Rap superstar and actor gives us a front row seat at his Theater of the Mind
On Ludacris’s new album, Theater of the Mind [Def Jam/Disturbing Tha Peace], there’s a track called “Everybody Hates Chris.” It’s a hilarious hip hop romp co-starring comedian Chris Rock. Rock stands toe-to-toe with Luda, trading hysterical, incisive lyrical blows.
However, after talking to Chris “Ludacris” Bridges for a mere five minutes, it’s hard to believe that anyone could hate him. He may have sold over 15 million records worldwide and appeared in critically acclaimed films such as Crash and Hustle and Flow, but he’s still an affable, funny and friendly cat. Rap’s a fickle game, especially for an artist who’s seen both chart and big screen success of that magnitude. It doesn’t matter to Mr. Bridges though. He’s far too busy to even worry about what any detractors might have to say. That’s the message of “Everybody Hates Chris.”
From acting in this fall’s RocknRolla and Max Payne to running Disturbing Tha Peace Records to playing live, Ludacris certainly has his hands full. Adding to his plate, he just dropped Theater of the Mind at the end of November, and he’s got an upcoming role alongside Gerard Butler  in the action sci-fiepic, The Game [Out Summer 2009]. Touching down at the airport, he’s on his way to, you guessed it, handle more business, but as always, he’s cracking a wide smile. “I can’t complain, my friend. If I complained, I’d be dead wrong.”
An intelligent, suave MC with a unique cadence and a knack for clever stories, Ludacris is the 21st century’s answer to Slick Rick. He also happens to be the sharpest rapper to emerge from the Dirrty South. Theater of the Mind is his sixth full-length release, but he’s become an even better MC and entertainer on this outing. The record plays out like a blockbuster summer flick. It’s got action, laughs and even love — well it’s the kind of love that comes after way too many drinks at the club, but you get the picture. Theater of the Mind may very well be the first cinematic rap record.
“There’s a first time for everything,” he laughs. “This is album six, so I had to reinvent myself and come up with new things. I wanted take my creativity to an all-time high.
I wanted to present people with something other than just regular music and add an element of presentation. When you listen to the beginning of the album, you hear the movie reel rolling. I hope you feel something on every song. That’s what music should be about. If you don’t feel anything from the beats and the lyrics, it’s basically irrelevant, in my opinion.” All of his current screen time certainly played a part in cultivating the album’s cinematic bombast. “To a degree, I think the record was inspired by my participation in so many films recently,” he continues. “However, it was also inspired by trying to do something a little different and new. When you listen to music, you can paint a visual picture when certain things are said. I took that idea to a whole new level. I wanted to paint a visual picture on every song.” He had the chance to paint that picture alongside some of the biggest names in hip hop, including Lil Wayne, T-Pain, T.I., The Game and many others. “The tracks I did with T.I. and Lil Wayne were like us swapping, because I did songs for them. Lil Wayne and I went hard on ‘Last of a Dying Breed.’ It’s an event. That’s what I try to do with every song — make it a damn event. Lil Wayne’s a real lyricist, and there was some great competition on that record. I love working with different artists. On my album, I call them, ‘co-stars’ instead of ‘features.’ I think it’s good to have that competitive nature. We’re going at each other on Theater. It’s a crazy competition [Laughs].” That competition truly peaked on “Everybody Hates Chris.” Ludacris laughs just thinking about the song. “While I was shooting Max Payne in Toronto, I hit up Chris Rock. He happened to be coming up there to do his comedy show. I asked him to come listen to the song and if he’d be interested in getting on it. When he heard the record, he was like, ‘Hell yeah, I’m down.’ My name is Chris and he has a show called Everybody Hates Chris, that’s basically what it came down to. I swear we had to condense what you hear on the record. He was just freestyling. He was in the booth going hard.
It was basically freestyle comedy. I took the best of it. If you heard the unedited version of what he said, you’d be dying laughing. He said a bunch of funny stuff.” However, Ludacris didn’t just look to Hollywood and the rap world for Theater’s cast members. He also infiltrated the sports world, nabbing Floyd Mayweather for the robust and raucous “Undisputed.” He explains, “Floyd Mayweather is undisputed in boxing, and I feel like I’m undisputed in the rap game [Laughs]. The song compares punch lines and actual punches. There are metaphors between being in the ring and rap competition. There are a lot of similarities.
That’s one of my favorite songs because there are just so many damn punch lines and metaphors. It’s poetry in motion: my pen bleeds on the paper, heart screams with emotion.” Ever the perfectionist, Ludacris continues to challenge himself, by delving further into film. “Movies have been good. I’m still taking supporting roles. I want to continue to learn before I step into a starring role. I’ve been balancing music and movies. They are interrelated in a sense. However, there is one big difference. When I do music, I’m one hundred percent on my own time. I make my own rules. When I do movies, I’m on somebody else’s time. Between movies and music, I’m taking it one hour at a time, my friend. You’ve got to hustle. In times like this, you’ve got to make sure you’re consistent and you work hard.” Ludacris never ceases to hustle, and acting has become an integral part of his larger than life persona. He’s excited at any mention of his next confirmed big screen jaunt, The Game. “It’s a futuristic action flick set ten years from now. The Game is basically reminiscent of The Running Man with Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s about these convicts in jail. They can take on a deal where they can enter a battle zone and be played as an actual video game character by another human being.
The convicts do it in order to shave time off of their sentences. It’s really crazy. There are chips in their brains that allow another human being to play them in the battle zone. It’s extremely tripped-out.” All of that screen time still hasn’t turned Ludacris “Hollywood” though. When he’s in tinsel town, he enjoys some of the more upscale establishments like Koi and Mr. Chow, but he’s always down to hit Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. “When I’m in L.A., I eat at Roscoe’s a lot. I shout it out on my records,” he laughs with a smile.
“You’ve got to love it, man. Who would’ve thought that combination of chicken and waffles would’ve been perfect for the palate?” Coming from the man who titled an album, Chicken-N-Beer, this isn’t a shocker, but it proves that Ludacris is still down-to-earth.
He also still loves playing live. “One of the greatest rewards of being an artist is being able to perform and having everybody know your words. There’s no better gratitude than doing something and having a response like that. Knowing that people are listening to album cuts, not just songs on the radio, and that they’re feeling your music keeps me motivated. In ‘Last of a Dying Breed,’ I say, ‘MC means move the crowd.’ It’s not about just standing in one place, it’s about giving people their money’s worth and making sure you’re just as energetic as they are.” There’s no rest for such an industry presence. He just came off another Saturday Night Live appearance, and it proved another good time for Luda. “SNL was great, man. I did ‘One More Drink’ with T-Pain, and we did a skit. The last time I was on there, I was the host and the musical performer. That was crazy. This time, we did one skit that was a continuation of one that I did before. It’s called ‘Blizzard Man.’ The whole SNL experience is always great. Anytime you do live television, it is what it is at the time. It always brings that element of excitement to another level. I love doing SNL.” However, that’s not the last act of promotion for Theater by any means. “We’re working through the holidays. Maybe, we’ll take a break on the actual holidays themselves — Thanksgiving and Christmas day [Laughs]. Besides, that we’re working.” Looking straight ahead, he continues, “I don’t take myself too seriously, especially at a time like this. I love cracking on my own self and doing things like that. If I’m making fun of me, you know that I don’t take myself too seriously at all, and I don’t think anybody should.”
That’s just another reason to love Luda…
– RICK FLORINO