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The Immersion: Remembering When Ludacris Was Rap’s “MVP”Posted by Dharmic X on 10/04/12 | Filed under Opinion, The Immersion
To ignore and refuse to listen to mainstream music was equivalent to a country in North or South America joining the Russians during the Cold War. For the most part, I was the only one in my class digging deep to find underground gems. The internet was putting me onto new music, not my friends or anyone else in school.
But simultaneously, I wasn’t averse to the music coming out from rap’s superstars. At this point, I still hadn’t joined a side in hip-hop’s civil war between the mainstream and the underground. Eventually, I would begin arguing with my classmates about which rappers were really better artists, but for the moment, I was content mainly listening to artists that I enjoyed and nobody else was checking for, and occasionally checking the hottest rapper’s newest project.
Besides, Lil Wayne and The Game had proven that year that just because you were aiming for radio play didn’t mean your music was wack. And prior to "Theater of the Mind", there was no disputing Ludacris’s talent. I had been a fan as soon as I got into his catalog, which ranged from bangers like “Southern Hospitality” and “Get Back” (a personal favorite) to introspective cuts like “Runaway Love.” 2008 was time for Luda to drop another album, "Theater of the Mind", and this track was by far the standout.
The beat is an undeniable head-nodder, the type of track hip-hop fans have come to demand from DJ Premier. And it was the perfect platform for Luda to come through with some of his rawest rhymes to date. It wasn’t particularly conceptual, but the punchlines and charisma the Atlanta MC displayed were masterful. “...And the chrome is home, so I’m never home alone, and only keep friends with two X chromosomes,” he raps in the first verse, a brilliant rhyme pattern mixed in with skillful wordplay. Luda ends the track saying, “I shoot a hot sixteen from the baseline (bassline); I’m on point like CP3 and I’ll be goin down in rap as the MVP,” a boastful claim he backs up with an extended basketball-based metaphor and a clever double-entendre.
In an album littered with features of all sorts, this track really stands out because there are no features. “MVP” is just Ludacris going in for three straight verses, tied together by a well-crafted scratch hook, really having a nostalgic feel without sounding dated. Looking back now, in an era where major labels appear to be shying away from the 90s-era producers like Premier (note how Def Jam used Justice League on the DJ Khaled track featuring Nas and Scarface and simply put Preemo on the cuts instead), Luda’s desire to rap over a Preemo cut is admirable, but I found the claim of being “the first Southern rapper on a Preemo beat” to be a little dubious. After all, hadn’t Bun B just dropped some bars over “How We Rock?”
Theater of the Mind itself was a hit-or-miss. The beginning and ending of the project were pretty dope, especially tracks like “I Do It For Hip-Hop,” where he brought together Jay-Z and Nas on the same track (and yes, my friends and I did engage in the usual debate over whose verse was the best on that song, with me claiming Nas handily bested Jay). But the middle of the album was saturated with filler tracks that were simply boring. The night I decided to listen to the album from start-to-finish, I passed out about four tracks into the project. To think that this was Luda’s last somewhat successful album (he followed this up with Battle of the Sexes, which, the less said the better) is pretty disheartening to think about, especially in the age of Tity Boi.
I couldn’t keep Theater of the Mind in constant rotation, but there was another album that dropped in November that I gravitated to...
(DJ Dharmic X is the host of This Culture Never Dies, 11PM-1AM Saturday on wnyu.org. Fans and haters, can follow him on Twitter and check him out on Facebook.)
See Also: The Immersion: The Early Days of Slaughterhouse & Internet Rap