Photo courtesy of Universal
When I was 15, my best friend introduced me to Ludacris through Chicken & Beer, his fourth studio album that had hits like “Stand Up” and “Splash Waterfalls.” I vividly remember him getting hyped over the posse cut “We Got” during our computer science class together. This was also the same friend who spun Chingy’s Jackpot religiously. During the heyday of Disturing Tha Peace—which set up Chingy, I-20 and Shawnna as promising stars—Christopher Bridges was in the zone, building his stock as Atlanta’s gatekeeper for new talent. His ubiquitous and humorous style on records from “Move Bitch” and “Area Codes” to “Rollout (My Business)” and “What’s Your Fantasy?” pretty much shaped my tastes—and probably yours—on whom your favorite southern rappers were.
From Chicken & Beer on, Ludacris progressively got better. There were his ridiculous singles like “Number One Spot,” with Austin Powers themes and Bill O’Reilly shots (“Respected highly, ‘Hi, Mr. O’Reilly!’”) that you just couldn’t ignore. His party anthems—“Blueberry Yum Yum,” “Money Maker”—set off any type of gathering, whether you were just trying to smoke and chill out or turn up. When director John Singleton casted him as ex-street racer and ace mechanic Tej Parker in 2 Fast 2 Furious, we even saw Luda’s versatility on the big screen. It also marked his start on a lucrative course in acting.
As an 18-year-old going into my first year at the University of Oregon, I related to Release Therapy’s concept the most simply because he was transforming himself. The album was the peak of his career, where he traded his signature cornrows for a cleaner look that was noticeably present on his album cover. He was shedding his old identity to grow, which was shown in his introspection found in “Grew Up a Screw Up,” “Do Your Time,” and “Runaway Love.” There was vintage Luda that his diehard fans appreciated too. Whether you were into his sex-jams (“Girls Gone Wild,” “Woozy”) or his powerful tracks (“War With God”), it supported barbershop debates that Release Therapy was his best album since his Def Jam debut Back for the First Time. Winning Best Rap Album at the 2007 Grammy Awards wasn’t a bad look either. But the second half of Ludacris’ musical career is a bit of a roller coaster. The albums after Release Therapy—2008’s Theater of the Mind and 2010’s Battle of the Sexes—had decent commercial success, but it didn’t ignite any excitement on where he was heading.
Yet with more than a decade career in hip-hop, you can’t knock Luda’s legacy. On March 31, the 37-year-old veteran is releasing his eighth studio album Ludaversal that’ll add another chapter to his story. In the making since 2012, Luda says it’s his most personal project yet, diving into topics like his late father’s alcohol addiction (“Ocean Skies”), the troubles that comes with fortune and fame (“Grass Is Always Greener”), the fight for respect again (“Not Long”), and his history with industry woes (“Charge It To The Rap Game”). Overall, the 14-track effort (with four tracks from his Burning Bridges EP in the deluxe version) is a reminder that Luda strives to please his core fans, even when we feel sometimes he’s taking a break to pursue other creative opportunities.
Recently, Ludacris phoned in from Atlanta to talk to Noisey about Ludaversal, his acting career, and Fast 7 (due out April 3), fatherhood, his early days making it as a rapper, and why he sees the artists coming up from his city as competition. This is Ludacris all grown up.
Noisey: You’re putting out your eighth studio album, Ludaversal, later this month. Are you satisfied with your musical legacy?
Ludacris: Man, hell yeah. I’m one of those people that believe everything happens for a reason. I wouldn’t change anything ‘cause it almost made me into the person I am today. So I am extremely happy with the musical legacy, I couldn’t ask for much more.
You are one of the few rappers that have eight albums under their belt. Not a lot of people can say that and still have a lot more to say.
Absolutely. That’s funny you say that because I was saying the same thing. It is crazy. I’m really thankful and just blessed that the fans who did take [the time to buy my albums]. I mean pretty much how many albums that have come out? It’s because of them that I have been able to go this far and get support from them.
You went from a DJ in Atlanta to becoming Ludacris the superstar. At this stage in your career, why is Ludaversal your most personal yet?
You know, ‘cause strategically over the years as a rapper, you get certain shit off your chest one by one. You always wanna not give ‘em your full hand, like when you’re playing cards. I strategically over the years not give ‘em my full hand ‘cause I always wanted to have something more to offer. So, I gave those bits and pieces of a person’s life now finally down the line being able to just be more comfortable with it.
You’ve been working on this album since 2012?
Hell yeah, since I put out the last album. Definitely been working on it for a while. It was supposed to come out a little earlier, but with the production of Furious 7 shutting down. And a lot of things going on, it kind of got pushed back. But ultimately, it worked in the best interest in my opinion.
