Whenever I’m in the company of music aficionados and a discussion about the top five MCs comes up I always hear the same names. Yeah, everyone has their own personal favorites on their list but they’re basically still pulling from the same pool. The Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Nas, Eminem, 2Pac, Kanye West, Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, Lil Wayne, etc.

Very rarely have I heard Ludacris’ name come up in the discussion. Everyone agrees he’s a beast on the mic, but for some reason he always gets overlooked. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it’s probably because he’s never delivered a hands down classic album.

Don’t get me wrong; Luda has definitely made some bangers over the past decade (turns up “Southern Hospitality” on iPod) but a few dope singles each album does not equal a classic.

For all the usual suspects generally mentioned in “best rapper” lists, each one generally has that undeniable classic album(s) on their resume. Biggie has Ready to Die, Nas has Illmatic, Rakim & Eric B. has Paid in Full, Jay has Blueprint, etc. When it comes to Luda, though, I feel like he’s missing that complete body of work that had critics and fans foaming at the mouth.

Sure, Release Therapy earned Luda a Grammy for Best Rap Album in ’06 (T.I. was robbed, King reigned supreme that year, IMHO) but the only songs I can remember off the top of my head from that LP are “War With God” and “Runaway Love,” featuring Mary J. Blige. Oh, and “Slap” definitely got me through a few tough days at the office, but aside from that it wasn’t my favorite Luda LP.

FUN FACT: Although Release Therapy sold 1.2 million units it was the first time in Luda’s career that he did not go multi-platinum. The album also debuted at No. 1, ahead of pop icon Janet Jackson’s 2006 release, 20 Y.O.

Time and time again, Ludacris has proven to us that he’s one of the best at what he does. He puts up numbers consistently; bodies MCs on remixes and gust verses on the regular; has mainstream appeal with his Hollywood hustlin’; and caters to both the fellas and chicks without losing any of his credibility.

Still, I feel like not having a classic album under his belt is the one thing holding Ludacris back from breaking into those great MCs debates. Although I’m still mad at the dismissal of my bootylicious girl Shawnna, I’m actually looking forward to Battle of the Sexes. As good as the leaked tracks I’ve heard thus far are, though, I’m still not expecting a classic from the Ludameister this go ’round.

The question(s) remain, though: Does Luda (or any MC for that matter) need to have a classic album to be considered one of the best to ever spit it? If not, what MC is on your Top 5 list that doesn’t have a classic under his/her belt? Why do you think Luda tends to be underrated? —Anslem Samuel