What you do behind closed doors is your business, and everybody has their own kind of ‘Red Light District’. When I say it’s a state of mind or a metaphor for living life on the edge . . . that’s exactly what it is . . . Rules are made to be broken, and we continue to break records. If they put limitations on us, we continue to break those. So it’s a state of mind about being free. And whether you want to admit it or not, everybody does a little dirty every now and again, you just gotta learn from it. That’s my philosophy.
— Ludacris, The Red Light District
Not without reason is Ludacris the bane of conservative America, a gremlin to busybody’s everywhere and Bill O’Reilly’s personal nemesis. More than just about any other rapper, he represents hedonism in its purist and most (un)refined state. Not one for the hypocritical feints in the direction of family values that rappers traditionally slap on the back end of their albums as a weak-willed apologia for their anti-social behavior, Ludacris is all about the carnal pleasures of sex, drugs and — well, not exactly rock and roll, but loud music nonetheless. As one might expect, a DVD devoted to his real-life exploits comes a bit short of winning the endorsment of the Christian Coalition.
Those who buy the disc expecting a straight live experience will undoubtedly walk away disappointed, even though the finished product is probably far superior to an actual live document. Live hip-hop has a well-earned tradition of being, well, crappy. The industry standard has traditionally been a badly-mixed performance featuring half-a-dozen MCs and hangers-on bellowing into their mics while booming, speaker-shredding bass echoed throughout the auditorium, producing a confusing roar of random screaming and thumping. It’s fun, I suppose, but few rappers have to date been able to mount a successful live performance on par with even their mediocre brethren in the world of rock (which is the height of irony, considering the genre’s roots as a performance medium).
From what we see here, Ludacris’ live performances — or at least this particular Amsterdam show — are little different. The only difference seems to be that for the concert preserved on this DVD he’s taken a great deal of effort to liven up the party: there are naked women all across the stage. You’ve got strippers on the pole and strippers writhing in a giant glass of champagne. (I don’t think the huge champagne glass was actually filled with champagne, but then again, I don’t know if I’d put it past Ludacris to pour a few thousand dollars worth of champagne for bathwater.) Luda’s patter with the audience is lively, but it’s easy to see that little effort is made to differentiate the live performance from the album performance: at multiple points throughout the show, the live mix is pulled down in favor of the pristine album sound. The viewer is unable to discern any discontinuity, so precisely is the performance based on the album’s audio track. The mixture of the live visuals and album sound may be the DVD equivalent of the endless overdubs on Kiss Alive, but I don’t think many will regret the artiface.
However, despite the information offered on the back of the DVD box, the live show really isn’t the disc’s focus. As a true companion to the album of the same name, The Red Light District presents itself as a paean to the Netherlands’ original Red Light District. So in between snippets taken from the show we’ve got Ludacris talking to strippers, prostitutes, online sex workers, pot cafe proprieters, pot connoisseurs and industrial-capacity pot growers. Ludacris is hardly the first rapper to make the connection between a licentious lifestyle and Libertarian politics, but he proves an unusually dogged proponent of pro-legalization politics in all realms of vice. Of course, his actual rhetoric remains rather vague and anecdotal — this is hardly a position platform. And while the arguments in favor of legalized cannibus will be familiar to most and come accompanied by comparitively well-reasoned logic on the part of his interviewees, the arguments for legalized prostitution remain — in the Netherlands as in the United States — somewhat murkier and far more malleable.
But at least in theory, the ideal of Ludacris’ Red Light District is communicated intact throughout the DVD. It is, as he says, less a concrete reality than a state of mind. So long as the viewer doesn’t delve too deeply into the morality of legal and illegal sexual exploitation (pretty much mandatory for the consumption of any gangsta rap), it is easy enough to enjoy this disc for what it is: a look into the mindset and slightly-specious morality of one of the great modern hedonists.