Listening with Ludacris: A preview of 'Battle of the Sexes'
If “Battle of the Sexes,” the title of Ludacris’ upcoming album, had been rejected by Def Jam brass, “Ladies Love Luda” might have been an adequate substitute. After all, other than T.I., no other contemporary rapper inspires female ardor quite like Christopher Bridges, the Atlanta rapper who has racked up 17 million sales domestically since “What’s Your Fantasy” kick-started his career 10 years ago.
So it’s little surprise that on his seventh full-length collection, Ludacris abandons “Chicken-N-Beer” to stick to his bread and butter. Indeed, “Battle of the Sexes” makes little pretense about its intentions toward the bedroom and the dance floor, with smooth R&B, sugary pop hooks and guest spots from Lil Kim, Trina and Nicki Minaj.
Before an assemblage of 150 press and industry functionaries swilling free beer, wine and the requisite fried hors d’oeuvres Thursday night, Ludacris boasted that his latest album might yield six singles. Surely, that news was music to the ears of the beleaguered executives congregating in Capitol’s famed record-shaped tower amid sundry snarkiness about how this might be the only record release party of the year -- a knock at the scant rap release schedule. Even though a bottle of the Ludacris-sponsored Conjure cognac circulated through the room, no one mistook this for 1999.
Noting that the tracklisting was subject to change before its tentative March 16 release date, Bridges thanked the crowd for supporting him over the last decade and offered his latest battle footage.
1. “Hey Ho” ft. Lil Kim
Declaring it a sequel to his controversial “Ho,” Ludacris explained that “Hey Ho” addressed the societal double standard that allows promiscuous men to be considered “pimps and playas,” while women are branded “hos.” The topic might be well-worn, but Lil Kim snaps with some of her fiercest raps in years and Ludacris displays why his technical ability remains almost unparalleled. Blessed with an innate charisma and a booming sub-woofer baritone, he spits double-time raps that salvage the song’s trite premise.
2. "Tell Me a Secret" ft. Ne-Yo
Declaring “you’d never know [Swizz Beatz] made this,” Luda’s collaboration with Ne-Yo will surely earn droves of praise among the Bossip readership. For those raised on Ruff Ryders-era Swizz Beatz and even his more recent triumphs (Lil Wayne’s “Dr. Carter” and Jay-Z’s “On to the Next One,”) you might be better served digging up an old copy of “Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood.”
3. “My Chick Bad” ft. Nicki Minaj
The title doesn’t leave much to the imagination. This song is devoted to Ludacris telling the world, “my chick bad, my chick hood, my chick do stuff that your chick wish she could.” Nicki Minaj plays his “chick,” and raps well enough to make you believe the braggadoccio.
4. “Got a Man” ft. Flo Rida
I was uncharacteristically excited when Ludacris invoked Positive K’s “I Got a Man” as one of the inspirations for “Got a Man.” Then I heard it, and other than the hook (“I know you got a man, man, man, but tell me what your man, man, man gotta do with me?”), the two songs bear little resemblance. With a guest spot from Flo Rida and glucose-glutted production from Infinity, there is little doubt that this will own pop radio. Describing it as a “radio smash” intended for the pop dial and the likely third single (the second was being kept under wraps), “Got a Man” is ruthlessly efficacious and the aural equivalent to eating a pixie stick sandwich.
5. “Can’t Live With You, Can’t Live Without You” ft. Monica
Subtlety is not this album’s forte. Describing a song called “Can’t Live With You, Can’t Live Without You,” as a song about being in a relationship and thinking that “they can’t live with the person and they can’t live without them at the same damn time,” Monica coos in full-on “The Boy Is Mine” mode. To his credit, Luda is blessed with the innate affability of a great salesman -- he’s able to make lukewarm clichés seem ice-cold.
6. “How Low (Remix)”
Currently No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, Ludacris claimed that “How Low” has already sold 700,000 downloads. Perhaps his finest radio bid since 2003’s “Stand Up,” the album’s first single boasts bass heavy enough to bring condemned buildings to the ground and a melodic catchiness to ensure radio play through the summer, and strip club burn from here until eternity. He also announced “three or four remixes,” one with Ciara and Pitbull, one with Rick Ross and Twista, and another with Fabolous.
7. “Sex Room” ft. Trey Songz
Collaborating with the man who brought the world “LOL Smiley Face” might be a savvy business move, but artistically speaking, “Sex Room” is a shameless pander to the lowest common denominator. Ludacris describes his girl as having “lips as soft as cotton,” and being “the apple of his eye [but he’s] spoiled rotten.” There is something profoundly embarrassing about having to listen to a song called “Sex Room” in a room with other people. Perhaps I’m a prude, but I always assumed that most people just called the “sex room,” the bedroom, or the boudoir if they’re trying to be fancy.
Verdict: Ludacris very clearly set out to make an album with mass appeal among female urban radio fans, aged 13 to 34. Judging from the tracks heard, he fulfilled his goals. Whether you enjoy it depends on demographics.
-- Jeff Weiss
Photo via Ludacris Myspace