Theater of the Mind

(Disturbing Tha Peace/Def Jam; 2008)

By Dom Sinacola | 6 December 2008

Back for the sixth time with easily his worst collection of music yet, Ludacris has fatally proven he will never create the good album I have so longed for, so trusted would come. Because now, as 2009 dawns, Chris Bridges is, summarily, a big jerk of a liar, and Theater of the Mind reeks to the core of a semi-fan’s defeat. Not so much the gloriously seething C4 of his annihilation, the album is firing through the motions, on all cylinders, fervently idling and thereby negating everything so charming and mellifluous about the rapper’s loping backlogue, purging dirty useless fluids into a homogenous mess on the floor. Luda, still walking like a duck, has fathered a joyless ratbird; in entertaining every fleeting section of his brain, entertaining no sense of balance, Ludacris has finally reached the point where his nest is too wide and bramble’d to escape or remodel without it falling totally out of the tree; no, “Nasty Girl” doesn’t so much argue with a track like “Do The Right Thang” as it does just stupidly sit abutting. Frontloaded with slimy bangers and drowned by specious PSAs on the tailfeathers, Theater of the Mind is a disappointment and more—snickering through both high-minded social consciousness and insipid cash cows, the album, so flat and fucking boring, serves absolutely no one but Ludacris himself. This is Paul Haggis’s Armageddon.

The album art for Theater of the Mind is as far as I can tell a budget headshot portfolio-in-one for Chris’s next bout of auditions: he’s taking a dump, sleeping, watching himself take a dump, frightened, pensive, and sticking a model airplane up his nose. He is capable of tilting his head in two separate directions and pantomiming the disturbance of a quiet public setting. Up front, young Bridges seems both pious and bohemian, erudite and ragged. Is this, we think, the real Ludacris? Could it be, finally, the perfect alloy of Release and Therapy? …But then the searing burst of light towards the back of the theater means Ludacris is having a brain aneurysm. Drop that line of thought and pay attention in convenient pieces: even Bridges admits your extent of participation: “They gimme sixteen bars on another nigga’s song and you know I’ll fucking kill it.” This is from “Intro,” a more-cowbell bumping shot of wallpaper patched together by the Runners, followed closely by single “Undisputed,” squeaky, which affirms that Don Cannon has no original thought in his head. Ignore Pretty Boy’s shoddy “training” from the corner of the ring; yes, OK, fine, I get it: swagger. “They should have warned ya / You got defeated by the heat, but, eh / We’ll just say we Alonso Mourned ya.” Chuckle?

Over the course of twelve more tracks, T.I. continues growling in his young businessman role, Scott Storch emulates mid-‘80s smooth jazz with Jamie Foxx on top, Spike Lee calls himself “Spizzike” and Common leaks through his dimples and 9th Wonder almost successfully forges a top-heavy distillation of an Arthur Verocai clip, and then Jay-Z sounds fifteen years younger amongst applause. Take one more moment to consider the closing track: “You say the only family that you got is in the game / And the only way to make it is by selling cocaine, but I’m sayin’ / Use your brain homie, do the right thang.” Are we ignoring that Rick Ross helmed a chintzy (is anything he does not chintzy?) coke rap only a half an hour earlier? Or that Luda fucks like six women during the course of the album and then seems flabbergasted that “Baby Doll” is pregnant again, “fighting for that child support” and then fighting sexually transmitted disease?

Meanwhile, don’t misunderstand me: I know what condoms are, I am in love with Tha Carter III, and I’m totally satisfied by the Clipse never abandoning their artistic raison d‘être. “I don’t do it for the chains and the flashing rocks / I do it for hip hop,” Luda intones, and similarly I recognize the blanket contradiction that so often can come to define hip hop. Still, Theater of the Mind, and Ludacris from now on, are indelibly unable to siphon any drama from their own well-publicized dichotomy. After unveiling an animal’s kingdom of bee species, Nas spits, “It’s like rap: some just buzz, some will attack, compromise they own life, in fact.” Fair enough, this proposed parsing and spindling of viewpoints all proselytizing about their own conception of mainstream rap, but tinny, pandering beats back this up, stagnant punchlines back this up, T-Pain backs this up.

Just how masturbatory does Ludacris have to get before his multiple personalities, all carbon copies, assemble and march down our main avenues in perfect lockstep, Ving Rhames at the flanks suckerpunching pedestrians who, suddenly humbled, refuse to fight back because Spike Lee’s staring them down? Listening to this shit gets me dour, as if I’ve realized before Luda-Lu that he will always be behind the curve, wallowing in Prince-like, luddite readings of the mainstream’s zeitgeist. Again: T-Pain and Auto-tune? Before: the Neptunes and Spike Jonze? Even Weezy, who sounds wonderfully gristled, was a given. The ideas are so uniformly traditional because of the artist’s timing; in asserting his dominance as a rapper, an MC, and an entrepreneur, Ludacris enters the fold loudly but late. He’s the gentlemanly caller with his dick dragging on the doorframe: a conundrum built from only the least funny extremes, brash enough to try put some bite into his blanding career. But in trying to convince his audience that he has a lot of sides and therefore a broader talent than we have maybe ever realized, he has, to his detriment, “expanded” his “range” to assure us of, all in all, the only surprising bit to come out of this show: dude’s a lot shorter than we thought.