Interview By Moke Kelekome
From Murder Dog vol. 13 #3
First and foremost, every Hip Hop fan is aware of you, but many really don’t know anything about you other than your talent as a singer and now an actor.
Well my brother, it’s up to you to ask the questions that will enlighten the people to who I am, right? Where do you want to begin?
It’s been written about but never thoroughly talked about how you were working at Pizza Hut and your role as an on-air personality as Chris Luva Luva on the radio Hot 107.9 [formerly 97.5]. How did those two jobs play into the music industry?
I can’t say either had a direct effect on how I make music, but I think I know what you’re getting at. When I was working at Pizza Hut... that was just one of many low-wage jobs that I had to make money to finance my life and later on my demo and indie album. But to answer your question, I have been a hard worker all my life, and those particular jobs, along with whatever I could hustle on the side, is just a part of who I am. I have never been afraid of hard work in achieving my goals. Like James Brown said, “You don’t work, you can’t eat.” And that goes for any type of work or hustle that you have going. Lazy drug dealers don’t make it, lazy bank robbers don’t get it, lazy laborers don’t get it. I’ve just been that way since I was a kid, man. A hard worker and a born hustler.
What about the radio? I used to hear you and Chaka (his manager) on the morning show when I would float through Atlanta.
The radio obviously got me closer to the industry. From the contacts I made to being able to have resources available to me, the radio has played a big part. I would say my time on the radio helped me develop how I project my voice. When you listen to any of the songs I have done my voice draws attention through the pitch, directness and tone of whatever I’m doing. Basically, my voice stands out from song to song and it’s the most distinct thing you notice about Ludacris when you hear it. To catch all the lyrics will take more than one listen, you already hear the beat, but the voice captures a listeners’ attention first. I hope that answers your questions.
No doubt. Right on point. In one internet interview, you described your new album, “Release Therapy”, as having two sides and. . .
I was misquoted. Basically “Release Therapy” is my most personal album, because I’m sharing more of my thoughts, and my ideas are on certain topics. I’m not sharing my life story or anything like that, but I’m giving more of me as a person who has ideas and opinions on what is happening in the world.
You went Public Enemy/Ice Cube on us?
Not to that degree, basically the “Release” is just getting shit of my chest, mind or whatever. Tell it like it is. The “Therapy” aspect is doing what puts my mind at ease. I have a song called “Runaway Love” which addresses child abuse: release. I have a song called “Girls Gone Wild”: therapy. Well, that could be release and therapy. But I’m just touching on things that mean something to me and doing how Ludacris can only do it. I think you’ll like it a lot. I recorded four albums worth of material. Stuff that is mostly derived from my personal thoughts. One of those songs that made it on the album is about the criminal justice system and being locked up. It’s me, Beanie Sigel, Pimp C and C-Murder. C’mon man, you know that is a recipe for something epic. There is another song I have that is kinda like a 2007 version of “Brenda’s Got a Baby” [Tupac song 1991]. That’s all I’m going to say because I don’t want to spoil it for you. I want you and the readers to listen for yourselves and judge the music on what you hear, not me pumping my own shit up.
You are four solo albums, one EP, two compilations, and a host of soundtracks and features into your career. You have maintained a pretty lofty status for almost eight years. I’m curious what has kept you and your manager Chaka Zulu so tight. I’ve only seen Ice T/Jorge Hinojosa and Will Smith/Benny Medina maintain such a firm relationship when it comes to artists in this game. What is the strength of the bond?
Chaka and I compliment one another.
Let me interrupt for one second for anyone who doesn’t know, Chaka was the one who put you on as an air personality during his show and you are both partners in the Disturbing the Peace (DTP) label.
Right. Like I was saying, Chaka and I compliment one another. In this business, you have all kind of people shooting stuff at you, offering the moon and the stars if you sign with them or leave the situation you’re in. That’s a part of this business. But Chaka and I are too strong for something of that nature. First off, he’s a great manager so nobody can offer me any services or look out for my career better than him. Secondly, he’s been a mentor to me for such a long time. Chaka is very wise, and we have learned and grown together for a long time. It’s funny that you mentioned Ice T, Will Smith and their managers, that is a testament to strong bonds and people working for the best interest of each other. Look at their careers from where they started and where they are now. I’ll be happy when Chaka and I are mentioned like that.
Chaka is a cool dude too.
Yeah, we are friends and I think that is the basis for our trusting one another to do the best. He’s been a blessing for me as far as my life in and out of this industry. Like I said, he is a wise man.
You’ve been in films like “2 Fast 2 Furious”, “Hustle and Flow”, and “Crash”. How simple or hard was it to make the jump to film? Is this something that you and Chaka had planned on in the beginning of your career?
