Because he’s a natural comedian, I have to hope that Ludacris is only joking around with his new album’s repeated references to it being his sixth long player, as though no one has ever done that before (and in the case of, say, Missy Elliot, done it with more consistency and humor). For Luda, the self-conscious debt to “legacy” might end up turning his MC persona into something as charmlessly benign as his film-actor persona. Luckily that hasn’t quite happened yet, even though Theater of the Mind has as many guest stars as there are different voyeur versions of Luda on the album cover: T-Pain, Jay-Z, Nas, Jamie Foxx, T.I., Common, Ving Rhames, Chris Rock, Spike Lee, and the list goes on from there. This isn’t the album version of Crash; it’s the album version of It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (only without an Ethel Merman because, you know, no girls allowed). Luda has suggested he wanted this album to have a cinematic through line, maybe in order to consolidate his diversified media representations, but Theater doesn’t cohere in a manner that would satisfy anyone short of Paul Haggis, or anyone who has listened to an album by Prince Paul or Madvillain, for that matter. Besides the monologues from Rhames and Lee, the most filmic thing on hand is the sound of a projector starting at the beginning of “Last of a Dying Breed.” That said, Luda works just fine in bon mots, and Theater’s got ’em. (He really ought to have taken, as his cinematic inspiration, Warner Bros.’s Looney Tunes.) In “Everybody Hates Chris,” he boasts: “Still counting, still climbing the charts, and rappers still talking shit like they was rhyming in farts.” In “MVP,” he explains: “I heat the booth up so much the engineer caught a motherfucking tan.” In “Undisputed,” he complains, “DJs they never bring it back/Like when you go and borrow something from your neighbors/Like a cupful of sugar, a rump full of salt/The name on my car insurance is your fucking fault.” Okay, I lost my place in this script, Luda, but keep on doing what you’re doing for six more albums and you may just win the Lifetime Achievement Award.
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