The Quotable Reviews: Theatre of the Mind

"Cause this is Theatre of the Mind. / Consider it a sign / of whats to come next." - "I Do It For Hip Hop"

After 8 years and 6 studio LPs, there are certain expectations we here at The Quotable have for each new Ludacris album:

We expect him to come hard from the left with his big, baritone voice, and even bigger videos and production ("Southern Hospitality," "Roll Out," "Stand Up!," "Get Back," "Move Bitch").

We expect him to down shift into mack-mode for a track or three (a la Busta Rhymes), using his tongue-twister-slash-late-night-phone-tone to seduce the fairer sex ("Phat Rabbit," "P-Poppin," "Splash Waterfalls," "Hoes In My Room").

We expect a healthy amount of comic relief ("Ho," "Area Codes," "Blow It Out").

We expect an ill 16 bar cipher cut to open each album ("Southern Fried Intro," "Intro," "Warning").

But what keeps the respect flowing in Luda's direction is his visceral focus on lyricism. And we expect him to drop lines like 'Enter' each and every time out the gate.


So as expected, we here at The Quotable were more than amped about Luda's sixth studio album, Theatre of the Mind. Although he's never been one of my default Emcees (artists that you listen to during those times when you don't know what you want to listen to), Ludacris consistently brings that heat when its cold outside. Does Theatre of the Mind meet the standard? Walk with us as...

The Quotable Reviews: Theatre of the Mind

Theatre of the Mind is basically made up of three types of tracks: cipher cuts, chick/club songs, and concept records - all intended to provide that scene-from-a-movie feel.

The album opener, "Intro," represents the obligatory, ill, 16-bar, cipher cut where Luda reintroduces himself while laying out the premise of his latest release (a staple found on each of his LPs). Over The Runners heavy bass line, bouncing snare drums, and medieval choir, Ludacris drops one of the most honest quotables of his career - "Give me 16 bars / on another n***** song / and you know that I'm gonna fuckin' kill it!" 'Cris has arguably the hottest intros in the game. Each of his LPs opens with some big, triumphant, back-the-muttaskut-up-cause-you-can't-handle-me-lyrically intro that immediately reminds you why Luda's necessary to Hip Hop right now - because he holds every other MC accountable for his craft. "Intro" is no different, and equally refreshing.

And to be honest, this is the side of Chris Lova Lova thats had us here at TQ so eagerly anticipating this latest release. I mean, tracks like the hilarious, T-Pain assisted "One More Drink," or the club anthem, Chris Brown featured, "What Them Girls Like," or even the R&B-throwback, Scott Storch produced "Contagious" (featuring Jamie Foxx) suitably fill the chick/club track quota (none of which are bad listens). And concept records such as the 9th Wonder produced "Do The Right Thang" (where Luda and Common team up to remind cats to walk the right path or be prepared to face life's consequences), "Call Up The Homies" (featuring The Game), or the trap-certified, 808 bass-lined, "Southern Gangsta" (Rick Ross and Playaz Circle join Luda to wax poetic about their hustler credentials), or even the highly anticipated T.I. collaboration, "Wish You Would" help to round out the album. But Theatre of the Mind's true value is found in its cipher cuts.

"Bow down to greatness / before I get pist-n' / run up in the stands like the Indiana Pacers." - "Undisputed"

"Undisputed" and "Everybody Hates Chris" (with Chris Rock) are the albums first 2 examples, each showcasing Luda's brolic, battle-ready lyrical demeanor. The latter's lively horns and hand claps invoke an immediate head-nod while 'Cris rides the track to perfection. Then, after a brief detour down chick-track-avenue, Theatre of the Mind breaks left onto freestyle expressway. "Last of a Dying Breed" is an epic, scratch-heavy, track that Luda and Lil' Wayne use to put on an exhibition in lyrical exercise.

"Top 5 dead or alive / but really it just hit me / that 3 out of your 5's too scared to f*ck with me. / So how can I advance if you don't give me no opponents? / How can you see the future if you're living for the moment? / Hip Hop couldn't die, / I never offer my condolence. / But I offer ya'll day of atonement."

