The Red Light District

(Def Jam; 2004)

By Dom Sinacola | 8 November 2007

“Ramblin’ at the mouth, I don’t play that shit / I’m the best and I don’t really gotta say that shit.”

One wouldn’t often think of Ludacris as having a divisive flow --- especially in his more than predictable pop culture image; what, with his guaranteed, and often show-stealing, guest spots, or, hell, his declaration of domination using the stupidest, gaggle-jawed scheme since DMX rhymed “WHA?!” with “WHA?!” Far from a “mature” output, The Red Light District is exactly everything we’ve --- world unite! --- come to expect and sincerely enjoy from the Illinois-born, Atlanta-raised cowboy hustler. Maybe Luda’s even quite aware of his ridiculous pairing of “shit” with “shit” (I realize he’s rhyming “play” with “say,” it’s still lazy). What better way to assert what all your wealth and great weed and blowjobs have already affirmed than letting your image speak for itself? Call him slow, call him predictable, he still governs the dirtiest of the Dirty South.

But then, besides a flock of beats that practically hatch from speakers like rabid baby birds chirping and catching yellow down on the shrapnel, Ludacris’s lyrics and song structures have always been disarmingly simple --- so subtle that his melodic verse and way with rhyme usurp the impact of an otherwise deviously mastered phrase. It’s not that the Ludalog is particularly rife with indomitable wordplay or revolutionary concepts; rather, Chris Bridge’s lines always have a knack for skidding by only to leave tire marks later. Could it be his infectious-and near-uniform cadence, twisting the last words of each line into indecipherably tuneful grunts? Could it be his precognizant chops in double entendre? Could it be his self-deprecation laced with rueful misogyny? Could it be the Blueberry Yum Yum?

I’d venture that much of Ludacris’s success is in his uncanny ability to marry beat and flow, regardless of whether or not the beat and flow are actually any good. “Intro” is a dangerous march, and Luda pulls a vicious pulp out of each terse word. Never before has “broke as fuck” felt so imperative. “Number One Spot,” liberally sampling Austin Powers’s theme song, feels dated under incessant Goldmember allusions, but Ludacris saves the song by unrolling his tongue in the sleaziest way possible. Even “Get Back,” District’s lead single, swings a hammering, anthemic background, complete with what could only be piano wires slapped with tacks, the whole track tripping into self-parody with awkward aggressiveness

DMX’s spare aid in “Put Your Money” is nothing if annoying, a growled chorus of three lines that epitomize the biggest fault in Luda-Luda Mr. Money Machine’s franchise. When he strips a refrain or stanza of its noodling musicality, the beat flattens and the cut spoils. “Get Back” barely registers in cursory listens; "The Potion” ruins a whirlwind moog and tribal shuffle with words that lash back at the MC’s best instincts; and “Pass Out,” while delightfully loud and nihilistic, can’t make it one verse without passively watching Ludacris become bored by his own lyrics. “Who Not Me,” though, is inexcusable: Dolla Doy and Small World are the Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum of putrid flow, the former stilted with a two-year-old’s vocabulary and the latter stultified by a bloated tongue. Luda’s words are phoned-in at best, but next to these two nincompoops, he’s a prodigy. And, for the love of God, please lose the Rick James taglines.

Otherwise, The Red Light District is a bloody sponge: filthy, juicy, and ready to leak. “Large Amounts” is the craftiest use of a theatrical soundbyte since “Hard Knock Life,” bouncing a baroque oompah behind soft Spanish guitar. “I got some questions for you, Lord, because my mentality’s hood/ So why is everything that’s bad for me feel so good?” Ludacris asks in “Child of the Night,” offering up a second side to the bare-knuckle habits of his own Red Light District. But soon the remorse bleeds away with “Spur of the Moment,” wholly west coast and wholly celebratory. DJ Quik delivers the catchiest, fastest, and most satisfying verses out of the whole LP, sliding his squeaky voice under devilish one-liners like: “We play Mario Bros. / We eat the shroom and get power.” Always the charmer above all, Ludacris unleashes his horniest game in “Pimpin’ All Over the World,” or what I’ve proposed as “Area Codes 2.” Insulting, yes, but the song has a refreshing aroma, squeaky smooth like an unsheathed condom. Damn, Bobby V. resembles Doseone quite a bit.

Don’t forget “Blueberry Yum Yum,” which sounds exactly like it should. Good thing.

So, Ludacris is still a distance from a definitive, unmatched hip hop statement, but I’m content with his glaciered pace and middling “a-a-a-a-b-b-b-b-etc” frame. It’s just too much damn fun to pass up, the sound and the fury ever trumping the same rehashed subject matter of getting fucked up, passing out in vomit, waking up in a similar pool of guilt, and then doing it all over again ten hours later. Besides, any chance I get to stick it to Bill O’Reilly I’ll take.