Posts By Rawiya Kameir

Ariana Grande: thank u, next

Released five months after the catharsis of Sweetener, these songs of affirmation feel lighter, freer, and more fun, carried effortlessly by Grande’s undeniable voice.

Ludacris: Ludaversal

At the Comedy Central Roast of Justin Bieber, Kevin Hart introduced Ludacris as “one of the most successful rappers of 2001.” It was a joke premised on a few things: Luda's age, maybe, or his drift from the rap world as he moves deeper into his acting career. (He is now a two-time Fast & Furious franchise cast member.) Regardless, it was an accurate, if incomplete, descriptor: In the early-’00s glory days of throwback jerseys and meticulous cornrows, Ludacris led a wave of Atlanta-helmed rap into crossover success, transforming dancefloors around the world into microcosms of the city’s sound. Without staunchly regionalist classics like the libidinous Shawnna-starring “What’s Your Fantasy” and instant mosh pit starter “Southern Hospitality”, there would likely be no so-called New Atlanta, the catchall term for the landscape of boundlessly engaging rappers like Future, Migos, and Father’s Awful Records crew.

Ludacris’ ninth album, Ludaversal, is his first in five years, and it’s a not-very-subtle attempt at testing his staying power against this backdrop. “They say Luda don't want it no mo’ / Nah, nigga, I'm as hungry as the first day,” he raps on the album’s opener, over a double-time beat courtesy of David Banner. I’m still here, seems to be the 37-year-old’s cri de coeur on Ludaversal, as he meditates on the music industry and his place within it.

Luda is one of the most technically inventive rappers of his era, with lithe, adaptable flows, but he emerges on Ludaversal as an unlikely hip-hop traditionalist, at times sounding like an "Empire" approximation of himself. Despite production from current-day heavy hitters like Da Internz and Mike WiLL Made It, he still comes off like a relic from the past, the class clown who never quite grew up. When they don’t land, the jokes and double-entendres are egregious, landing with a practically audible Amirite? Notable example: “I leave rappers confused like’s barber” on “Beast Mode.” Sandwiched in the album’s first half, apropos of nothing, is a skit called “Viagra”, a recording of a 911 phone call placed by a man with an ostensibly never-ending erection.

There are some high points, though: In interviews Luda has described the project as his most personal yet—that’s often a marketing phrase bandied about too generously, but it rings true in this case. On songs like “Grass Is Always Greener” and “Charge It to the Rap Game,” he grapples with the downsides of fame; for every luxury he can afford, he has to contend with a money-grubbing family member or a vicious press mechanism that feeds on celebrity gossip. “Ocean Skies,” a song about his father’s fatal alcoholism and his own struggles with substance abuse, is the album's centerpiece, but, like much of Ludaversal, the value is in his emotional honesty, not his execution.

Rap fans with memories of the early ‘00s will always have a fondness for Ludacris, and it’s hard not to want to root for him. It’s never a bad thing, exactly, to hear his voice on a track, even a silly one. But on Ludaversal, I can’t help but think of Young Thug’s casual yet searing critique of Jay Z in a recent GQ interview: "If you're 30, 40 years old, you're not getting listened to by minors.”