X man had enough barks left at that point to fill an entire verse? You were really jonesing to hear a DMX verse from a 2004 album?

  5. This album was my shit my freshman year of high school. I still enjoy some of the songs on here than you seemed to. To each their own.

  6. Max you have no swag. This album is swag, therefore you don't like it

  7. I wish I could write a reader review on Schoolboy Q's Oxymoron.. he brought gangsta rap back. Max might not like it

    1. seriously man?! You must be kidding, right?
      The beats may be nicely chosen for the most part- but the lyrics? I mean come on, just listen to what this dude has to say... ridiculous.

      Sorry, I just aint got nothing more to say about this...

    2. He is telling his perspective, that's what hip hop is all about. Some of the tracks on Oxymoron were him having fun, others were tales of the streets. Obviously his lyrics aren't complex but they are real. And the production is top-notch, so fuck you?

    3. The same thing could be said about ice-cream tat rapper aka Gucci Mane.

    4. Circular arguments are about as stupid as the Gucci Mane comment. Mentioning Gucci in the same discussion as Q is idiotic

    5. Mane's lyrics are real (not saying their good). Q and Mane are about delivery. Mane tells his perspective and usually his beats are good so Q and Mane have a lot of similarities. The only differences is that Q's actual delivery is different and Q's flows, which are usually normal, unlike Mane who usually uses slow flows. Anybody can like what they like, but the arguement about Q being so good is ineffective. Just Saying.

    6. The Mash Out Posse are generally about threatening people and beating/killing/harming other people while dominating the world and being "world famous" with some hood struggle introspective sprinkled in their work. Are they highly complex? No. Are they more effective than Gucci at getting their point across? Yes. Schoolboy? Well if the 'Boy put some BASS in his voice...

  8. this site needs more three 6 mafia the old triple 6 shit i cant write a review but if i could i would do the majority of their catalog any way not really a fan of luda he got skill on the mic some of his songs alright not sure what to think of this one though and crash was a good movie aha

    yeh more three 6 mafia

    1. Duncan IdahoFebruary 25, 2014

      I agree! I used to just dismiss Three 6, but when I finally got around to their discography, it blew me away. Their most recent couple albums suck, but their first four or five are great, great music. They pioneered the whole "trap" sound that rap is stuck on now, TWO DECADES AGO. I'd rather listen to classic Three 6 than a rappety rap type album any day.

    2. they have a new tape under the name Da Mafia 6ix. Supposed to be really good

    3. It is really good, but the best songs are the ones where they just re-create the classics.

  9. AnonymousJuly 07, 2014

    This album was decent. Regardless of what you say about Child of The Night, that song is my shit. Love the sample and the positive theme to the song. I used to hate Luda when he first came out (still don't care for What's Your Fantasy or Ho) but he def can rap and his albums, up until the atrocious Battle of the Sexes, were fairly consistent.

  10. Anyone who likes Ludacris has no hip-hop credibility. His clownish antics are really what ruined hip-hop along with everyone else from Atlanta. He's a southern puff daddy with worse production