This might come as a surprise, but the artist who boasted the most US Top 40 hits in the noughties was not Beyonce, Usher, Justin Timberlake, Jay Z or even Britney Spears - that distinction, in fact, goes to Atlanta's madcap rhyme-slinger Ludacris, who entered the chart 18 times as a lead artist and a further 14 times as a featured rapper between the years 2000 and '09.
Hardly a household name like those above, Luda was still a single-making machine at his peak, cranking out instantly chant-able bangers with wall-to-wall sizzling one-liners, like the tweaked-out sexual potboiler 'What's Your Fantasy' and damn-near-apocalyptic club thumper 'Stand Up'. Great for a guest spot too, the ATLien specialised in short, dazzling verses – exploding onto other artist's tracks like a caged beast unleashed, chewing up all around him, and rushing off without having to deal with the fall out.
Such a style is hard to maintain over a lengthy running time, but albums like 'Word of Mouf' (2001) and 'Chicken-n-Beer' (2003) were ridiculously fun efforts, carried over the line by Luda's indomitable presence and personality.
'Ludaversal', the rapper's first LP in five years, sees the 37 year-old attempt to comfortably shift back into his previous guise – an assertion that the multi-millionaire's fire has not been extinguished by the distractions of the Hollywood system he drifted away from music to enjoy. "They say Luda don't want it no mo'/No nigga, I'm as hungry as the first day," he raps on the album's intro.
In fact, Luda seems more interested in calling out his doubters than having fun with his fans. The album is top-loaded with tracks like 'Call Ya Bluff' that refute claims he's fallen off, which feels a little excessive considering that, barring a minor spat with Big Sean and Drake a while back, there are few people who've ever questioned his absence or belittled his qualities. This feels more like Ludacris is actually addressing his own personal doubts, and they affect his judgement.
He throws everything he has into loading the chorus-less 'Beast Mode' with his trademark witticisms, and while there's a few bars in there that are real pearlers ("I leave rappers confused like Will.i.am's barber"), many of the gags fall short. "Fuckin' with Luda's not a great look/A verse'll make your fans unfriend you on Facebook," finds him all thumbs with a reference that would have felt passé five years ago, let alone in 2015.
He can still rap though, and his voice still sounds like that of a young man. The trunk-rattling 'Get Lit' and Southern bounce of the Big KRIT-featuring 'Come And See Me' recapture the good-time Luda of old, while the fresh 'n' funky 'Not Long' rides a Menahan Street Band sample previously flipped by Kendrick Lamar and Curren$y, coming off as effortlessly cool as the original.
Elsewhere, 'Ocean Skies' is a sobering account of the alcohol problems suffered by his deceased father that finds the artist admitting the uneasiness a side career as a liquor manufacturer has brought him. An absorbing account, it's just unfortunate that the song is hampered a syrupy stock hook, sung here by Monica.
These moments of quality hold far more weight than Ludacris's declarations that he's still an artist to be reckoned with, though he weirdly contradicts himself on 'Grass is Always Greener', rapping, "Did some movies and started missing this rap shit/Back to rap and starting missing them movies". It's a microcosm for the muddled thinking that holds 'Ludaversal' back.
Still, this is a record that proves when the mood is right, Luda is still capable of bashing out hits worthy of a place in his 24-carat canon.
Words: Dean Van Nguyen
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