Though a million bitter New York bloggers and old-man music critics would like you to believe otherwise, Southern rap isn’t always about selling crack from your grandmomma’s porch. The affectionately termed “crack rap” genre has produced an equal amount of lyrical grace (Clipse’s We Got It 4 Cheap Vol.2) as it has groan-worthy hooks (the whole of Yung Joc and Rick Ross). But it’s not the whole story of the confederacy.
Ludacris, Luda, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and now (at least just on the film posters) Chris Bridges, better than any contemporary Southern rap star, carries the forgotten gene of the genre: humor. Hedonistic humor, observant humor, crude humor, humor to make you laugh, humor to make your parents laugh. Pimp C gave UGK its slippery, gun-waving charm and Bushwick Bill kept The Geto Boys equally funny and absurd, but Luda’s the giddy, contemporary terminal point. His entire catalogue is built up on both sincerely witty punch lines (“feels like a midget is hangin’ from my necklace!”) and a tenuous commitment to social realism (“I take a shit on the equator, the size of a crater / And make government officials breathe harder than Darth Vader”). At least that’s how he started.
On Release Therapy, his fifth and final album in his current Def Jam contract, Ludacris tones everything down: It’s the shortest album he’s made, the most bereft of guests and the least instantly funny. In fact, aside from a decent joke about being “on more ’24’s’ than Kiefer Sutherland,” Ludacris – sorry, Mr.Bridges – sounds downright sober.
The songs here are distinctly “message” oriented: telling girls to be careful on “Runaway Love,” offering solace to guys in jail “Do Your Time” (a song about jail that features rappers who’ve been incarcerated – Beanie Sigel, Pimp C, C Murder) and even, on the painfully hyped “War With God,” scolding other rappers: “How many times is you gon’ rap about busting your gun / How many times is you gon’ trap without busting your gun / Only shots you ever took were subliminal to the general / Disrespecting those doing real time with real criminals.” Okay point, but it just makes him sound prematurely old. And like someone who doesn’t understand the difference between artist and persona. And like a hypocrite.
Selective memory aside, Therapy just doesn’t offer anything that’s aesthetically improved, or even different, from his previous releases. It’s the same Disturbing Tha Peace production style of gloopy, molar-flat synths, hysterical kick drums and barely-there vocal loops tacked onto the background. Even worse, Ludacris can’t even refine or even rehash his own strong points effectively. “Woozy” barely rates above Chicken-N-Beer’s “Splash Waterfalls” as a sloppy sex ballad; “Ultimate Satisfaction” serves only to remind us that Ludacris wants us to care about Field Mob.
Ludacris keeps saying Release Therapy is his big push into adulthood, his most personal, self-convinced record. There’s room to disagree: Certainly this is his most cerebral record, almost half the songs doubling as sermons and lessons. But anyone who has even tried their hand at art knows that it’s never the brain that leads us into true creation; it’s our heart, our lungs, our guts, our crotches and our muscles that wield the seeds of power. Ludacris, as mature and wise and concerned as he claims he is, might do well to remember that. Rap: It’s no country for old men.
Star Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 stars