Before he became the reigning king of the Dirty South, Ludacris was a local sensation, evolving from a popular Atlanta radio DJ into an independent recording artist with mega-producer Timbaland on speed-dial. In just a few years, the rapper had transformed himself into the larger-than-life, woman-loving, fried-chicken-eating, weed-smoking, innovative jester of hip-hop. Last fall, Ludacris’ third Def Jam album, Chicken N Beer, sold a massive 425,000 copies to debut at Number One, and his much-anticipated follow-up, The Red Light District, hits December 7th. Ludacris talks to Rolling Stone about Bill O’Reilly, Don Cheadle and ghetto harmonizing.
So what’s going on with the title?
I’m trying to use the meaning in a different way — kind of like the red light district is more a state of mind, where there’s no boundaries, no limitations on anything, you can do whatever the hell you want to do. And that’s what this album is all about — it’s me being more creative, stepping out, trying some things I’ve never done before, not holding anything back, giving you all of me. I think every album you have to stretch further and further, give people another piece of you. But then I always try to deviate from the norm.
I thought of the red light district in Amsterdam, where women stand in the windows . . .
It’s not like the album’s all about sex and drugs. I’m talking about money issues on a song like “Large Amounts” — like the “more money, more problems” aspect — or when people hit rock bottom in their lives and they may resort to having a drink. Or when people smoke and nobody knows. Or when someone like Bill O’Reilly, who puts up this front like he’s such a great person, goes and gets himself a sexual harassment suit. Did they say he was masturbating or something?
I think that was in the lawsuit.
Gotta get my facts straight.
So you worked with some of the same producers for this record, but you also brought in some new talent, right?
Yeah, I was working again with Lil Jon, Timbaland and Organized Noize. But also a couple of new guys like Ice Dre — he produced “Splash Waterfalls” off the last album. There’s a producer by the name of Voodoo, out of Chicago. I just try to put on new producers that are hungry, because I feel that a lot of them don’t get many chances.
Speaking of Lil Jon, what do you think about the hip-hop stars who are crossing over into the porn business, like him and Snoop Dogg?
Well, the hip-hop industry and the porn industry are two very large industries that no one expected to get that big. With that being said, I don’t want anything negative to come out of it. It depends on the individual rapper — whether it’s right or wrong is something for them to decide, know what I mean? I’ve stretched the limits by having videos that are kind of on the edge and play late-night, but I haven’t stretched it to the porn industry. And I don’t think that’s something I would want to do.
But you’ve been crossing over into film . . .
I just did a movie called Hustle & Flow that John Singleton produced, shot in Memphis, Tennessee. That’s coming out sometime next year. And there’s also a movie called Crash that deals with present-day racial discrimination. It’s like everybody’s in this movie: from Don Cheadle to Lorenz Tate and Brendan Fraser, Thandie Newton, Matt Dillon. I got involved because I tried out with Don Cheadle through my agency, and they liked what I did. I feel Don Cheadle’s one of the most underrated black actors out there. The fact that I got to work with him was just amazing.
Has acting felt natural to you? Did you work with a coach?
Working through experience is best for me, just being there and trying to get into the mode. And I take a lot of advice from the actors on the set. I think half the battle is just being comfortable in front of the camera — and I already am, doing so many videos and interviews, so then it just takes that extra step of trying to get into character.
In Hustle & Flow, you play a rap star, right?
Yeah, but he’s outside my character — because I play a complete asshole, and I don’t think I’m too much of an asshole. I play a very ignorant person that you’re outright just not gonna like.
Did you base that character on anybody you know?
I know people that are like that, sure. And, you know, I have the capability of being an asshole, so I just put that in full-throttle.
Would you consider putting music aside to get more serious about acting?
Not for a while. I’m going to continue to keep music number one.
Who in hip-hop are you into right now?
I like Shawnna’s album a lot.
Is it in your car stereo?
What are you driving right now?
The new Bentley Continental GT. I won’t even drive the other cars I’ve got. I’m sure they’re feeling very neglected.
What tracks on The Red Light District are you really proud of?
There’s “The Potion,” that Timbaland produced — as far as experimenting, no one will doubt that this is stepping out of the norm: it’s hypnotic. And there’s “Blueberry Yum Yum,” where I’m experimenting with — I wouldn’t even call it singing — it’s like ghetto harmonizing. This is the most versatile I’ve ever been, as far as flows are concerned and trying different things lyrically.
Give us one hot rhyme.
I could say rhymes for days, but in the intro I say, “If you see me in town and I appear to be moody/It’s cause I’m thinking ’bout plans that’s bigger than Serena’s booty.”