September 4, 2018

Ludacris - Release Therapy (September 26, 2006)

Prior to the release of his sixth full-length solo album, Release Therapy, rapper-slash-actor Christopher “Ludacris” Bridges wished to announce a shift in the tone of his upcoming work. Although better known for boasts-n-bullshit that fell more in the “lightly goofy” category (which his most popular singles portray, such as “Saturday (Oooh! Ooooh!)”, “Southern Hospitality”, and “Rollout (My Business)”), Chris wanted to dive into more serious topics of discussion, and with that naturally comes a different sound. So he did what any film writer would have a character do so to signal the change visually instead of through copious amounts of dialogue: Ludacris cut his hair.

And his braids have yet to returned, even to this day. Which may be more the result of a clause in his Fast & Furious franchise contract than anything else, but let’s pretend it has more significance.

Release Therapy was conceived as a single project with its individual songs divided into one of two categories: obviously, those categories were going to be called “release” and “therapy”, why were you expecting something more clever? Rather than deliver his own version of 4:44, which would have been revolutionary (relatively speaking), Chris recognized both the duality of man and the importance of discussing your issues and letting things go, and wanted his album to reflect those thought processes. That’s how Release Therapy ended up with songs such as the clubby “Money Maker” and the darker tale of three young girls, “Runaway Love”, as hit singles.

Consisting of only fourteen tracks, Release Therapy could be considered the tightest work of Ludacris’ career. It was preceded by a mixtape, Pre-Release Therapy, on which our host worked alongside DJ Green Lantern and Michael “5000” Watts to, I assume, get all of his goofier tics out before his straight-faced demeanor hit store shelves. Release Therapy isn’t strictly a solo affair, of course: he invited a number of A-list artists in his field to the sessions, both in the booth and behind the boards, including the likes of The Neptunes and Polow Da Don.  Def Jam supported the project with a huge marketing push, which included dropping five, count them, five singles, and their gamble paid off, as Release Therapy debuted in the top slot of the Billboard 200 and even won two Grammy awards, for Best Rap Song (“Money Maker”, inexplicably) and Best Rap Album.

And yet, aside from the young’uns online who still praise “Runaway Love” as a prime example of socially conscious hip hop (because they’ve likely never bothered to listen to any other rappers), Release Therapy seems to have been largely forgotten. Perhaps the mixed critical response for the project doomed its attempts at longevity. Even the Grammy awards he picked up for the project didn’t seem to help all that much: generally speaking, nobody ever talks about Release Therapy. And I’m not sure why that is.

Okay, that’s a lie: I absolutely know why that is, since I’m writing these paragraphs after having listened to Release Therapy in full. But just go along with me for a sec.

Much more self-serving than his typical rap album intros, a trope our host tends to excel at under normal circumstances. Luda’s lone verse takes place over a repetitive Vudu loop, lodged in between a child (possibly one of his own, I have no idea) introducing him as “that n---a names Luda” (simply because people think it’s funny when children use words that they shouldn’t) and a handful of actors (and also the artist formerly known as Tity Boi) all playing the singular role of “hater”. Chris gets some shots in at himself through the actors’ dialogue, showing that he’s in on the joke, but his bars are less than interesting, rendering the point moot. What were you warning us about, exactly?

This was really bad, you two. Luda’s bookending verses are full of his usual boasts and threats, but none of them land properly thanks to a combination of DJ Nasty and LVM’s boring-as-shit instrumental and our host’s own uninspired writing. Does Release Therapy mark the point in our host’s career where the man ran out of ideas? Yeah, probably, but we’re going to proceed regardless. Young Jeezy’s guest spot is among the worst I’ve ever fucking heard: dude never even bothers to rhyme his bars during his verse, which some of you will classify as “clever” while I plan on running with “he gave so few fucks that he couldn’t even be bothered to give his host a good performance.” (Curiously, the video for “Grew Up A Screw Up” features Jeezy spitting an alternate verse, so even he must have sensed his original was lacking.) The Notorious B.I.G. vocal sample (from 2Pac’s “Runnin’ (From Tha Police)”) that gives the songs its name was also misused pretty terribly. A shitshow for everyone involved.

