Reviewing Luda's latest effort, on the heels of Furious 7.
In many ways, the early 2000s belonged to Ludacris. Within that time, the rapper was able to cross multiple platforms, making palatable music for varying tastes tinged with his trademark Dirty South sound. He would drop cheeky hit after cheeky hit, with a self serious flow delivered through a cheshire grin - and we all loved him for it.
That was until he decided to allow his acting career to gradually eclipse his musical efforts over the last half decade.
Now, with Ludaversal, Chris Bridges returns in effort to re-validate his street cred after building up his iMDB cred, dropping his first studio release in five years. This would be a valiant and understandable goal for the rapper turned actor if it were the only one he had in making this record. Instead, it seems as though the realities of the reformed gangsta lifestyle have seeped their way into the consciousness of the multi-platinum recording artist, making it so that whether he likes it or not (or we like it or not, for that matter), some room must be saved (even on banger tracks) for the sentimentality of a 37-year old man looking back on his life and career.
While some releases over the years have proven that the right artists teamed with the right producers can crank out a quality record that balances themes from opposite sides of the spectrum, Ludaversal is not one of those albums. Yes, on a handful of tracks there are the belly-busting bars told via yell-flow deserving of a megaphone that audiences have come to expect from Luda (“I leave rappers confused like Will.I.Am’s barber”). However, even the Atlanta bred emcee’s best lyrics on Ludaversal are oftentimes overshadowed by mediocre beats that feel like leftovers from the previous decade.
This sound doesn’t do Ludacris any favors. In fact, it highlights the chinks in his armor. No matter how hard Luda goes on Ludaversal, its disjointed nature can, at times, make its author seem like a try-hard. A song like “Get Lit” may have life in a boozy club somewhere over the coming months, but there are better odds in it being totally transparent to even the most turnt of audiences. “Come and See Me” has some banger value, but gets little lift from Big K.R.I.T.-- and with its car references, it winds up feeling more like a commercial for the "Fast and the Furious" franchise than anything else.
That’s not to say Ludaversal isn’t ever any fun-- because it is at times. The way the album begins sets high expectations for the rest of the album, perhaps too high, with Luda diving head first into the deep end “getting right into it.” “Beast Mode” lives up to its name, as Luda lets himself loose for nearly four minutes (“and since I’m always high it’s kinda hard to overlook me” speaks aptly to the track's stand-out value on the album). Even when he gets a little vulnerable it’s still okay. By the time the album reaches its conclusion, tracks like “Grass is Always Greener” and “Real Good Lovin” actually come across as perfect example of what this record could have been, wherein Bridges allows himself to get a little raw, weighing the sometimes-heavy options that come with nearing 40, without betraying the bravado that makes him so beloved.
Ludacris’ name is synonymous with ambition. His thriving film career is a testament to that, and his desire to-- on Ludaversal-- tackle the topics that tax him at the end of the day is surely commendable. Unfortunately, it works to the rapper/actor's detriment here. It’s not that Luda bit off more than he can chew, it’s just that he’s chewing on too many different cuisines. Within five tracks, Luda drops a skit about an unwavering erection and an ode to his late alcoholic father. Because of their proximity, both fall flat on their face.
But, maybe this is the catch to dropping an album after a long hiatus. The apparent obligation one feels to include tracks about reclaiming the throne actually takes away from the original artistic intent of the album. Or at the very least muddies it. Ludacris spends so much time on this release fending off the hierarchy of the current rap landscape, though it doesn’t ring true because it’s not clear where his paranoia lies. Are Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and Joey Bada$$ the artists Ludacris isn’t ready to pass the torch to? Because nothing on this album sounds anything like something that would be found on theirs.
One thing's for sure, and that’s that Ludaversal is a confusing experience. Whereas previous releases by the rapper motivate a testosterone fueled rampage, Ludaversal brings about a sigh. With little to no clarity as to whether or not it is a nostalgia tour, a reinvention, or a reinvigoration for Ludacris, it settles for none of the above, winding up as just a collection of a few new Luda tracks - some duds, some not.