Pretty much the only reason to sit through Jaime Foxx’s “Unpredictable” is to hear Ludacris’s eight bars. He’s dropped lots of consistently clever raps over the past six years—and not just on other people’s songs. But now, at 28 and on his fifth LP, it seems Luda actually has something to say. He hasn’t gone Poor Righteous Teachers on us by any means (we do need this album to sell, after all), but he’s stretching himself, moving beyond his comedic persona so a sober, wiser, more intelligent Buddha-Luda can emerge. Humbling himself on Release Therapy enough to become a mouthpiece for the average black man whose “paychecks are coming up shorter than February” on “Mouths to Feed,” he raises consciousness about child abuse on “Runway Love” and declares, “The justice system’s fucked up” on “Do Your Time,” continuing, “I dreamed that I could tell Martin Luther that we’ve made it/But half of my black brothas is still incarcerated.” And though Therapy could be a tad more original on the production side—with its hackneyed basslines and yet more Biggie Smalls soundbites—the Billy Paul sample in “War With God” is a nice change from all the Lenny Williams of late. And there’s real talk about the “fake-ass” industry on “Tell It Like It Is,” wherein Ludacris sets the record straight: “We never took no money from Chingy/Thought I was cool with him/I wish his ass well/But I don’t want nothin’ to do with him.”
Alas, despite dipping into conscious rap territory, Luda’s freaknik is still in full effect. “Girls Gone Wild” is self-explanatory. “Woozy,” featuring R. (need I say more?) Kelly, is Gerald Albright–cheesy (except for the line “Like D’Angelo/How does it feel baby?”). “Money Maker,” though, isn’t just your typical strip-joint joint, thanks to its congas and vertiginous James Bond horns with tiny hits of growling cornet—man, those Neptunes are smooth. Of course Pharrell hogs too much face time in the video. Think we can see the Asian dude mack for a change?