Chaka and I didn’t really plan on it as we started, but it was an eventuality that just kind of happened and we handled it from that moment. I was invited to read for a part and then I just caught the bug from there. My first two roles were just bit parts and didn’t really require too much outside of who I really am. “Crash” did though because I had more speaking parts and camera time.
How did the bug hit you?
Just knowing that I had an ability that could be developed or honed was enough for me to accept a new challenge in my career. But it really got me to start working on a few treatments and scripts. I’m also reading scripts for projects that people are sending. I’m trying to do it all, brother. Do it all and do it well.
You have mostly played supporting roles that didn’t require much of you in terms of having the film rest on your shoulders, but “Crash” really opened your acting ability up. Do you think you are nearing the point where you can carry a feature film as a lead or lead support?
I think it will be happening soon. I’m confident and I’m working on it constantly. I’m at the point now that I feel I can carry a feature film, that’s half the battle. But I’ll have to approach it like Ice Cube, Will Smith or LL where my music takes a backseat to finishing a film project. It seemed like the attention to detail that they would usually put into an album wasn’t the same as before the film career, if they made an album at all. I think the time in acting in a film or producing films cuts into that. I haven’t been presented with that challenge yet, so I’m not really sure how I’ll be able to handle balancing a major film and recording career.
I wonder how Elvis and Sinatra did it. You know if their albums that came out after the films were weaker as art than the others?
That’s a good question. I don’t know either, let me know when you check on that.
Another project that you have going on is the “Open Mic” radio show on XM Satellite Radio. Where do you find the time?
I’ll say it one more time, brother. I’m a hard worker and a born hustler. XM was looking to fill some programming slots and they came with an offer that was the right amount money. I’m home once ever two weeks so I record the shows and I have the most wonderful producer who adds all the reports and a lot of different elements. We have a really great show. I really enjoy it.
Is it set up to where you can do it on the road?
I haven’t had to yet, but yes. I can go into any studio and perform live or record the show and my producer will handle the rest. Man, I have a strong team all around me in every aspect of my career. I’m really thankful for that.
Speaking of strong teams, I have to ask this question because I’m curious about your label DTP. Who is doing the A&R for your projects? The reason I ask is, you have the best beats and singles on your albums but the other artists haven’t made a lot of great music in my opinion. I’m a fan, especially of Shawnna going back to Infamous Syndicate, but I don’t feel that the same effort is put into making the music and the promotion that is done with a Ludacris album. Is that an issue that has ever been addressed?
First off, let me say that I believe in all my artists no matter what level of sales they have reached or haven’t reached. I think everyone on my label, and this is in all honesty, is overlooked. I was overlooked and under the radar at one point in my career. Did you own a copy of “Incognegro”? I would want every artist on my label to have the same level of appreciation of opportunity that I have, but it doesn’t always work that way for whatever reason.
Actually yeah. I still have a copy, but I see your point.
How are you judging the success of this album or that album, if you don’t mind me asking?
Off the top let me say that I really like Field Mob and I love Shawnna, and I just wasn’t feeling I-20. And as a fan who still takes weekly trips to the record store, what I’m hearing is not moving me. It has nothing to do with region, age or style. I think Shawnna is the dopest female lyricist in the game along with Lauryn Hill, MC Lyte, Mia X, and maybe Eve. But “Worth the Weight” and “Block Music” just didn’t bring it for me. It’s like potential is great but the overall project was a letdown. Kinda like Ras Kass or Pharaohe Monch where you have a dope MC but the music is just not matching up for the album. And the DTP compilations have a few songs, but overall I didn’t feel they were worth the purchase for my listening pleasure after I brought them.
Well, thank you for buying them and you are entitled to your opinion. I stand by mine and I think the artists on DTP have recorded great music. The amount of commercial success I wish could be more, but there are a lot of factors that decide whether an album can sell 300,000 or three million. Everything happens for a reason. Nobody could have predicted that Chingy would be double platinum. Which albums did you like on the label?
Bobby Valentino had some good songs. We Chicago Step to some of his songs out here in the Bay Area. Field Mob I’ve always liked. Shawnna, because I believe in her, but the albums haven’t hit. That’s about it, aside from the Luda albums.
I think Shawnna is the best female MC in the game. You haven’t heard a fraction of the shit I have when she spits and flows. I’d be interested it hearing you analyze her albums and compare your notes with mine, because I think she has put out two solid albums.
That would be cool. I’m going to go down your roster and I want you to give me a brief assessment of the talent and best attribute of the DTP stable. Let’s start with my girl Shawnna.
I think Shawnna is the dopest female in Hip Hop. She has the best lyrics, flows, styles, and she really knows how to use her voice. She’s the best.
