Rap musician and actor
Born Christopher Bridges, September 11, 1977, in Illinois; son of Roberta Shields; children: Karma (daughter).
Addresses: Record company —Def Jam, 825 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10019. Website —http://www.defjam.com/site/artist_home.php?artist_id=308
Worked as a DJ for an Atlanta radio station, late 1990s; appeared on the song "Fat Rabbit" by Timbaland, 1998; released Incognegro , 2000; released major-label debut Back for the First Time , 2000; released Word of Mouf , 2001; released Chicken -N- Beer , 2003; released The Red Light District , 2004; released Release Therapy , 2006. Film appearances include: 2 Fast 2 Furious , 2003; Crash , 2005; Hustle and Flow , 2005. Television appearances include: Law and Order: Special Victims Unit , NBC, 2006, 2007; Halls of Fame , N, 2007.
Awards: Grammy Award for best rap/sung collaboration, Recording Academy, for "Yeah!" (with Usher and Lil Jon), 2005; Grammy Awards for best rap song and best rap album, Recording Academy, for "Money Maker" and Release Therapy , 2007.
Ludacris, sometimes called hip-hop's "King of the South," became one of the most popular rappers in the 2000s thanks to his witty wordplay, then parlayed his charisma into roles in two of the most critically acclaimed movies of 2005, Crash and Hustle and Flow . The biggest star in hip-hop's Dirty South genre, the Grammy Award winner helped bring raunchy humor back to rap. Between 2000 and 2006, he sold more than 15 million records. "I always dreamed big, because in order to be successful, you have to dream big," he told Kimberly Davis of Ebony .
Born in Illinois, Ludacris grew up in Atlanta as the only child of a strict single mother. "I was always that guy who wanted to, loved to, rap," he told Ebony 's Davis. "I was always into music, always went to talent shows and open mics." He credited his interest in music with keeping him from getting involved in the drug dealing and other crimes in his neighborhood.
Ludacris began his entertainment career in the late 1990s as a DJ for an Atlanta radio station. He was in the right place at the right time: In the mid-1990s, Atlanta become the center of hip-hop culture in the South. His rap debut came on famed producer Timbaland's 1998 album Tim's Bio , on the song "Fat Rabbit." He took the name Ludacris as a play on his actual first name, Chris, and the word ludicrous. (For his songwriting credit in Timbaland's album, he spelled it Ludichris.) "Ludacris means crazy and wild and ridiculous," he explained to a writer for Ebony . "My music is a little fun in people's lives."
Building on his popularity as a DJ, Ludacris released his debut album, Incognegro , in Atlanta in 2000 on his own Disturbing Tha Peace label, paying for it with three years worth of savings. It sold 50,000 copies, and the track "What's Your Fantasy?" became a hit in Atlanta. The local buzz attracted the attention of rapper Scarface, who had become a talent scout for the preeminent hip-hop label Def Jam. The label was hoping to start a Southern subsidiary, Def Jam South, to capitalize on the raunchy new Dirty South movement in hip-hop. Scarface signed Ludacris to Def Jam, and the label began putting together Ludacris' major-label debut.
The album, Back for the First Time , released later in 2000, included most of Incognegro , plus four more tracks, including a remix of the Timbaland collaboration, renamed "Phat Rabbit," and "Southern Hospitality," a single produced by hitmaking producers the Neptunes. Def Jam promoted the album heavily, and Ludacris embarked on a national tour with fellow Atlanta hip-hoppers Outkast. The label released "What's Your Fantasy" as a single, and although its explicit content kept some radio stations from airing it, it became a huge hit, blazing a trail for other Dirty South songs. Ludacris later released a remix featuring rappers Foxy Brown and Trina. "Southern Hospitality" and "Phat Rabbit" also became hits.
Word of Mouf , Ludacris' second Def Jam album, was clearly aimed for the top of the charts, with star producers and rappers collaborating with Ludacris on almost all the tracks. The album, released in 2001, reached number three on the Billboard 200 chart. Reviewer Jason Birchmeier of All Music Guide described it as less violent and thuggish than Back For the First Time , with a lighter tone built on "witty puns and sly innuendoes." On one track, "Area Codes," Ludacris joked about the many phone numbers he had collected from women he had been intimate with in different cities around the country. It also included the singles "Rollout (My Business)," also produced by Timbaland and "Saturday (Oooh Oooh!)," produced by Organized Noize. Its hidden track, "Welcome to Atlanta," was a collaboration with Jermaine Dupri.
