On Feb. 28, Ludacris, the rapper, part-time actor and self-anointed “Mouth of the South,” is coming to Cornell, set to perform at 8 p.m. Saturday in Barton Hall with special guest Shawnna.
Cocky, raunchy and unrepentant, Ludacris has made a career of churning out club bangers brimming with the big, brash, ballsy swagger of the Dirty South.
“I’m from the school of hard knocks, sneak peeks,and low blows,” he brags in a guest spot on Nas’s “I Made You Look.”
Ludacris’s brio has earned him a reputation as one of hip-hop’s biggest and most exciting stars. Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone raves, “[Ludacris] spits party-hearty anthems the way Manny Ramirez pounds home runs.” Jon Pareles of the New York Times calls him “articulate at any speed,” and “hip-hop’s cleverest purveyor of this bling-bling fantasy.”
His protégé, Shawnna, has received similar critical approbation. Besides being a frequent guest on many of Ludacris’s songs, Shawnna has released two albums of her own: 2004’s Worth tha Weight and 2006’s Block Music, both of which received positive reviews.
Saturday, though, is Ludacris’ show.
Born on September 11, 1977 in Champaign, Illinois, Ludacris (his real name is Christopher Bridges) moved with his family to Atlanta, Ga. when he was in high school. He attended Georgia State University, where he studied music management, but dropped out to pursue a career in music, beginning with a job as a D.J. at an Atlanta radio station.
Ludacris received his first big break in 2000, when he released his major label debut, Back for the First Time, a commercial success that climbed as high as #4 on the Billboard charts. The album included the single “What’s Your Fantasy,” a filthy good song that features Ludacris at his most lascivious (“Back seat, windows up, that’s the way I like to” — well, you get it).
In 2001, Ludacris released a second full-length effort, Word of Mouf, his most commercially successful album to date, going platinum three times in the United States. The album featured the singles “Move Bitch,” “Rollout (My Business)” and “Area Codes (I’ve Got Hoes),” all mainstays of the Ludacris playlist.
Over the next five years, Ludacris released three more albums: Chicken-N-Beer (2003), The Red Light District (2004) and Release Therapy (2006), all three, again, certified platinum. His most recent album, Theatre of the Mind, released on Nov. 24 of last year, is a concept album. “The album is theatrical,” Ludacris told MTV News back in July of 2008. “Conceptual-wise, every song you hear plays out like a scene from the movie.”
Movies, of course, are familiar territory for Ludacris. The rapper crossed over to the big screen in 2001 in The Wash, a rap-film starring Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. His first foray into Hollywood, however, was in 2003, when he landed a role in 2 Fast 2 Furious. Since then, he has appeared in nine films, including the best-picture winning Crash and the highly-lauded Hustle & Flow.
Despite his critical success, Ludacris has acquired a penchant for stirring controversy. Shortly after the release of his debut album, Ludacris got into a public spat with Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly after O’Reilly, in protest of Ludacris’s role as a Pepsi spokesperson, called for a boycott of Pepsi products.
More recently, Ludacris has gotten flak from both sides of the political aisle for his song “Politics (Obama Is Here),” a track off a July 2008 mixtape. One in a rash of Obama-inspired rap songs released during the buildup to the 2008 Presidential Election, “Politics” featured disparaging lines directed toward then-President George W. Bush, then-Senator Hillary Clinton, and then-Presidential candidate John McCain. Ludacris has since apologized for the song.
Ultimately, however, the qualities that occasionally get Ludacris into trouble — his candor, his swagger, his verbal dexterity — are the same ones that make him so alluring an artist and entertaining a performer. And, appropriately, most of Ludacris’s best rhymes are a little rough around the edges. Consider this zinger from Word of Mouf’s “Coming 2 America:” “My rap career goes back further than yo’ father hairline / It’s Ludacris — I pack more nuts than Delta Airlines.”
No, we wouldn’t want Ludacris nice and polite. So when he brings his act Saturday night to Ithaca, stop cramming for prelims, get up, get out and get dancing.
The Barton Hall show begins at 8 p.m and is put on by MCFAB, a joint effort of the African Latino Asian Native American Student Programming Board and the Cornell Concert Commission. Tickets are sold out.