The first single from the project, and also the first indication that Release Therapy was potentially a dumpster fire in the making. Ludacris Bridges has one of the most elastic flows in all of hip hop, so of course The Neptunes Pharrell (who also guests) gives our host some stale-as-fuck bling-free bullshit that’s somehow supposed to entice the ladies in the audience to dance. “Money Maker” is absolutely the worst lead-off single to drop for a Luda album: just because it was inexplicably popular doesn’t mean it was any goddamn good. I mean, Skateboard P asks the audience to “shake your money maker like somebody’s ‘bout to pay you,” while our host invites his female companions to “stand next to this money like hey, hey, hey.” Ugh. Credit where credit is due, though: the instrumental does spend a significant amount of time announcing its pending arrival, and successfully at that. It’s just that the beat it’s introducing sucks.

Our host’s ode to Joe Francis, who is just the worst, at least utilizes a far better Pharrell Neptunes instrumental, one that, impressively, sounds like an upgrade of the production team’s best work. (It helps that Chad Hugo actually contributed to this beat, unlike on the previous track.) But “Girls Gone Wild” still blows, and it’s virtually the same exact song as “Money Maker”, so its placement on Release Therapy immediately following its spiritual sibling is questionable at best. Our host goes it alone on here, delivering libido-fueled verses and a corny-ass hook for a club audience that never materialized, as this shit was only released as a single outside of the United States. Sigh.

The only track on Release Therapy that I revisit on a regular basis, “Ultimate Satisfaction” feels, to me anyway, like the natural progression of LudaChristopher, his shit-talking delivered in a calm fashion in direct contrast to Rich Skillz’s Benny Benassi-sampling production, which is abrasive and menacing, and I mean that as a compliment. Think of Busta Rhymes taming his manic personality into a focused performance: that's kind of what happens here. There are also two references to Snickers candy bars on here, both coming from the guests, so there’s that. Luda lets his boys in the Field Mob, Shawn Jay and Smoke, each take a verse, and neither man falters during the most high-profile placement of their respective careers. I remember the first time I heard “Ultimate Satisfaction” was while browsing-slash-fucking around in an f.y.e. store at a mall, strangely enough, and while they were obviously playing the censored version of the track, it still hit hard enough for me to seek out Release Therapy as a whole. I still enjoy this shit today, and regularly include it on my varied playlists, but accept that I’m likely in the minority here.

And we’re back in the bin now, although at least Luda was trying to stay on course during the DJ Toomp-produced “Mouths To Feed”, which kicks off describing the struggles of a man who isn’t qualified to do much in the work force but has to take care of his family somehow, and then veers off into “look at how rich I am, motherfucker” territory. Toomp’s instrumental isn’t bad, but it runs rather monotonously, and our host can’t help but believe his bars are deeper than they actually are thanks to said musical backing. I’d like this exercise in masochism to be finished now, please.

Luda’s never been a stranger to the “song for the ladies” concept, but that doesn’t make him an expert at this shit. Alas, “End Of The Night” is awful, from the Bobby Valentino hook to our host’s tired bars where he can’t even convince himself that sleeping with him is your best-case scenario.

Somehow “Woozy” is the exact same song as “End Of The Night”, except with the guest stars swapped out: Bobby V, as far as I know, doesn’t have any pending cases or problematic behavior under his belt, whereas his substitute, the pedophile, sex slave trainer, golden shower appreciator, and Chicago crooner known as Robert Kelly absolutely fucking does. How he hasn’t yet been cast out of the music industry outright is puzzling to me: “Step In The Name Of Love” isn’t that good, and when was the last time you heard this motherfucker on the radio with a new song that wasn’t a collaboration with Lady Gaga? (I was weirdly excited when Gaga unleashed a version of “Do What You Want” with Christina Aguilera filling in for Robert. No reason, really.) I have to assume that he’s making a lot of money for the right people, although I don’t understand how even that could be the case, because, again, when was the last time you heard this motherfucker on the radio with a new song, but then again, Chris fucking Brown still has a career, too, and he hasn’t had a hit single in, like, twenty years. Also, women still want to fuck both R. Kelly and Chris Brown. Fuck this shit. Thankfully, “Woozy” is appallingly terrible, so.

