The most shocking rhymes on The Red Light District have nothing to do with the following: girls, weed, parties and gigantic asses. Ludacris has started rapping about paying taxes: “Don’t play with that IRS man, I’ll swear / ain’t nothin’ more embarassin’.” This, and other unexpected and altogether nice jumps in maturity make The Red Light District Ludacris’s most cohesive, listenable and polished effort to date.

Music Reviews
Cigars are for grown-ups. (Courtesy of Def Jam)

Make no mistake; Ludacris hasn’t turned his entire focus to 401k accounts. He gambles the budget of a small European nation on “Put Your Money” and drops some smoked-out verses on “Blueberry Yum-Yum.” The signature moves of his songs — the rowdy percussion, bubbling whistles and uncanny vocal tics — remain intact and absurdly delightful.

The album has a variety of highlights, from the dirty funk of the Timbaland-produced “The Potion” to “Pass Out” and its delirious, booming party chant. The absence of skits doesn’t hurt, either. The Red Light District also has the first great album closer of Ludacris’s career: “Virgo” is a free-form rap circle with Nas and beat-box legend Doug E. Fresh. There’s no melody, save for Fresh’s transcendent beat-boxing, and Ludacris sounds like an honest-to-goodness rap star — cartoonish and skilled at the same time.

He is now the first rapper of his kind (Nelly, Fabolous, etc. … ) to make the jump from singles charts to full fledged artist. In the process, he’s talked about sexual taboos with wonderfully low brow humor and made a larger than life persona who might just be the funniest rap character ever. Yeah, Ludacris has matured, but that won’t stop him from talking about “making plans bigger than Serena’s booty.” And yes, he samples the theme song from “Austin Powers” and spits some jaw droppers about shagging and eating pancakes.

The past two years hit Ludacris hard. His heir apparent, Chingy, left the Disturbing Tha Peace label in a highly publicized spat; Chicken and Beer never had a good follow up single and talk show host Bill O’Reilly attacked Luda enough to make Pepsi cancel a commercial deal.

The Red Light District isn’t just a disc of redemption and maturity; it’s also just goddamned fun. Instead of leveling an unnecessary wave of vocal mortars at his antagonists, he puts on the same game face as when he’s blowing some greenery. Now that Chingy is self-destructing and O’Reilly has a sexual harassment suit, Ludacris doesn’t even have to get angry. “Respected highly, Hi Mr. O’Reilly / Hope all is well, kiss the plaintiff and the wifey,” he raps. Point, set, match: Ludacris.


Rating: 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

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