Luda's arguably at his best on the DJ Premiere produced "MVP," which is also arguably the album's best beat. Premo provides that classic boom-bap nostalgia, and Luda laces this one with some of the albums dopest quotables:

"And my delivery's invading your vicinity. / Hennessey is my remedy. / Taking shots like Kennedy. / And I been a G / for a long time. / To these streets I'm connected like I'm on-line. / On time for whatever. / And every time an album drop, / I drop B.I.G. like Voletta."

I drop B.I.G. like Voletta???? It doesn't get much iller than that!!! It doesn't get much more visual than that!!! And, since The Notorious BIG was a large muttaskutta and giving birth to him must have been exceptionally uncomfortable (Voletta Wallace is Biggie's mother), it doesn't get much bigger than that!!! Now add the fact that Luda's sold over 15 million records world wide (no easy feat for any artist at any point in history, let alone during the recent record-sales recession), it doesn't get much truer than that. Ludacris is a beast. Ludacris is a beast.

"I don't do it for the cars and the fancy drops. / I do it for Hip Hop." - "I Do it for Hip Hop."

Rounding out Theatre of the Mind's best run is "I Do It For Hip Hop" - an ill, scratch-heavy cipher cut enlisting 2 of rap's titans - Jay-Z and Nas. Another great track. Each Emcee gets busy here, but in the end, Ludacris outshines both. Jay appears to have an interesting strategy though. Rather than attempt to go straight at Luda lyrically, he instead uses an old school flow, invoking Hip Hop nostalgia to leave his mark on the track ("Hip Hop / started out in the park. / We used to do it to avoid the narcs."). My cousin Sha pointed that one out. Nas kicks a cool little bumble bee analogy to describe how he's "as live as a hive full of predators," successfully netting him 3rd place.

"And their almost extinct / so I'm sayin' it loud. / MC means 'move the crowd'" - "Last of a Dying Breed"

15 tracks. Loads of guest appearances. 0 interludes.

All in all, Theatre of the Mind is a balanced, enjoyable, LP that will have your head-nodding as soon as you press play. You can clean to it. You can pre-party to it. Might be tough to slide into mack-mode, but you can definitely drive to it. Its combination of chick/club tracks, concept records, and cipher cuts adds up to a solid, diverse listen. Theatre of the Mind is one of the year's best Hip Hop albums, and arguably the most potent of his career.

And the more I think about it - I'm a bi-album Ludacris fan; meaning that I tend to get excited about every-other Ludacris album. Back For The First Time caught me off guard in a good way which made me excited about Word of Mouf (2001). But Chicken & Beer (2003), although more-than-nice in retrospect, wasn't on the priority list at the time. Then The Red Light District (2004) dropped and of course I had to cop that the first day. But I damn-near ignored 2006's Release Therapy, which is his most critically successful LP to date. Now here we are, late in '08, and for some reason I couldn't wait for this album. And thats because, for me, less is more with Ludacris. He's such a larger-than-life presence on every song, that it doesn't take much to OD. Theatre of the Mind's diverse sound scape does a solid job of minimalizing that trait, signalling replay-value potential (and it doesn't get any more important than replay value).

Furthermore, the fact that there is nothing ground-breaking, or career redefining here, or that Luda doesn't show us a new side of his person, his thoughts, his lifestyle, his anything isn't necessarily a bad thing. He still delivers a top-shelf product that embodies all of the reasons why you love Luda in the first place. His diversity. His ability to make you laugh, to make you bounce, to make you feel OK about screaming "move bitch, get out the way!" And most notably, the fact that he's a lyricist to the death - and he's got what you need. Ludacris, the last of a dying breed.

Rating: QQQQ


Anonymous said...

Great review (I did one as well and gave the album 4 stars too).

Quick question: Loved the thorough review on Lupe Fiasco's F&L, but no review for The Cool?

(Also loved the sly Lupe reference in this review *drop lines like Enter*)

Unknown said...

In the typical b-school fashion (can I say b-school on a hip-hop blog without getting, I would like to both disagree and "build on" the quotable commentary. I like the album, yes, as you said it is a great "hip hop" album. However, and we have talked about this before, I am inclined to say that I am still bothered that Luda has not given us anything more (content wise) than what he has in the past. Yes, there are great beats and good flow but Luda is like those people in class/work who say everything and tell you nothing. Who is Luda really? Besides the fact that he continually asserts his position "in the number one spot," we know very little about the man. I am impressed by the quality of the album but disappointed in its content. But perhaps I stand alone...