This is a statement that your brain will reflexively disagree with but also one that it will eventually accept as truth: Ludacris is one of rap’s greatest and most unstoppable guest-verse performers of all time, and, despite his millions of album sales and shelf full of awards, he remains somehow underrated.
The initial scoff makes sense, I suppose. It’s sort of a self-made argument. Ludacris very clearly presents himself with an unguarded (and, were I to guess, planned) folly, which undermines how maniacally talented he is.
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There’s the peculiar facial hair he used to wear that he seemed so proud of. There’s the campy recurring role in the Fast and the Furious franchise. (He was wonderful in the racially charged Crash.) There’s the indelible image of him at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards with 15 percent of his hair braided and the remaining 85 percent puffed out under a visor. So on and so on and so on. There’s even, should you be inclined to package it that way, the goofiness of some of his music. “What’s Your Fantasy,” his 2001 debut single, established that precedent almost instantaneously, and it’s even more present in his album titles (Incognegro, Back For the First Time, etc).
But examine the assertion without being pushed by his intentionally goofy rap persona. You very likely can name at least one very excellent guest verse, probably his part on 2004’s “Yeah” by Usher, which is almost a snapshot of perfection.
You’ll remember that he stole two songs from Missy Elliott: “One Minute Man” in 2001 and “Gossip Folks” in 2002, the latter of which earned him a Grammy nomination. He stole one, too, from Lil Jon back when Lil Jon was interesting (“Bia’ Bia'”). You’ll also remember he made the terrible Fergie momentarily enjoyable (“Glamorous,” 2007) and the even worse Ciara momentarily charming (“Oh!,” 2005). He even managed to make Chingy and Young Buck — CHINGY AND YOUNG BUCK, BRO — seem like they knew what they were doing (2003’s “Holidae In” and 2004’s “Stomp,” respectively).
There are many and more and many more. Maybe even more impressively, it’s a skill set that he still employs today too, I suppose the most obvious example being how he shined on R. Kelly’s terrible “Legs Shakin'” from 2013. That’s 13 years of terror, which is like about a billion years in the rap industry currency transfer.
If you will accept that, then the second part — that he has sold more records than all but the very top of the hip-hop field and yet is still underrated — fills itself in.
Ludacris just played in Dallas. He’s currently playing a series of shows at colleges, including one at a venue listed as “Live At Veishea/ ISU Molecular Biology Parking Lot.”
He is the best.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 9, 2014