“This is my classic album,” Ludacris said about Release Therapy during an interview last week. “Definitely my most honest album – very personal.”

Morgan Morel
The perils of taking your own picture. (Courtesy of Def Jam)

This coming from a rapper who has sold at least two million copies of each of his first four albums. Is Release Therapy his best yet, or just different?

“This album shows a more serious side of me as an artist,” Luda said. “(Release has) more serious subject matter than my other albums.”

Back for the First Time, Luda’s triple-platinum debut album, is most remembered for raunchy singles “What’s Your Fantasy” and “Southern Hospitality.” The follow up (also triple platinum), 2001’s Word of Mouf, featured hits “Area Codes,” “Welcome to Atlanta” and “Move Bitch.” He didn’t demand too much from his listeners on Chicken-N-Beer or The Red Light District, either, both of which sold more than two million copies. Luda had found his niche, a formula for success, and stuck to it.

On Release Therapy, Ludacris breaks out of that mold.

The album cover art is indicative of this change. He doesn’t appear as a cartoon with an enormous afro (Word), he’s not preparing to gnaw on a woman’s leg (Chicken) and he’s not flashing a wad of cash (Red Light). On the cover of Release, he is shown with a fresh hair cut, his eyes closed, head rested on his interlocked fingers. He appears to be in deep thought.

The playful ‘Cris fans have adored over the years hasn’t disappeared entirely. The first single, The Neptunes-produced “Money Maker,” is proof of this (“Shake your money maker like somebody ’bout to pay ya”). The same goes for the self-explanatory “Girls Gone Wild,” where he boasts, “Put ’em in the backseat of the ‘lac again / and rip off the Magnum packagin’.”

The Atlanta native still has a way with words matched by few in hip hop. He teams with label mates Field Mob on “Ultimate Satifaction,” spitting clever lines like “Pumping out albums like Reverend Run is pumping out children, here’s another one / So catch me on more ’24s’ than Kiefer Sutherland.” He’s still the same Ludacris, for the most part. But there are differences, and he is not shy about admitting it.

“I’ve taken gradual steps (in) changing my image. It’s important that I didn’t change overnight,” he said. In other words, if you like what you’ve heard from Luda in the past, you’ll enjoy Release. But with his latest project, it’s likely he’ll attract new fans as well as he tackles new, more pertinent subject matter.

On “Mouths to Feed,” he talks about the economic situation. “People are so angry because we do have mouths to feed,” he said. “(The song) is about how you’ll do anything to feed those that you love.”

It’s just one of the several concept-driven songs on Release. No longer are Luda’s messages solely pertaining to partying and drinking. Important social issues are touched upon throughout the album.

“Runaway Love,” another “staple” of the album according to Ludacris, delves into “young ladies wanting to runaway from home because of the different pressures going on in the world today. This is something that nobody’s really talking about,” Luda said.

There’s also “Do Your Time,” a song featuring stellar verses from three of the more famous rappers that have recently done time – Beanie Sigel, Pimp C and C Murder – that deals with incarceration. It doesn’t glorify prison, but rather aims to give hope to those stuck behind bars.

Another one of Luda’s favorites from the new album is “Slap,” in which he wrestles with his conscience about performing unlawful acts.

“Everyone tries to sugarcoat rappers’ lives like it’s great all the time,” he said. “(‘Slap’) lets people know it’s not always as great as they think it is. Sometime you feel like lashing out and slapping the hell out of somebody.”

He was quick with a reply when asked who he felt like slapping: “Bill O’Reilly.”

Ludacris clearly had a lot to get off his chest on this album – the last of a five-record deal with Def Jam. The anticipated success of Release makes it unlikely that it will be his last album, but it is the end of a chapter in Ludacris’ career. Perhaps he’ll focus more on acting (he has shown frightening promise on screen) and developing artists under his label Disturbing Tha Peace.

Luda had even more to release on this album than previous projects. He’s done as much acting as rapping for the past year, if not more. Unable to comment on upcoming film projects, he did confirm he’ll make appearances on television shows such as “The Boondocks,” “Law & Order: SVU” and “The Simpsons.”

But first, Luda will tour the nation. Conspicuously missing from his tour is a stop in Ann Arbor. Or Detroit. Or anywhere in Michigan. As you probably remember, Luda rocked Hill Auditorium last winter, exciting the University crowd as he recited a medley of well-known hits.

So why isn’t he returning to a place that showed him so much love? Luda offered a brief explanation: “If it were up to me I’d go to every place I wanted to. People book me to do shows. If you want me to come to your campus, go to your faculty and say you want Ludacris back, and I would definitely do that.”

Students: Get your asses to President Coleman’s office.

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