Unlike the mix genre selections that the Grammy board makes, I didn’t just conjure up this “traditional mainstream hip-hop album” category to make space for my MC of choice. I pretty much based my winner on the fact that he’s a mainstream MC who is constantly overlooked in a field of experimental rappers. With Kanye West tapping his inner Anita Baker this go ’round, Lil Wayne galloping the galaxy as a rap/rock hybrid with triple stack styrofoam cups and T.I. walking the fine line of gangsta and a gentleman, Ludacris stands as the only hip-hop beacon of light in the Hollywood world of rap.
This isn’t because Luda is the wild wordsmith that someone who is six albums deep should be heralded as; it’s more about the packaging of his product. With Theater of The Mind, Luda made the effort of producing a concept album that doesn’t come off as contrite and confused. It’s fun enough to catch your ear with bouncy bass heavy beats, yet attacks the issues at hand concerning the controversies he’s been in the last year or so. And yeah, if you call a spat with T.I. and a denouncing from the President-elect as light PR work, I would agree, but Lil Flip still hasn’t recovered from Tip’s drilling of his career (jury is still out on Shawty Lo) and Obama can ether you with the raise of an eyebrow, so understand the level Luda was dealing with.
The fact that his album is overrun with “co-stars” isn’t as much of a concern since most albums today are guest heavy. I make the case for traditional being his bed of beats are early 90s neck snap worthy. What mainstream rapper has more than one track with live cuts and scratches on the hooks? I kept thinking this was a glorified mixtape, with all the jigga-jigga action. Being partial to dope DJ skills, I say this is the winning formula for Luda as he raps strong until the DJ’s jabs cut him off. He constantly digs into a track vocally, the stressing of words and sonic boom of his voice commands attention, even if he’s not killing it on the lyrical miracle cool whip shit. His street appeal isn’t on level 10. Luda’s gangsterism status isn’t up there either. It’s just he attacks every time he spits, so at least he’s heard on some, “that was a dope line” shit.
Ok, he has a T-Pain joint, yes, but it’s ill and creative. He has a Chris Brown one too, but who doesn’t (even Nas ((who I’m not counting as mainstream)) did it with C. Breezy)? To me, Luda balances it all out with a DJ Premier throwback track, thick with sliced up rap quotables, “MVP” is a gem. The Nas and Jay love fest “I Do It For Hip-Hop” gets by with the topic being relevant (I think Nas’ verse gets overlooked) to today’s fake rap cats. Yet, I think Theater of The Mind scores with me ‘cus of the feeling I get when I hear the album as a whole. It reminds me of a Redman album (we so need a new one right now), just that 90s aura. Is that a good thing? Fuck it if it ain’t. I like the album on some hip-hop shit. -DT
Commence the slaughter daughters…