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Ludacris: Red Light District

Red Light District
Def Jam South

You have to hand it to the man born Christopher Bridges, he sure knows how to start an album: with a bang. His first three records managed it, and by gumdrops the intro to his latest vaudevillian theatre of the amusingly absurd sees him sparking on all cylinders once again; claiming to have plans “bigger than Serena booty” one moment and declaring of the current anti-hip-hop arrests “they’re trying to give us felonies/so they can lock us up/one at a time/but true writers stay free/ in every one of our lines”. And a free spririt he is, claiming to have “sold more records than Elvis”. The snarky little beat builds tension nicely without doing anything spectacular, but then that’s not necessary: the whole point of Ludacris, his very essence, is to live up to his name in a florid explosion of charm, wit and rowdy libido that seldom has much do with deep thought, restraint, or indeed reality as most of us would see it. Hip-hop is the music that ate the world, and in Bridges, it has the most irresistible grin for that often grim mouth since Busta Rhymes’ last video close-up. “I’m the best/and I ain’t really gotta say that shit” concludes the intro. Welcome back, you humble, subtle rogue, you.

Not that he’s been away for that long; in fact he’s taken Jigga’s one-album-a-year approach so much to heart that his next LP, Release Therapy, is announced on the CD inlay of this one. Any comments accusing him of getting ahead of himself can only lead to dreadful pun ignominy, but it has to be said that his output isn’t as consistent as it is plentiful. As on his previous records, then, things taper off some after the opening fusillade of characteristically quiet introspection, but there’s still a generous helping of fantastic fun to be had over the 15 tracks and obligatory skit; certainly enough to make Red Light District better than Chicken And Beer.

Low points are, as expected, when he feels the need to abandon his swaggering lady’s man bragging and get macho with male yelling and entirely humourless rage, as on “Who Not Me” and, to a lesser extent, “Pass Out”. DMX’s appearance on “Put Your Money”‘s chorus also reaks more of Def Jam cross pollination rather than anything natural or productive. I know sex is supposed to be less of a taboo than violence in the US; well, here’s proof the mindset makes for unattractive, limited pop music.

High points? “Number One Spot” has its wicked way with Austin Powers pseudo-theme tune “Soul Bossa Nova”, adding in sub-bass and a banging beat that make it more fun than it is annoying (although it’s initally a close call). True to form, Ludacris rampages all over references to the movie’s catch phrases with palpable glee, shags “these women/till they can’t stand straight” and even offers his listeners a mouthful to go with the earful: “Nobody light-skinned is repping harder since Ice T/you disagree- take the Tyson approach/and bite me.” Standing in for Kanye’s joint on the last album, the muggy tribal repetition of Timbaland’s contribution, “The Potion”, sounds disappointing and strange at first but ends up satisfying, as does Luda’s equally off-kilter plantation chanting. The luxurious Organized Noize stupor of “Blueberry Yum Yum” will doubtless become a smoker’s anthem and benefits from Sleepy Brown’s swaying singing, just as Luda’s hooking up with Nate Dogg once more over a sped-up Teena Marie sample on “Child of The Night” provides him with a surprisingly gorgeous and affecting backdrop to wax thoughtful, regretful and moral over: this is Bridges being appeallingly “real” in a way he hasn’t really pulled off since “It’s Cold Outside” back on Word Of Mouf. Even “Large Amounts” tackles the disadvantages of being ludricously (ahem) loaded — and bragging about it- in surprisingly mature and smart style.

It all ends on one of the beats of the year, “Virgo”, where Doug E. Fresh makes a divinely welcome return and pulverises drum machines with gusto and Nas tries to invent a new bit of slang. You’ll have heard this already, which is something you could say for most of Luda’s material, really. But he’s enormous fun all the same, and at his best his ridiculous joie de vivre, fierce smarts and ravenous delivery make his claims to the top spot, if not realistic, then at least hard to begrudge.

By the way, did you know that, phonetically, “Luda” means “whore” in German? Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas, folks.