Review Summary: Luda mixes the silver screen with his somewhat comedic brand of Dirty South and creates the ultimate tie-in product.
Ludacris loves movies. He loves movies so much he made an entire album around them. Luda has always been one of the most entertaining rappers to watch and listen to, more for his ridiculous lines and outrageous, sharp humor than any redeeming social qualities. And as most rappers tend to do, he as parlayed his musical success into other ventures: in his case a blossoming film career, making Theater of the Mind the logical progression to his career. The three-time Grammy award winner has always been the class clown of the Dirty South scene, and Theater of the Mind is nothing if not an absolute embrace of this image. Crass and vulgar, with beats that slam and bounce with no respect for dynamics or subtlety, Ludacris’ latest is popcorn entertainment at its finest.
Beginning with the intro, a “please-quiet-down-the-movie-is-about-to-begin” skit that sounds like a mixture between Pirates of the Caribbean and Atlanta’s hottest club cinema, Theater of the Mind pounds home its loose concept by calling each guest rapper a “co-star” with each song supposedly corresponding to a specific scene from a movie. The production is self-assured and more of what one has come to expect from a Ludacris record: thumping bass ‘n drums, an active horn section, and vintage R&B samples to complement the synths and occasional sound effects.
The lyrical content is exactly what you would expect from Ludacris. Second single “One More Drink” co-starring T-Pain (a man who never ceases in buying you another drank), is a fairly hilarious tale of Luda’s drunken adventures with less-than-attractive women combined with Pain’s lovely observation that “if I take one more drink / I’m gonna end up ***in’ youuuuuu.” The lyrical genius continues on “MVP,” with the rapper bragging that “women say I talk more game than John Madden” and advising that “she should blow me like candles on your b-day / ‘cuz I signed more lines than she’s passed on the freeway.” Deep he is not.
The “co-stars” are what you would expect from an artist of Ludacris’ caliber, ranging from T.I.’s fierce verse on “Wish You Would” to Chris Brown’s charm on the repetitive, formulaic club jam “What Them Girls Like.” The best spots, however, are those that you don’t see coming but fit perfectly into Ludacris’ hip-hop theater. Boxing champ Floyd Mayweather Jr. on the epic “Undisputed” is spot-on, and when Ving Rhames announces that Ludacris is a “true entrepre-negro” and has “expanded his empire into multiple profitable businesses, including his Thai food restaurant,” you can’t help but admit that Luda is, indeed, a born entertainer.
Theater of the Mind, however, has some slow spots you’d just rather skip through like in every DVD. “Nasty Girl” is an increasingly outrageous sequence of working ladies who (surprise!) turn into freaks when the lights go out that is as tired a cliché as any on this record without an interesting beat to back it up. “Call Up Your Homies” is your typical “gather up the crew” anthem that you’ve probably heard a dozen times before. “Contagious,” co-starring Jamie Foxx, however, is the worst offender here; the kind of slow-jam ballad that you cringe upon hearing; it’s the awkward sex scene spliced into the middle of an otherwise great motion picture.
The highlight of the record, however, is the optimistic “Do The Right Thang” co-starring Common and Spike Lee. The exact opposite of much of the rest of the album, it’s a plea urging urban youth to stop and “use your brain,” making for one of Luda’s most immediate and meaningful songs, a sharp contrast to the other tracks. When the track blows up into a horn-laden ‘70s funk jam and Luda proclaims “I see the sunshine gazing through window pane / blazing like indo flame, it’s time to wake up,” it’s a heartfelt closer to a record that, while it does have its missteps, remains a guaranteed chart-topping hit.
Ludacris may not be the most socially conscious rapper. He prefers rapping about geographically diverse hoes and the size of his bank account to the plights of urban decay and drugs. He has starred in such cinematic achievements as Max Payne and Rocknrolla. Theater of the Mind is, in essence, exactly what you would expect from the purveyor of such hits as “Move Bitch” and “Pimpin’ All Over The World,” but much like Ludacris’ stint in Crash, Theater of the Mind shows a Luda who can be mature, intelligent, and surprising as well as wildly entertaining.