releasetherapy.jpgLudacris is dying to be taken seriously—at least some of the time. The Atlanta rapper has demanded respect from Bill O’Reilly and Oprah Winfrey. He’s cut his trademark braids to a more-sophisticated low fade. And on his sixth solo effort, Release Therapy, he even addresses issues such as child abuse and the prison population. The result is a solid album short on obvious club bangers but long on the more worldly perspective of a rap veteran.

Though he’s known more for clever punch lines and bombastic choruses, Luda manages to deliver social commentary with equal skill. The Trak Starz–produced “Do Your Time” could’ve easily become a trite big-up to brothers locked down, but ’Cris sends a passionate kite to the incarcerated scarfaces in his life, while Beanie Sigel, Pimp C and C-Murder candidly speak on their firsthand experiences behind bars. Meanwhile, Mary J. Blige’s sorrowful wail gives “Runaway Love”—a three-part cautionary tale about girls forced to grow up too fast—a tender, soulful edge.

Despite his newfound deeper perspective, Luda hasn’t lost touch with his party-animal persona. In fact, on “Woozy,” a naughty slice of bedroom funk featuring R. Kelly, he’s spellbound by some booty, blurting out, “Like Vicks Vapor/I wanna fuckin’ ruuuub it.” The sex-obsessed rhymes continue on the Neptunes-produced “Money Maker,” where he brags, “Let me give you some swimming lessons on the penis/Backstroke, breaststroke, stroke of a genius.” Aside from Pharrell’s droopy congas and bland whispered hook, it’s a standard Ludacris cut in all its horny glory.

For the most part, though, Luda manages to balance the profane with the profound. The most notable example being the handclapping gospel uplift “Freedom of Preach.” Making a personal proclamation to the Lord, he cleanses his spirit and comes to the realization that there’s more to hip-hop than party and bullshit: “Either I’m smarter ’cause of my daughter or I’m just that dense/I’m 28 years old, and it’s just now startin’ to makin’ sense.”—BRETT JOHNSON
86cover.jpgRead the rest of XXL’s Critical Beatdown review section in the
November 2006 issue (#86)