Ludacris has always been a significant figure in the ATL rap scene, from his string of early-millennium hits like “What’s Your Fantasy?” and “Southern Hospitality” to his appearance in the critically-acclaimed film Hustle & Flow. With help from artists like T.I., Georgia has become a bass-bump hot spot and Ludacris has tried to make damn sure that stays true. The question is, then, will Theater of the Mind have more of the trademark “country boy” style that was slightly absent on his previous album Release Therapy?
If the 4-star ratings seen in XL are any indication, one would think Ludacris were back in full form. A quote to MTV News from the twang-studded slang slinger himself states his mission in full: The whole album is theatrical, conceptual-wise. Every song you hear sounds like a scene from a movie. You could say this record feels more like a collection of really entertaining trailers, and just like with any trailer, they leave you wanting more every time. “Undisputed”, Theater‘s second single featuring renowned boxer Floyd Mayweather, is at it’s core a braggart tune, name dropping every six seconds with a signature delivery. While some of the allusions are a bit corny, the almost-too-soon-to-be-funny “have you stripped of your medals like Marion Jones” is both a pop culture reference and a forward dis; a perfect example of being left wanting more.
With four singles from this theatrical mindset, Ludacris’ sixth studio effort is split down the middle. The whole set is comprised of club hits, lyrical bragging rights, and special guests that lend to hype most definitely deserved. Unfortunately, a concept album by a rapper like Ludacris seems forced, regardless of any attempt at true talent shown. He has been and continues to be a hit powerhouse for all of those who love to crank up their custom car stereos, but as with any review I’ll state that hits alone do not make a great album all around.
In the case of Theater of the Mind , it’s a good album without the need for concepts, though it tries to build one. If anyone wants Ludacris’s signature Chicken N’ Beer sound to return somewhat revitalized and re-envisioned, this is the album for you. “What Them Girls Like” is a certified hit with a hook to keep you running back and a beat worthy of any dance floor or stripper pole. Boasting “girls of the world ain’t nothin’ but trouble,” Georgia’s finest delivers sticky sweet lyrics and the aforementioned “Undisputed” is classic hip-hop self-promotion without being supersaturated with constant references to “bling and bitches.”
Theater of the Mind‘s biggest thumbs up is a wide array of special guests and producers (credited as “co-starring” and “score by”) to enforce its atmosphere of different themes working together. Fellow southerner T.I. makes an appearance on “Wish You Would”, while Florida native and Auto-Tune expert T-Pain chimes in on “One More Drink”. Producers include credits by DJ Troomp, Dre & Vidal, 9th Wonder, and DJ Premier so, in other words, there is no shortage of originality on this record. The list of A+ appearances even includes Chris Rock, Common, Nas, Jay-Z, and Spike Lee! Talk about making an entrance for the holiday season.
With Theater of the Mind, we have a lot to appreciate. For one, Ludacris on his talent alone could back this project, and even so, he still has expert MCs on board to round it all out. “Wish You Would”, the Ving Rhames narrated “Southern Gangsta”, and the ridiculously catchy “What Them Girls Like” are three great examples of this perfect chemistry, and while the idea of its concept seems a bit like a gimmick, Theater of the Mind still stands as one of the best rap releases of the year next to Q-Tip and Flobots.
So…roll them blunts, throw them bones, and just have fun with this theatrical bombardment of real entertainment.