One can never accuse Ludacris of being a card-carrying member of hip-hop’s testosterone-driven all-boys club, where women are better seen than heard. Go as far back as his major-label debut, 2000’s Back for the First Time, and you’ll see that the Atlanta-based rapper has always made an effort to incorporate women into his music. His first hit single from that debut, “What’s Your Fantasy,” was a clever play to fulfill female desires, while the remix featured an all-female ensemble, with then Disturbing Tha Peace first lady Shawnna, Miami’s Trina and the Ill Na Na, Foxy Brown. On 2003’s Chicken-N-Beer the infectious “Splash Waterfalls” bragged of Luda’s far-reaching charm with the ladies, as the raunchy “P-Poppin’” once again provided a platform for Shawnna to shine.
It’s safe to say Luda has a way with the ladies, but he’s had his battles with them, as well. In 2005, talk-show queen Oprah Winfrey, who is known not to be a fan of all sides of hip-hop, lectured ’Cris on the derogatory use of the words bitches and hoes, when he visited her show with the cast of the film Crash, which he appeared in. The moment ignited hip-hop’s long-running sexist debate and drew a line in the sand between the sexes.The single father followed the controversy with a bright encounter with the opposite sex that was not rooted in a sexual nature. His powerful collaboration with Mary J. Blige, “Runaway Love,” was a mainstream success that helped to lock down a Grammy for his 2006 album, Release Therapy. Still, that wasn’t enough to fix hip-hop’s sexual inequality.
That never-ending struggle to even the playing field between the genders has become the basis for Luda’s new effort, Battle of the Sexes. Originally billed as a concept album starring Luda and Shawnna, things changed after the quick-tongued femcee traded in her DTP membership for a place on T-Pain’s Nappy Boy roster. Still, with a solid idea in place, the well-connected wordsmith called in some favors from hip-hop and R&B’s leading ladies—Lil’ Kim, Nicki Minaj, Eve, Trina, Ciara, Monica—and a few of the fellas—Gucci Mane, Lil Scrappy, Flo Rida, Ne-Yo, Trey Songz—to put together a solid body of work that should provide treats for all interested parties.
A supreme soloist, Luda needed no assistance on the album’s ubiquitous lead single, “How Low.” The energetic strip-club-friendly banger is packed with Luda’s trademark off-color talk. It doesn’t take long for the special invited guests to make their presence felt. Nicki Minaj’s turn on the rambunctious “My Chick Bad” proves she’s got the goods to be the perfect playmate to any of rap’s leading men. On the remix, Eve shows flashes of her former self, alongside Crime Mob’s Diamond and the Diamond Princess. Although Luda tries to shed light on the double standard for promiscuous women (“If men sleep around, we some players, but for women, they be saying, ‘Hey ho’”), the brash “Hey Ho,” featuring Lil’ Kim and DTP mainstay Lil Fate, is sure to ruffle some feminist feathers.
Surprisingly for an album billed as giving an equal voice to men and women, it turns out that the guys play a larger role. Album filler like the alcohol anthem “Everybody Drunk,” with Lil Scrappy, and the Gucci Mane–assisted club pleaser “Party No Mo’” stray from the original concept. The space would have been better served by relevant material, spotlighting the ladies. Though the male dominance doesn’t go unnoticed, it’s easy to get over, thanks to lush tunes with R&B standouts Trey Songz (“Sex Room”) and Ne-Yo (“Tell Me a Secret”). And despite a conscious effort to downplay Shawnna’s presence on the project, her chemistry with Luda is undeniable. Personal differences aside, they are as potent a combo as any. The duo leave nothing to the imagination on the sexually explicit “Feelin’ So Sexy.”
Credit Ludacris for successfully venturing into a battlefield most dare not explore. The always-self-assured star did what he could to remedy the dearth of a female presence in the genre. He even brought some levity to a usually hot-button debate, with the playful spoof of Tiger Woods’s much-publicized infidelity issues on “Sexting.”
Luda may not have evened the playing field, but he certainly created an excellent musical forum for the sexes to air out their differences. —Rondell Conway