Your last album was Battle of the Sexes and you went to focus on acting that landed you a consistent role in the Fast & Furious series. How have you grown as an actor?
I think I’ve grown as an actor as many ways because not only did I do the Fast & Furious franchise, just selecting different roles that don’t get me in typecast. It’s like from doing different genres. Whether it’s Law & Order with the dramas and then doing comedy, stuff with Ashton Kutcher and even Vince Vaughn. And making sure I do some acting like Fast & Furious. So, everything that I’ve done in terms of choosing roles is to be versatile as possible. It just so happens that the Fast & Furious is the most prevalent because it is the most popular.
I feel like I’ve grown as an actor just by picking up bits and pieces of people that I worked with over the years, especially in a movie like Crash where you had so many Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning people. You know, Sandra Bullock, Brendan Fraser, and Don Cheadle and all these different people, so I think the more you continue to do something, the more you own your craft.
When you walk down the street, do people recognize you as Tej from Fast & Furious?
It depends on where I’m at. Some people know Ludacris and the Fast & Furious. Some people only know the Fast & Furious guy, and some people only know Ludacris. I’ve had older people come up to me and say, ‘I know you from your movies. I don’t know you from your music.’ They say the same thing about the music.
Is it hard to balance your hip-hop and movie fanbase?
Yeah, it is a little hard to balance because I think in rap music if they see you doing too much or have too much going on in movies that they begin to feel that you don’t care so much about the music. That’s why it was no choice but for me to make this album so strong in terms of how solid of an album it is and the tone, and the subject matter and all these different things. That’s one of my main points is to prove that I am not stereotyped.
It’s pretty representative in your album artwork that has the 1993 Acura Legend parked right next to the private jet. Do you remember when you got that car?
Yeah, I was working at a radio station in Atlanta. 97.5. I was just hustling because a lot of the stuff that you do in radio stations, you do remote. You might emcee at live clubs and things like that and get paid cash under the table. I remember just taking a lot of it and finally being able to buy that car. That’s the car of my dreams.
Why is it so special to you?
Because it represents a damn-near a beacon of hope—it’s like everything that I wanted. It represents the pinnacle of me reaching my success. Until this day, it still represents that. At that time, it was the car that I always wanted and I got it. I write in the car. I was writing music in this car even before I got signed to Def Jam. It’s almost like me never forgetting where I came from after I got my deal and started to afford more expensive cars. That car is a representation of never forgetting where I came from, so till this day I still have it.
Do you still add cars to your personal collection? You had a crazy collection back in the day.
Yeah I did, man. I stopped doing that and I’ll tell you why. [Laughs.] I started feeling guilty when I was on the road a lot and I’d come home and these damn cars have just been sitting in my motherfuckin’ garage. I felt it was better to buy the experience and not necessarily the possession, so to speak. So I don’t have as many cars now. I just keep it pretty simple to the cars that I want that’ll satisfy that the hunger that I have.
What are your hobbies now?
I’m a thrill-seeker. I just love doing daredevil stuff. I love riding four wheelers and riding dirt bikes and going to the gun range. I skydived before.
What made you want to make rap music that had sexually laced lyrics and humor?
I just like to have fun and I always show the humorous side of my lyrics. I don’t think a lot of rappers do that. What made me do that is just me being me and wanting to carve a niche out of hip-hop and the same kind of stuff that maybe Busta Rhymes and Redman maybe followed a bit. Literally music is putting a smile on people’s face and having fun.
Have you ever written anything that you thought was too risqué or too weird?
Man, if I did, I didn’t have any regrets about it because it is freedom of speech and a parental advisory sticker so I just did the damn thing. I’ve been misunderstood before and Bill O’ Reilly and certain people saying that it’s offensive and all these different things. Besides that, it’s just people who just misunderstand the language of hip-hop and rap.
When you pushed your first album and sold 50,000 copies, how did it feel back then that people actually liked your music?
It was great. I think I speak for every artist when I say that it is crazy when you don’t know when you are going to sell one copy or a thousand copies. And the next thing you know, I ended up selling 3 million copies [when I signed to Def Jam]. So it was like a dream come true of course. I ended up getting $350,000 on that. It was unreal.
What was the first thing you purchased with that check?
The first thing I purchased was a damn house. [Laughs.]
Looking back at your discography, what do you think of your early career versus now?
I want my fans to grow with me. It’s all about progression. Life is about evolution, so I feel like the music and styles and everything have evolved. I think that is extremely important.
As a rap veteran, what do you think of the musical landscape of Atlanta in 2015 with guys like iLoveMakonnen and Father getting major buzzes now?