Established as a hip-hop star, Ludacris began collaborating with other rappers on their hits, such as Missy Elliott on her song "One Minute Man." He also appeared on Golden Grain , a 2002 compilation album featuring members of his hand-picked Disturbing Tha Peace posse, including Shawnna and Lil' Fate. He also toured with the Disturbing Tha Peace crew.
In 2002, Ludacris appeared in a Pepsi commercial. Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly criticized Pepsi for signing him to the endorsement deal, complaining that his lyrics were sexually explicit and profane. After customers complained to Pepsi, the company canceled the commercial. But Ludacris hardly suffered. He still got paid, the controversy increased his fame, and it fueled his writing. First, he teamed up with hip-hop superstar Snoop Dogg to insult O'Reilly and Pepsi on his next album, Chicken -N- Beer . "That was a completely racist and hypocritical thing for Pepsi to do, so Snoop and I spoke out on it," Ludacris explained to Tom Sinclair of Entertainment Weekly . He later jabbed at O'Reilly again in the song "Number One Spot" on the 2004 album The Red Light District .
When Ludacris released Chicken -N- Beer in 2003, not everyone was impressed. Neil Drumming of Entertainment Weekly found the album cartoonish, and described its raunchier tracks as "cringeworthy, misogynistic snorefests." (Even so, Drumming could not bring himself to reject the album, giving it a grade of B-minus.) People reviewer Chuck Arnold, noting that Chicken -N- Beer 's album cover shows Ludacris about to chew a woman's leg as if it were a chicken leg, warns that the entire album would be "downright tasteless" if not for Ludacris' "fun spirit." The sexual references on the album were vulgar and crude, Arnold complained, but he gave Ludacris credit for some of his funnier lines and put-downs, rating the album with two and a half stars. John Bush of All Music Guide , on the other hand, dubbed Ludacris "the best rapper in the business" and complimented his "lightning-quick phrasing and cutting wit." On the track "Hip Hop Quotables," Ludacris quipped, "One of Mini-Me's shoes got more soul than you" (name-dropping the tiny character from the Austin Powers movies). He promoted the album with a 2004 tour. Rolling Stone writer Jon Caramanica reported that Ludacris delivered 20 songs in a one-hour set in New York City early that year. "Ludacris is the closest thing hip-hop has to a barking circus ringmaster," Caramanica declared. "His delivery is all bombast, roars, and winks."
Ludacris celebrated the release of his next album, The Red Light District , in December of 2004 with a release party that almost 1,000 people attended in Atlanta's Puritan Mills complex. The album went to number one. Ludacris participated in a Newsweek interview in which critic Lorraine Ali told him what she thought of the album and Ludacris responded. Ali complimented him for including tribal beats and imitating old field recordings on "The Potion," and for rhyming "Nevada" and "Impala" on "Number One Spot"—"Ludacris is hotter than Nevada/ I'm ready to break the steering wheel on your Impala," he rapped. But Ali told him that she found the song "Get Back," in which he brags about hitting someone in the jaw, too thuggish and tough. "But by putting in the songs you call 'tough,' I'm being versatile," he replied. "The rest of the album is me experimenting, so those songs balance things out. It's important for a certain part of my audience to hear the same Ludacris."
The rapper became an actor in 2003, when he appeared in the summer film 2 Fast 2 Furious . His next film appearance, in the ensemble cast of the Paul Haggis film Crash , was much more serious. He had never taken acting lessons, but co-star Don Cheadle saw him read for the role and lobbied Haggis to cast him, convinced of his star power. The cast also included seasoned actors such as Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton, and Sandra Bullock.
"Once I heard [about] all the people [who] were going to be a part of it, man, I knew I had to step up to the plate, because I was the least experienced actor in it," Ludacris told Hugh Hart of the San Francisco Chronicle . "Half the battle is getting comfortable in front of these cameras where all these people are looking at you while you're trying to concentrate. Being a rapper and doing so many videos, I already got over that hump. The hard part was getting into being an actor and not an entertainer." The film, released in the spring of 2005, attracted critical acclaim and won an Academy Award for best film. Ludacris followed it up with an appearance in another critically successful film, Hustle and Flow , released in the summer of that same year, which paired him up again with Crash co-star Terrence Howard. That year, he also appeared on the second compilation featuring his posse, the collectively self-titled album Disturbing Tha Peace .
Release Therapy , Ludacris' 2006 album, included more introspective songs, his bid to be taken more seriously than in his jokey past. "A lot of people know who Ludacris is but not who Chris Bridges is," he told Evan Serpick of Rolling Stone . Writers even noted, as Ludacris gave interviews to promote the album, that he had shed his trademark cornrows for a shorter, more serious-looking haircut. The album was divided into two sides, a raw and intense Release side and a quiet, thoughtful Therapy side. It won a Grammy award for best rap album in early 2007, and the first single, "Money Maker," a sexually frank dance track and Ludacris' first collaboration with the Neptunes since 2000, won the Grammy for best rap song.
