Ludacris: Theater of the Mind

Ludacris's strength as a rapper has been, and always will be, an unfortunate irony: he's a schizophrenic mess of disputatious bravado and wit. It serves him well on guest appearances and mixtapes, when his bawling spit is leashed by time restraints or non-agendas, but it translates poorly to full-length efforts. He's the musical equivalent to Allen Iverson: handicapped by his own bombastic skill and unending creativity, and Theater of the Mind may be the most accurate portrayal of that yet. Consider this one fact: There are 18 (!) other people featured on the album, a clear sign of a substantive want. Even phoned-in contributions from Nas and Jay-Z ("I Do It for Hip-Hop") painfully reveal the lyrical caste discrepancy. Now, qualified by a "punch line per capita" stipulation, Luda is the best in the game and is at the height of his powers here. When he sneaks his way to a roaring proclamation, on the horn-driven boom-bap track "Undisputed," that the name of his insurance is "YOUR FUCKIN' FAULT!" it's outright brilliant. But subsequent listens dull the luster of surprise, and you're left wishing there were a way to experience it again for the first time. Perhaps he's more Sixth Sense than AI.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Shea Serrano