This week I saw Furious 7 and skipped through Ludaversal, Ludacris’s new album.
One of those things was fun, the other one wasn’t. On screen, Vin Diesel and the rest of the squad sent off Paul Walker in style, and Chris Bridges might have a romance with sexy hacker Nathalie Emmanuel on deck. On wax, Luda sounds bored and sleepwalks through a bunch of dad jokes in rap form.
This isn’t a surprise or even a problem; Luda has had a long successful career but he’s way better at making club anthems than albums. You don’t need to be able to assemble 13 topically diverse songs into a cohesive package when your singles are a sure shot.
So rather than dwell on Luda’s shortcomings, let’s celebrate how good he is at rapping, especially on other people’s tracks. Not only does he have a knack for hooks, a laundry list of flows and punchlines for days, he knows how to rip a guest verse. Luda expertly tailors his style to the song, able to rap for the kids on early Justin Bieber tracks, for the ladies on Ciara collabs, and for his fucking propers on tracks with New York heavyweights.
Here are 10 times (among many) people got together to make a song and then decided to get Ludacris on the song too and the song turned out more awesome.
‘Welcome 2 Atlanta’ feat. Ludacris
(So So Def, 2002)
Some Southern rappers stay underrated because they don’t sound like they are working very hard. When a dude from New York spits you can hear practically hear the words straining under the physical limitations of a Yankees fitted and two 8-ball jackets. On the other hand, here is Luda on ‘Welcome 2 Atlanta’, coming off like he was rapping to himself while folding laundry and JD happened to throw a mic in front of him. He blows through four distinct flows, some cool experimental timing (“… that’s what’s up”) and fun with onomatopoeias. And then probably goes and does the dishes.
‘Gossip Folks’ feat. Ludacris
‘Gossip Folks’ might be the pinnacle of Top 40 hip-hop and it would only edge out any number of other Missy Elliot bangers because Ludacris comes through and spits his origin story on the bridge. As Katy Perry will tell you, going toe to toe with Missy is an advanced move. Luda manages to do so, even while making a Kindergarten Cop reference.
‘Stomp’ feat. T.I. & Ludacris
In one of the greatest moments of G-Unit’s “rap as pro-wrestling” era, 50 Cent gets T.I. and Ludacris to diss each other on the same track. While Tip plays it super cool, the smooth talking Luda from ‘Welcome’ is long gone. Instead, he yells his way through some fun, straightforward ABAB shit about his net worth and then jumps off the turnbuckle for the finishing move: “stay off the T-I-P of my diqqqqq.” OOOOH!
‘Made You Look’ (remix) feat. Ludacris & Jadakiss
(Ill Will, 2003)
‘Made You Look’ isn’t just a Nas track, it was the Nasir Jones Triennial Relevance Renewal. And even though God’s Son mostly sucked, the song hit hard enough to keep hope alive that we might some day get another Illmatic. The remix was high stakes, especially with Jadakiss manifesting the collective power of every small-time criminal in the New York and New Jersey criminal justice system. So it’s no small feat that Luda was able to hold his own next to two of hottest rappers in New York.
‘B R Right’ feat. Ludacris
‘B R Right’ is the lesser known, way better ‘What’s Your Fantasy?’ – like its hipster cousin or something. Swap out Trina for Shawnna (who is great but is no Trina) and trade one of Bangladesh’s less impressive efforts for the Timbaland-influenced sample-flipping brilliance of early Kanye.
‘What Means The World To Me’ (remix) feat. Ludacris, Juelz Santana, UGK & Trina
New York’s refusal to accept the popularity of Southern rappers was what you call a market inefficiency. Jay Z cashed in somewhat cynically, first hopping on a remix of Juvenile’s ‘Ha’ then more famously getting UGK on ‘Big Pimpin’. But Cam has long been down for the dirty; here he enlists a murderer’s row of South features in 2000, at a time when Luda was still somewhat regional. He runs away with the track.
‘Oh’ feat. Ludacris
‘Oh’ got the same kind of bump from a Ludacris tour de force as ‘Gossip Folks’: a potentially hot crossover joint becomes a classic thanks to bars from Chris Bridges. It was also the winner of the 2005 “Choice Music Make-Out Song” award at the Teen Choice Awards.
‘Freaky Gurl’ feat. Ludacris
(Tommy Boy, 2006)
Ludacris was a late addition to Gucci’s second official single. It’s like nobody expected him to do much after ‘So Icey’ and when he did, someone decided they needed to throw Luda on the remix to get traction outside of the South. It’s a weird fit: he brings a barrage of syllables and emphasis, the polar opposite of Gucci’s smart-dumb flow. (The official remix ostensibly also features Lil’ Kim but I swear I heard her verse once on Hot 97 and never again.)
8Ball and MJG
‘Shot Off’ feat. Ludacris
(Bad Boy South, 2004)
One of my favorite forgotten gems of all time! Luda sounds clean as fuck after two verses of greasy tough talk from Ball and G. Side note: how many times do you think they’ve gotten drunk with Drake’s dad?
‘Really Like Her’ feat. Ludacris & Rocko
I-20 is (was?) one of the lesser members of DTP, probably best known (or unknown) for being the third rapper on ‘Move Bitch’. So it was good sense for Luda to tack this scorcher of a verse on his artist’s single. The whole track is pretty dope, as I-20 goes hard too. (Rocko only gets sampled.)