Lil’ Wayne, Jay-Z, T.I. and Kanye West. These are the usual suspects mentioned when the conversation moves towards your big-money rappers. Why Ludacris is consistently overlooked in that conversation is a mystery and just plain wrong.
While the wildly successful Atlanta rapper/actor has sold millions of records and starred in Oscar-nominated movies (Crash), he rarely if ever shows up in tabloids or paparazzi shots. And on the same day that Kanye West’s much-ballyhooed 808s & Heartbreak had the masses scratching their heads to Tears For Fears samples, Ludacris dropped the much sturdier Theater of the Mind.
Loaded with club bangers (“One More Drank”) and radio hits (“What Them Girls Like”), it’s the class of big-money commercial rap albums (debuting to sales of over 213,000 copies) that are fewer and further between. Theater of the Mind culminates with an incendiary four-track suite of songs (including an amazing beat from DJ Premier, “MVP”) where Ludacris trades verses with Nas, Jay-Z, Lil’ Wayne and Common, and should all but insure it a Best Rap Album Grammy nomination in 2010.
Speaking from his home base of Atlanta the day after the 2009 Grammys, Ludacris seems unconcerned about the lack of scandalous headlines in his life. He does, however, have a new album that’s already done and can recommend a great Singaporean restaurant.
So what did you think of the Grammys this year?
I watched it as a fan, and found it pretty boring. There were a couple of exceptions. I was really glad to see Lil’ Wayne perform with Allen Toussaint in honor of New Orleans. I loved that.
Considering the November 2008 release date, do you expect to see Theater of the Mind in the running for Best Rap Album next year?
Ah, I’ll have another album out in time for that one! I’m on the move. The next album is called Battle of the Sexes and should be out around August of this year.
That’s the one with Shawnna, the female rapper signed to your Disturbing Tha Peace label, correct?
It’s my album, but yeah, it features Shawnna representing for the ladies. My whole point is to do things in hip-hop that have never been done before and to fill a gap. There’s never been an album with a male and female MC touching on different relationship issues. It’s 80% done already.
What inspires you after having already achieved so much success in rapping as well as acting?
I’m driven by the desire to touch on things that have yet to be done. I want to be a pioneer in the game. Theater of the Mind is more of a hip-hop oriented album. I didn’t feel like hip-hop was being represented enough in today’s music, and that’s where that came from. I want to inject that same energy into Battle of the Sexes. There are no female MCs representing right now.
I know you’re already onto the next album, but Theater of the Mind is a really great album that’s been completely underrated
Some of the best albums are, man! I’m happy with the feedback I’ve gotten from it. It puts me in the position to keep moving forward. I feel like I’ve done my duty.
There’s no reason you couldn’t have two albums competing for the same award
Yeah, that would be dope!
A lot was made about collaboration between yourself and Good Charlotte. Whatever came of that?
I’m still working with them. What we came up with just didn’t fit the theme of Theater of the Mind. But that doesn’t mean we won’t be coming with something soon. So far, it sounds like the perfect gel of alternative rock and rap.
Are you any closer to a duet with Eminem you’ve spoken about in the past?
I had a chance to speak with Em recently. He let me know that he’s hard at work on his new album, and that once he gets that handled we’ll definitely be getting together in the future. That’s something I’m really looking forward to.
You’ve had more success at acting than most rappers. Why do you think that is?
I love what I do. I love rapping and acting, and I’ve been blessed.
Who are some of the producers on Battle of the Sexes?
In the same way you say that Theater of the Mind is underrated, let’s just say that a lot of underrated producers are working on this next one! Guys you might not expect.
With all of the economic strife and the inauguration of a new President, how are things at home in Atlanta?
Man, we’re pulling through. We’re going to sustain either way. Of course it is hard for a lot of people, but in the end we’re going to be OK. I still have my restaurant Straits open, and the food is good enough to keep it going, and I’m proud about that.
Strait serves Singaporean cuisine. How did you get into that?
It’s no different that my music. I like to do things that are different and unique. I wanted to introduce something hot and exotic to that part of Atlanta. I can bring people in for the first time, but the food has to bring them back. Thanks to my chef and partner Chris Yeo, the food does bring them back. I knew the restaurant business would be hard, but we’re making it happen.