Field Mob is one of the most underrated groups in the game. Not just based on their albums, but their rhymes and subject matter. Listen to what they spit and how they do it. When people say that nonsense about Southern rappers can’t rhyme, they’ve never listened to Field Mob.
I-20 is aggressive as hell. That thug music, but with a great level of intelligence. His voice alone is an instrument. He commands your attention.
Titi Boi and Dolla Boy are a group and I know you ain’t up on them yet. Wait and see.
Bobby Valentino formerly Mista [Organized Noize].
Bobby V has his own personality in the R&B world. He’s not a cookie cutter artist who’s trying to be the next copy cat. He’s real innovative and has a real feel for who his audience is and what type of music he wants to do.
You know as soon as you hear her sing. Her voice says it all.
I was surprised that you put out Bobby V. I didn’t take you for an R&B guy in the more classic sense of the music.
Plain and simple brother, I want DTP to be a real label doing different genres of music. Bobby V has an album that has legs and he can tour off that with the likes of any R&B artist, young or older. We have a Rock act we are working with, Lazy Eye. I’m just trying to be well rounded and do it all.
Just out of curiosity, I know all of your solo albums have been platinum or multi-platinum in the USA. How have you done overseas, and do you get over there at all?
I don’t spend as much time overseas as I should. I’ve gone gold and platinum in Canada, England, Germany, and Japan I believe. But hopefully we’ll be able to set up a DTP tour when my album comes out and we can do the States and overseas.
You are one of the few artists who has done anything on the continent of Africa. You shot the video for “Pimpin All over the World” all over South Africa and did some shows out there. What was the experience like?
Man, what can I say! I was in the motherland. I loved it. That trip changed my life and many perspectives I have on things. It was a great experience. Some of what I recorded on “Release Therapy” is a direct result of my time in South Africa. Not so much on just the subject, but how it opened my mind to certain ideas and things.
Let’s touch on something I haven’t seen written about much, The Luda Foundation. You just had an event for some ATL kids to help them with their back to school items?
My roots are in community service. That was something else that radio station prepared me for back in the day. We had to do community outreach and events, so my doing a foundation based on helping kids help themselves was just natural for me. The entire foundation is involved in many joint ventures in raising money for victims of Cerebral Palsy, abused women, getting kid’s confidence up, juvenile counseling. The Ludacris Foundation has been going on for four years now, and I’m at the point now where my celebrity really helps in bringing in name brand sponsors to come aboard and donate money and resources for some of the events and projects we work on.
I want to talk about August 13, 2006 in particular. That was the day you had 500 kids come out to their hair cut to get ready to go back to school? That is pretty damn generous.
It was more like 300 kids and it wasn’t just haircuts, some kids had their hair braided. It was called Hot Cutz, and it was sponsored by the Hot 107.9 and the Ludacris Foundation. It was open to the public. We had a team of barbers and hair stylists out there doing it and it was wonderful. There was another event the following day for a select group of fourth through eighth graders from Clayton County Schools in Georgia, who were identified by their teachers and counselors as kids in need, who were treated to an afternoon of food, fun and entertainment. We teamed with Puma, Well Care, DTLR, Azzure, DTP, CP Time, Sam’s Club, Marsha’s Angels, and Pepsi to provide these kids with shoes, shirts and clothing, school supplies, food, and health and dental screenings/check-ups.
With the music, label and film career how do you balance all this?
Like I said, I’m a hard worker and a born hustler. My mother, Ms. Roberta Shields, is the president and we have assembled a team that is really fantastic. Who better to run my foundation than the person who first showed me the meaning of charity, my mother? The team is made up of people we have encountered in our life who have twenty years of professional experience as corporate executives of Fortune 500 companies, legal world, healthcare and financial fields, and of course the music industry. We’re solid.
Bill O’Reilly and your detractors seem to fail in bringing any of this up when they attack you or assassinate your character.
They have an agenda, and looking at the efforts that I or any artist goes through to enrich the lives of the people who support us is not a part of his program. I don’t even waste time thinking about him.
I don’t really care about platinum and gold as far as sales go, I just hope people listen to an artist. But I have to say, I don’t think people really get how dope you are on the mic. I think most people evaluate your ability from the singles and videos.
That’s changing I think. Not to sound arrogant, but I do think that I am the most versatile rapper in the game. I can lay a claim to that based on the styles of music I can do, the wordplay, and the longevity of keeping a standard. I’ve made music with some of the best like Snoop, Nas, DJ Quik, and Lil Jon. I can do about any genre or style of Hip Hop from any era, which is why I love the song “Virgo” with Doug E Fresh, Nas and myself. I think people are starting to wake up and give me props. Not that I’m looking for someone to pat me on my back, but to be acknowledged for what I’m doing along with the rest of Hip Hop artists means something. Props are a part of the art.