In the track "War With God," Ludacris showed he could still brag with the best of his peers, talking back to rappers and journalists who he felt had disrespected him. "I'm the best and there's nothin' that you can do about it," he rapped. The serious songs on the album addressed issues such as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. "Do Your Time," about the pain of African-American men in prison, featured guest appearances by three rappers who had done time in prison, C-Murda, Pimp-C, and Bennie Segal. Ludacris declared on his website that he wrote the song to confront the fact that a large number of African-American men are in prison and to provoke thoughts about possible solutions. "Jail isn't something that should be celebrated," the site quoted him as saying. "There are so many black men in jail, and not all of them are guilty."
As the album came out, Ludacris began talking more openly about his daughter, Karma, then five years old. (However, he did not talk publicly about his romantic relationship.) "Runaway Love," with guest vocals from R&B star Mary J. Blige, told the stories of teens leaving their homes to escape abusive and troubled parents and stepparents. Ludacris said having a daughter made him think more about the problems some young women face. "Having a little girl has forced me to broaden my horizons when it comes to women," he said on his website. After the song came out, he began working with the National Network for Youth and the National Runaway Switchboard to let runaway teens know they could call the switchboard for help. Ludacris later told a reporter for Black Enterprise that the switchboard had seen a large increase in call volume after his work with the organization.
As writers took more stock of his serious side, they pointed to the Ludacris Foundation, a charitable organization whose president is Ludacris' mother, Roberta Shields. The foundation gave out $750,000 in charitable donations between 2001 and 2006. It donated 1,000 turkeys in the Atlanta area during the holiday season, organized visits with sick children in hospitals, and started a back-to-school program in 2006 that provided 200 students in Atlanta with shoes, haircuts, health screenings, and school supplies.
As 2007 began, Ludacris was expanding his horizons yet again, becoming more of a social activist. After meeting with U.S. Senator Barack Obama in November of 2006 about how to confront the spread of AIDS, Ludacris joined with the group YouthAIDS to publicize the risks of AIDS among teens. Meanwhile, he was also working on a teen drama for the cable station Nickelodeon's teen network, N. The show, Halls of Fame , will feature two students at a performing-arts school. Ludacris will have a recurring acting role and compose the theme song. Lu- dacris also made his second guest appearance on the TV show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit , reprising the role he played in March of 2006 as the troubled criminal defendant nephew of a detective played by rap pioneer Ice-T.
Incognegro , Disturbing Tha Peace, 2000.
Back for the First Time , Def Jam, 2000.
Word of Mouf , Def Jam, 2001.
(With others, as part of Disturbing Tha Peace) Golden Grain , Def Jam, 2002.
Chicken -N- Beer , Def Jam, 2003.
The Red Light District , Def Jam, 2004.
(With others, as part of Disturbing Tha Peace) Disturbing tha Peace , Def Jam, 2005.
Release Therapy , Disturbing Tha Peace, 2006.
Billboard , October 25, 2003, p. 65; December 18, 2004, p. 13; December 11, 2005, p. 35.
Black Enterprise , May 2007, p. 144.
Boston Globe , March 5, 2004.
Ebony , August 2003, p. 26; October 2005, p. 210.
Entertainment Weekly , September 26, 2003, p. 59; October 24, 2003, p. 104.
Houston Chronicle , August 30, 2002.
Jet , December 11, 2006, p. 58.
Newsweek , December 6, 2004, p. 86.
People , November 3, 2003, p. 48; September 18, 2006, p. 81.
Rolling Stone , April 15, 2004, p. 157; January 26, 2006, p. 64; September 7, 2006, p. 32.
San Francisco Chronicle , May 8, 2005, p. PK-34.
"Biography," Def Jam, http://www.defjam.com/site/artist_bio.php?artist_id=308 (May 13, 2007).
" Chicken-N-Beer: Overview," All Music Guide , http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=10:wxfwxqualdhe (May 20, 2007).
"Ludacris: Biography," All Music Guide , http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:fxfuxq9kldte& sim;T1 (May 13, 2007).
"Ludacris returns to role on 'Law and Order: SVU,'" CTV.ca, www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/show/CTVShows/20070515.tif/ludacris_law_o der_070515/20070515/ (May 20, 2007).
" Word of Mouf: Overview," All Music Guide , http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=10:gxftxq80ldde (May 13, 2007).