While I didn’t care much for the boring Omen instrumental, our host’s three verses were actually pretty goddamn good on “Tell It Like It Is”. (His overly-wordy hook, less so.) On this TED Talk set to music, LudaChristopher gives the listener all of his insight into being a part of the music industry on both the artistic and business sides, and gives helpful advice as to what you, a fledgling rapper, should strive for in order to keep yourself paid. Some of these bullet points are easier said than achieved (not every rap artist is given the opportunity to own their own masters, Luda), but he still comes across as a guy genuinely trying to help. Quickie personal dis to former DTP artist Chingy and shout-out to Jay-Z (who was his label boss at the time) aside, lyrically, this was very good, and our host sticks with the theme for the entirety. Not bad at all, Chris.

Just what you most likely didn’t need in your life: a Ludacris dis track aimed at T.I. Clearly, everything Clifford was doing at the time was getting underneath our host’s skin, so much so that he felt the need to take action by… writing a song that never names names and which takes place over a Dre & Vidal instrumental that is far too dull to be used for a song entitled “War With God”. Christopher’s bars are alright, but not great: even though he does give us the line, “Do like your records say, or shut the fuck up,” there are no K.O.s to be found here. Hell, Luda kind of clotheslines himself by claiming that he never used mixtapes to promote his career, and yet not only had one mixtape on the market at the time of Release Therapy’s, er, release, his very next project was a fucking mixtape. Man, was that awkward. Anywho, this was not very good, but if you want to hear Ludacris deliver verses while mildly peeved, here you go.

Our host somehow finagled the exact correct guests required for the concept song “Do Your Time”, reaching out to actual artists with serious jail time under their respective belts. Beanie Sigel, the late Pimp C, and the still-imprisoned-to-this-day C-Murder join our host for a track that provides ample description of a life incarcerated. Hell, the only person that doesn’t belong on here is Luda himself, having served no prison sentence of his own. Our host’s crude and sexist mention of female rapper (and signee to his DTP imprint) Shawnna notwithstanding, “Do Your Time” wasn’t terrible: The Trak Starz’s beat could have been harder, but the three guests sound so worn down that this song could actually deter listeners from a criminal lifestyle. Huh.

12. SLAP
Our host tries his best to take us through what he perceives to be a terrible day in the life, but while every event he describes is unfortunate, he doesn’t display enough emotion or passion for anything on “Slap” to be relatable to the average listener. Well, except for when the stereo is stolen from his car: his plaintive cry of, “I need my music, man!” (emphasis mine) hits you right in the feels. But the rest of this sucked.

I seem to remember Polow Da Don’s instrumental for “Runaway Love” sounding fuller, but that could just be a byproduct of the earbuds I’m using right now. Anyway, “Runaway Love” is still Luda’s most socially conscious single, on which he tells the tales of three separate young girls who all discover, at varying times, that the “world is so cold”. (Something that always pissed me off about this track: every verse begins and ends the same way, which does provide some sense of consistency, but is lazy from a writing standpoint.) This was a hit, likely because a lot of kids at the time found this to be “deep”, but kudos to our host for branching out and realizing that shit isn’t always so great in this world. Guest crooner Mary J. Blige doesn’t do all that much, but sounds fine regardless. Luda’s bit toward the end about wanting the girls to run away with him “together” was unintentionally creepy, though.