People always say if you don’t embrace what’s new, you’ll become your own worst enemy. I embrace it. At the end of the day, I think that it is great because I feel like you just said, not only that we—people like myself—are in competition with artists that have been out as long as we have. I mean, commercially successful. But we are competing against people at home who want to have the next hit on the radio. I think it’s a great thing. It’s good competitiveness.
You view those guys as competition?
Yeah, anybody who is making a mark on the Billboard charts or radio is gonna be competition.
You don’t see yourself as a whole different league than them?
I mean, I do. Still, I’m not gonna be unrealistic and say that I’m not competing with any new artist that is coming out.
What do you think about hip-hop now? Drake’s everywhere these days and killing the Billboard charts.
Like I said, I love how it is dominating and doing what it has to do in terms of [keeping up]. Hip-hop has to compete with other genres of music on the Billboard charts and things of that nature. So, anything that continues to push hip-hop further, I am in support of.
I know you got married recently to Eudoxie Agnan. Has anything changed since you got married?
So far, so good. Nothing has changed. It’s all good. We just made it official.
Your wife is also pregnant with your first child together. What’s Ludacris, the dad like?
Very hands on, very evolved. I take the fatherly duties very, very seriously. [I’m] extremely intuitive into the child and just wanting them to develop all the skills and definitely be intelligent. [I’m] just reading all these different things that I can do to ensure that they have the best and most confident life possible. That’s pretty how much how I am as a father, just pretty hands on and making sure that I give them the best.
Are your kids creative? Are they involved in the entertainment world at all?
I actually have something called Karma’s World. If you look it up, it’s kinda like songs that my daughter does that are educational songs. It’s really dope.
You have song on the album about your father Wayne Bridges called “Ocean Skies.” It opens up with your Grammy speech when you won Best Rap Album for Release Therapy and you talk about his alcohol addiction and what he meant to you. Was it difficult writing this song?
It definitely was. It was a long time coming because for a long time I didn’t want to speak about that. Like I said, it’s me opening up on this album and it was difficult. At the end of the day, I felt like how it was represented it was more about a victory song about him as opposed to necessarily being so sad. Because anything that I’m going through, I’m sure other people are maybe going through the same thing. I’m just encouraging people to make sure they spend as much time with their parent as they can if they still have a relationship with them.
What has he taught you about life?
He was the person who got me loving music in the first place. I would wake up to different kinds of artists whether it was jazz music. And then definitely Prince, Michael Jackson, and Frankie Beverly and Maze. He just got me loving music, so it was him who bought me my first rap record, which was LL Cool J’s “I’m Bad” back in the day.
When you first heard that “I’m Bad” song, why did that make you want to rap?
I just loved it so much. Shit, I don’t even know how old I was. Like, 4, 5, 6 years old? There’s no way to explain it. I heard it and it was my calling, as soon as I heard the record.
You started out rapping real lyrical in your early days and you evolved into the style that we all are familiar with. When did that transition happen?
It happened over a long period of time ‘cause I started rapping when I was 9 years old. From then, me getting into different groups and continuing to evolve my style, I don’t think I completely perfected it until I was around 19. It took me 10 years just to do it. It was just an accumulation of me loving all different kinds of hip-hop from OutKast to the Death Row movement to B.I.G. and Scarface and all these different things. And just also coming out with a style of my own.
You had that same moment when you cut your cornrows before dropping Release Therapy. What’s the transitional moment now for Ludaversal?
You draw from inspiration of life with all your albums. Like you said at the beginning of this interview, to have seven albums is almost unheard of in hip-hop. It’s kind of like I took some time off to live and get inspired again and reevaluate the things that I have not spoken about before and some of the new stuff that I’ve gone through.
Did you travel the world to get inspired?
That’s exactly what I did. I was in London for like six months living and doing Fast & Furious 6. I was doing a bunch of shows. I went to Asia. I went to Australia. I went to Africa. It was really just me traveling and really me getting to see the world and coming back.
With all your crossover success so far, what is one thing that you haven’t done yet?
I’d definitely want to win an Oscar one day. I would love to do that for acting.
How much would it mean to you?
Shit, it would mean the world!
Last question, what’s the best strip club in Atlanta?
The best strip club? It varies. It kind of depends on what night you talking about. But I think the most consistent for a while is Magic City. That’s all subjective, but for me it’s Magic City.
Why do you like Magic City the most?
It’s like Cirque du Soleil only with women stripping. That’s why. [Laughs.]
Eric Diep wants to kn-kn-k-know what-what's your fan-ta-ta-sy. He's on Twitter.