For years, Ludacris has stood at the convergence of two implacably divided camps: hip-hop fundamentalists and casual, neophyte listeners. His flow is ideally suited to rowdy club pleasers, but he’s a man of formidable substance, calling the beltway media out on its skullduggery and lobbying for the dissolution of mass incarceration. Whatever the cause célèbre at hand, he acquits himself as likeable, flexing his robust sense of humor through a thousand-watt grin.
But Ludaversal, the rapper’s eighth studio album, marks a newfangled development in his career. It’s his moodiest record yet, suffused top to bottom with acrimony. Songs like “Charge It to the Rap Game” and “This Has Been My World” throw shade at the serpent-likes of the industry: “They want to see us with no money/ Hungover and missing flights, cutting our show money.” The show biz fatigue assumes a gravitational pull on Luda’s collaborators. Even the normally cheerful Rick Ross turns dastardly, obliterating prosecutors in his 2009 child support case.
Meanwhile, the vices of Luda’s kinfolk are starting to beget him. “Ocean Skies,” featuring R&B chanteuse Monica, bids a conflicted farewell to his late, cirrhosis-stricken father. Elsewhere on Ludaversal, Ludacris cops to hitting the sauce inordinately hard. Conjure is the yeast that helps him rise out of bed in the morning, but liquor’s healing properties are finite. On “Real Good Lovin’,” he conceded nothing can quite mitigate his teeming anguish.
Not to make too fine a point of his sour deportment. Luda is no killjoy. He reverts to his giddily irreverent old ways on “Beast Mode” (“I leave rappers confused like will.i.am’s barber”), and then makes a beeline to the club for “Call Ya Bluff,” a turn-up anthem with hulking Mississippi rapper Big K.R.I.T. The title track commences Ludaversal with a packet of feisty monologue gags.
Ludaversal isn’t as hype as Back for the First Time, his sweat-bedraggled 2000 debut, but the production is mood appropriate. Many of these beats could soundtrack a preoccupied stroll in the moonlight. David Guetta, DJ Toomp and others indulge a blaxploitation kick; jazz flugelhorns and rat-a-tatting bongos are the order of the day here. The bum-outs outnumber the bangers by a decisive ratio on Ludaversal, but that speaks to the rapper’s comfort in straddling dissimilar topics. Ludacris is multilingual, as fluent in self-analysis as he is in trash talk. – M.T. Richards