For his final trick, Ludacris talks to his God for a little over seven minutes over a Mr. Jonz-produced, gospel-tinged instrumental for “Freedom of Preach”, during which he apologizes for having beef with other rappers, which, well, if you truly felt that way, motherfucker, shouldn’t you have removed “War With God” from the final tracklisting of Release Therapy outright? Christopher addresses many different issues on “Freedom of Preach” and acknowledges that he’s only speaking his truth, while understanding that I, as the listener, may not care for this song. Me personally. He says “Max” and everything. It’s fine as an album closer, and I appreciated our host’s earnest attempt at exploring his thought processes, but there’s still no reason the track needed to be so lengthy. At least I’m done now.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Before you two ask yourselves, out loud, to your computer or phone screen, “Release Therapy won the Best Rap Album Grammy how?”, keep in mind what it was up against: in 2007, his competition was, apparently, Pharrell’s In My Mind, T.I.’s King (Luda’s win gives “War With God” an additional layer of complexity now, doesn’t it? No? Yeah, you’re right), Lupe Fiasco’s Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor, and The Roots’ Game Theory. So every nomination sucked. (And I love The Roots, don’t get me wrong, but they never had a real shot here.) Of course, we all know that a Grammy is in no way a mark of quality work: indeed, it’s a popularity contest, and Chris Bridges was very popular in 2006. But Release Therapy is a goddamn slog, folks. There may be only fourteen tracks, but the vast majority of them feature verses, from our host or otherwise, that tread water with the same old boasts-n-bullshit that ultimately makes zero sense for a project that’s supposed to have an alleged conscience, and the production mistakes “serious” for “boring” almost every single time. Even the songs that blatantly fetishize the Neptunes-patented club sound (such as both Neptunes-produced tracks) sound pained in their execution: Chris may have enjoyed recording “Money Maker”, but you can even hear in his voice that he feels hollow inside. The songs with promise point to a version of Release Therapy that never truly existed: I suppose Ludacris didn’t really have it in him to fully mature alongside his audience. Not that he was required to do so, of course, but if that’s what he was aiming for, it didn’t quite work out. “Ultimate Satisfaction” is my fucking shit, though.

BUY OR BURN? I wouldn’t waste time buying, burning, or streaming Release Therapy: just pull up the track(s) below, give them a test run, and then move it along.

BEST TRACKS? “Ultimate Satisfaction”; perhaps “Do Your Time” depending on your mood; “Tell It Like It Is” is at least well-written


Catch up with the Ludacris back catalog here.


  1. Yeah this album is quite boring. My biggest disagreement with you is on the assessment that TI's King sucks: the album is definitely too long, but the production bangs and some of the songs on there are fantastic.

    1. That wasn't as much an indictment on King's quality as it was a statement on how all of the nominees weren't anywhere near the level one would expect from an allegedly prestigious organization such as the Recording Academy. I said Game Theory sucked too, and I like that album. But I get how it could read otherwise.

    2. Ah that's fair. I'd need to go back and look, but I feel like 2006 was a pretty horrible year for hip hop albums (like much of the mid-2000s were). Honestly, a couple of those albums might have been in the running even in a truly prestigious format.

  2. Money Maker being a hit still baffles me, that song came out when I was in middle school and I didn't even understand why it was popular then. In retrospect a lot of the hits from 05-07 were pretty shitty, though.

  3. thank u for lookin into d south which iz unusual hopefully one day I might c some T.I,UGKk or BUN B one day

    1. Check the sidebar - there are a bunch of Southern artists reviewed by both myself and the readers, including T.I. and UGK, among others.

  4. Growing up in the South in the mid-2000's I heard so much of this album that I can't go too hard on it, but I agree this isn't great. In addition to the tracks you listed, I like the song with Jeezy (yes its paint by the numbers but I like these numbers), "Slap" (the most relatable Luda will ever be), and "Runaway Love" (I always think of this as Luda's "Brenda's Got a Baby," AKA a worse version of the great song with way too much singing).

  5. On a completely unrelated note, when are you hitting us up with that "Kamikaze" review Max? I'm really curious to hear your take on it.

    1. That means I'd have to actually listen to it first.

  6. I found Theater of the Mind to be a much better followup.

  7. honestly i ride for king, f&l, *and* game theory, but i understand what you mean.

  8. I totally forgot about this albums existence

  9. KAMIKAZE asap please MAX

  10. This album was simply ok nothing more nothing less. On a much more serious note, Max when will you be reviewing Prodigy's final album The Hegelian Dialectic?

    1. Most likely, but he has at least one other one that I'd want to get through first, at least according to his catalog on Discogs.

  11. Theater of the Mind was better than this one.

    1. I'd put "Ultimate Satisfaction", and only "Ultimate Satisfaction", up against the entirety of Theater Of The Mind, and it'd still lose to "One More Drink" (which I still enjoy, even though it's cheesy as shit). But still, I think we can all agree it would have made more sense if that track appeared on Theater.

  12. No probs Max, I look forward to hearing your views on P's final album.

  13. Random question Max, have you ever listened to any of Jay Rocks albums?

    1. Probably not as thoroughly as some, but yeah

  14. Cool. I do look forward to you one day reviewing his latest album Redemption.