Ludacris is mainstream hip-hop’s most entertaining personality. Strongly committed to the oft-overlooked art of lyricism, he leaves other emcees behind, often seeming to be battling himself. Coaxing chuckles through his cadence, emphasis and punchlines on Theater of the Mind, he makes each one of his guest stars look bad with lines like “The inconvenient truth/Is that the ozone is bad/’Cause I’ve been smoking all the trees.”
The problem is that the album has little more to offer than jokes—certainly nothing in the way of overarching themes or stylistic innovation. Though his flow evokes New York’s Golden Era, Luda seems to want nothing more than to be a dues-paying member of rap’s dumbed-down confederate clique, and he makes the claim for his thug bona fides on “Southern Gangsta.” But the song’s eerie synths and lethargic pace seem designed for the lackluster abilities of Rick Ross, who is also on the track. Elsewhere, Luda teams with Chris Brown for the predictable, fairer-sex pandering “What Them Girls Like” and the deplorable Plies for “Nasty Girl,” which is about as much fun as a colonoscopy.
Something like a math prodigy who would rather play video games with dunce classmates all day than make the most of his talent, Luda too often settles for wack collaborators and inferior beats. His last album, 2006’s Release Therapy, won the Grammy but never really jelled, and Theater of the Mind similarly sets and meets its own low expectations.