Ludacris has used hip-hop as a springboard in a way that only a few of his peeps have been able. After solid albums, mixtpaes, singles, guest spots and videos that solidified him as a force of an artist in the first half of the 2000s, the Atlanta native began seep into other ventures; appearances in Crash and Hustle & Flow began to build his chops as an actor; he’s also opened restaurants, and has his own line of liquor and headphones. With the new mixtape, 1.21 Gigawatts: Back to the First Time, Luda looks to reinsert himself into the conversation of the hottest MCs in the game.

On this 12-track offering, the rapper’s message is pretty clear-cut, from start to finish: I’m successful and I’m still nice with it, so don’t fuck with me. Over thumping Southern flavored production, he unabashedly lays this out on cuts like “Save It For Another Day,” “Say It To My Face” (featuring a characteristically aggressive and believable verse from Meek Mill), and “ I Ain’t The One,” next to 2 Chainz. The much buzzed about “Bada Boom” is more of the same, where Luda sends a warning shot in the direction, it seems, of Drake and Big Sean, for not only failing to acknowlede his own history with the pause, stop/hashtag/”Supa Dupa” flow, but for naming him, in interviews, as a culprit of misusing it.

Through his career, inventive flows have been a forte of DTP head honcho. Cris has continually shown an ability to fire off frenzied flows, with quick changes in pitch, tone and tempo. Here, that comes in pockets. On “Intro,” he does employ a tongue-twisting delivery reminiscent of some of his best performances, and on the Rick Ross-assisted “Do Sumthin Strange,” Luda’s words are entertainingly enunciated; on “Muthafucka Can U Buy That,” it’s a little of both.

Though he’s not quite back to the first time with his latest mixtape, missing some of the hunger (despite talking about it) and a bit stale in content, Ludacris does remind why he’s reigned as one of rap’s heavyweights for a decade-plus. —Adam Fleischer