Atlanta has been an epicenter for hip-hop for more than two decades now, and Ludacris’ best tracks are a big reason why. He was one of the essential rappers of the Dirty South movement when the region began to take over the industry in the early 2000s.
Chris Bridges was born in Champagne, Illinois, but moved to ATL as a child. He got his start as a DJ, yet quickly transitioned to rapping, and released his indie debut Incognegro in 1999. He would soon become the first artist to sign to Def Jam South – the Scarface-founded southern offshoot of the legendary rap label. Ludacris’ wacky sense of humor, sex-crazed lyrics, multifaceted flows, and booming voice made him a unique hitmaker.
While he’s probably more known nowadays for his appearances in the blockbuster Fast and Furious film franchise, that was only possible because of his musical resume: Ludacris has dozens of gold and platinum plaques, Billboard chart appearances, and three Grammys to his name. He also founded Disturbing Tha Peace, a label that helped build the careers of platinum-selling R&B singer Bobby Valentino and the Atlanta rap duo Playaz Circle (AKA the group where the rapper 2 Chainz got his start).
(“Move Bitch,” “Money Maker,” “My Chick Bad”)
Ludacris landed his first top ten single in the Hot 100 with “Move Bitch,” the raucous, instructional 2002 single from his sophomore album Word of Mouf. His career skyrocketed from there, with what feels like a countless amount of hits. The fun, dance-ready “Money Maker” with Pharrell, from his 2008 album Release Therapy, went number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and earned him a Grammy for Best Rap Song. “My Chick Bad,” from his 2010 album Battle of the Sexes, saw Luda teaming with Nicki Minaj for a thumping ode to fly, accomplished women; the song peaked at number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, two on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Rap Songs charts, and earned a 2011 Grammy nomination for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group.
Luda’s career is so prolific that he even has platinum hits that may not fit in a 20 best list: DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win,” “Baby” with Justin Bieber, and “Tonight (Best You Ever Had)” with John Legend aren’t essential Luda canon. How many other rappers have so many platinum-certified songs that feel insignificant compared to the rest of their careers?
(“Welcome To Atlanta,” “P-Poppin,” “Rollout (My Business)”)
Along with the smash hits, Ludacris has also made anthems for specific locales and situations. He featured on his hometown’s definitive rap anthem with “Welcome To Atlanta,” which prominently shouted out city hallmarks and had a music video with appearances by ATL legends like Dominique Wilkins, Evander Holyfield, Da Brat, Monica, T.I., Monica, Usher, and many more.
Speaking of Atlanta, the A is the worldwide mecca for strip clubs – and “P-Poppin” further solidifies his southern royalty, with rhymes and a catchy hook that shower love (and dollars) for the agility that ladies display on stage. One of Luda’s most underrated anthems, however, is “Rollout (My Business),” a song that lashes out at paparazzi and fans for prying into his private life. It’s a clever rap where the specific is universal: We may not all be celebrities like him, but all of us can relate to people sticking their noses into our business.
The 2004 Championship Run
(“Yeah!,” “Lovers And Friends,” “Oh”)
Ludacris put his stamp on some of the biggest songs of the 2000s, but the year 2004 was perhaps his biggest. He spent the previous four years building his name with three solo albums on Def Jam South, and 2004 saw him cashing in. Usher’s pitch-perfect vocals, Lil Jon’s synthy production and throaty refrain, and Luda’s woman-friendly rhymes were a club match made in heaven for “Yeah!,” the single from Usher’s classic 2004 album Confessions that was later crowned as Billboard’s second biggest song of the decade.
The trio reunited later that year for the seductive slow jam “Lovers And Friends,” which landed at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. And don’t forget “Oh,” the single from Ciara’s debut album Goodies that peaked at no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, earned a platinum plaque, and had a video that featured one of the most memorable images of the 2000s: Ciara dancing on top of a car as Luda rhymed in the foreground. After lending his services to so many other artists that year, Luda ended 2004 with the release of his fifth album Red Light District, which would eventually go double platinum itself.
(“Southern Fried Intro,” “Coming 2 America,” “Warning (Intro)”)
You know a Ludacris song from the moment it comes on: He begins each of his records with a memorable combination of the laughs, energy, and lyricism that his fans love him for. “Southern Fried Intro’ might be his best, opening his fourth studio album Chicken-N-Beer with high-speed, tongue-twisting flows over production that’s anchored by heavy guitar riffs.
“Coming 2 America” jumpstarts Word of Mouf with an homage to Eddie Murphy’s classic film, painting Luda as royalty with punchline-heavy verses over regal horns by Bangladesh. And when he made Release Therapy, his Grammy-winning album that took on serious content instead of his usual lighthearted banter, he used “Warning (Intro)” to set the tone: “Here’s a temporary fix for your permanent flaws / This album helps you to release, cause life irkin’ us all.”
(“Phat Rabbit,” “What’s Your Fantasy,” “Southern Hospitality,” “Ho,” “Number One Spot,” “Area Codes,” “The Potion,” “Made You Look (Remix)”)
Ludacris was all over radio, clubs, and TV with his biggest singles, but he built a foundation with album cuts, remixes, and smaller-scale singles. Many listeners heard Ludacris for the first time on “Phat Rabbit” – a lewd record with rattling, truck-ready production from Timbaland, that appeared on the latter’s 1998 compilation Tim’s Bio: Life From Da Bassment before being reused for Luda’s Def Jam debut Back for the First Time.
Ludacris proved himself a name to watch with “What’s Your Fantasy,” which wittily imagines sexcapades on the Georgia Dome football field, movie theatres, the roof of a building, and on stage at a show. First Time found Luda teaming up with The Neptunes for the bow-throwing single “Southern Hospitality” and the hilarious “Ho,” which has him using the song title in virtually every bar and singing “you’s a ho” in an operatic baritone for the chorus.
He’d continue to bring heat on his future albums. “Area Codes” has Luda and Nate Dogg sharing lighthearted boasts about their assortment of women around the world. “Number One Spot,” which drew inspiration from the comedy flick Austin Powers, was nominated for Best Rap Solo Performance. “The Potion” is largely known because Jay-Z turned it down in a studio session with Timbaland in the documentary Fade to Black, but Luda makes light work of Timbaland’s trunk-rattling safari ride of a beat. Boom bap heads would also be surprised by his appearance on the “Made You Look (Remix),” where Luda outshines Nas and Jadakiss with uncharacteristic gun-toting bars as strong as his contemporaries.
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