Wednesday, November 08, 2006

CD Review: Release Therapy by Ludacris

The best word to describe Atlanta rapper Ludacris is fun. No other rapper looks like he has more fun doing what he does than Luda whether he has giant-sized arms in the video for "Get Back" or dresses up as various Austin Powers characters in the video for "Number One Spot." Filled with a naughty sense of humor and clever one-liners, Ludacris has delivered consistently since his 2000 major-label debut Back For The First Time. However, Luda hasn't gotten much respect in some hip-hop circles and has been criticized as being "goofy" and a "nursery rhyme rapper."

Things started to change for Ludacris in 2005 when his acting career got off to an auspicious start with serious roles in Hustle & Flow, Law And Order: SVU, and the Academy Award-winning Crash. These roles helped people see Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as more than his hip-hop persona and gained him acclaim. Seeking more respect for his music, Ludacris takes things a little more seriously on his new album Release Therapy. While there are few differences between this album and Ludacris's previous four albums, there are enough to convince his detractors that he is talented enough to stand with his peers.

The most notable difference between Release Therapy and Ludacris's previous albums is the lack of skits. This album comes in at a lean 14 songs which includes an intro. This is significant because the skits on Ludacris's previous albums were quite good and usually on par with (or sometimes better than) the music. Fortunately, Luda doesn't need skits this time around.

The songs closest to what we normally expect from Ludacris are found in the first half or so of the album. The Neptunes, who produced Luda's hit song "Southern Hospitality," return to work with Luda on two tracks of differing quality. The hit single "Money Maker" is actually one of the album's weaker songs. Luda's lyrics here are generic come ons that are devoid of the cleverness of previous songs. The Neptunes' beat is equally generic with the powerful orchestral opening being the best thing about it. The Neptunes and Ludacris fair a lot better on "Girls Gone Wild." Ludacris rides the dark, electronic beat like no one else and the lyrics are clever and much better than "Money Maker."

On the second half of the album, Luda gets more serious. On "Tell It Like It Is," Luda doesn't mince words. He talks about everything from how to get started in the music business to his issues with Chingy: "We never took no money from Chingy / Thought I was cool with him / I wish his ass well / But I don't want nothin' to do with him." The now infamous "War With God" has Ludacris going after an anonymous rapper. Is Luda dissing T.I.? Young Jeezy? Rick Ross? Himself? Everyone will have their own opinion after hearing this song. One thing that especially makes it stand out is the fact that Ludacris puts the typical hip-hop boast in reverse, celebrating his lack of criminal experience: "I never claimed to be nothin' than who the fuck I am / Never sold cocaine in my life but I'm still the fuckin' man."

"Slap" is the song for anyone who has ever wanted to do or say something because your day or your life has been rough. Ludacris says in song all the things we'd "like" to do but would never do ("I feel like killin' my boss today"). Beanie Sigel, Pimp C, and C-Murder all appear on "Do Your Time," a song dedicated to all those in prison. The guest stars outshine Luda here because all of them have actually spent time in prison.

Release Therapy is one of Ludacris's better albums and it should do just as well as his previous ones. It's not as much as a departure for Ludacris as you'd expect. His sense of humor is still intact even though it's de-emphasized a bit. His flow is still very good and his one-liners are here in spades. What will make people take notice is the quality of the serious songs here. Before, Luda's fun songs were always a little bit better than his attempts to be serious. This time around, the serious songs are really good. Any further questions about Ludacris's talent should finally be put to rest.

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