12/19/08

Highly Respectable Albums


Snoop has had a hard time finding a good collaborator after he left Death Row. Master P and The Neptunes were solid, but they didn't hold a candle to Dre. Snoop may have found the perfect team to work around him in Teddy Riley and DJ Quik. They whip up a bouncy batch of funk, soul, and modern bangerism for Snoop to lay his pimp hand around. And this is the Snoop's best lyrical performance since Doggystyle. It's too long like every post-Doggystyle album, but it's an fun effortless listen.

Best Songs: Neva Have 2 Worry, Staxxx in My Jeans, Ridin' in My Chevy


Props to Doc Zeus. Killer Mike is a great MC who specializes in a brutal, but poetic lyrical style. He lays down the law of the land on hustling, inspiration, politics, pimping, balling, and seperating the real from the fake. He's like a one man UGK. He's backed by big, loud junky bangers. Great guest appearances from Chamillionaire, 8Ball and MJG, & even Shawty Lo included.

Best Songs: God in the Building, 2 Sides, Can You Hear Me



T.I. bounced back from his two weakest albums and a missile charge with one of the best lyrical performances of the year. He effortlessly rides synth-laden production and muses about his mistakes and his rawness. It's a cohesive mix of braggadocio and introspection. Just do yourself a favor and download Let My Beat Pound and A Better Day and always skip Porn Star and Swing Ya Rag.

Best Songs: Ready for Whatever, I'm Illy, No Matter What



Take away the mixtapey Reppin' My City and the overwrought I'm Only Human and Trilla is an album that's a pretty good representation of 21st Century mafioso rap. Short on the details Raekwon and Jay-Z provided for us. Trilla is all balling and the ominous presence of a grave ending. Glossy synths are the bed for Ross' commanding voice and baller talk. J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League add a lush, orchestral to an excellent trio of tracks that reflect the downside of a criminal lifestyle.

Best Songs: Maybach Music, Luxury Tax, Money Make Me Cum

THE NIGGER TAPE AND 808s & HEARTBREAK



The Nigger Tape which the only thing released this year that I have no problem calling classic. DJ Green Lantern gave Nas a set of jazzy, but rugged set of beats that Nas just let loose on. Most of these tracks were a little too junky to be included on Untitled, but they beat some of the more boring stuff that did make the album. An easy, aggressive listen that shows the possibility of a mixtape.

Best Songs: Esco Lets Go, Cops Keep Firing, Association



A cold dirge into a mind of a confused, heartbroken egomaniac.

ALBUM OF THE YEAR


Jeezy made the best album of the year, by just retouching a popular formula. His production is still deep, dark, and overbearing. Jeezy sticks to the his usual drug-dealing shtick and the results remain banging. The small tinges of political awareness and emotion add maturity to an otherwise derivative album. Effortless listen. BUY IT

Highly Respectable Songs

Some of these songs aren't the best on the album, but they have certain traits that make them more notable than others.

The Game - 911 Is A Joke (unreleased)

---This N.W.A. jack is morphed into a twisted 21st century banger and Game shows off even more excellent mimicking ability, attacking cops using a stereotypical N.W.A. delivery. LAX should've been an album full of mimicking and bleepy bangers.

Young Jeezy - Don't Do It (from The Recession)

---Backed by orchestral synths and a painfully beautiful female voice, Jeezy channels raps greats and damn near becomes one with this gem. A sad story of a visiting a incarcerated homie turns into a anti-commercial anthem and ends with a GZA-esque rant involving Jay's discography.

Nas - Esco Lets Go (from The Nigger Tape)

---Nas has swag. He rarely gets to show it. He gets to show it here backed by heavy, muffled drums and a guitar loop I can only describe as "Fucking Great".

Killer Mike - God in the Building (from I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind II)

---Mad props to Doc Zeus. Killer Mike was one of the those guys that I forgot about and never heard about outside of The Whole World and Southern Takeover. His attribute, other than his unhinged delivery is that he rides the border of elegance & brutality. Here, he rides that border over a swirling choir.

T.I. - I'm Illy (from Paper Trail)

---T.I. is one of the best rappers on the planet and despite the commercial success, I don't think he'll ever truly get the props he deserves. I'm Illy is the top of song he excels at; You ain't the shit, I am. He lets loose over a swirling choir (sound familiar) and Toompish drums.

T.I. - Let My Beat Pound (unreleased)

---Imagine if Top Back was produced in the year 2077. I know, right.

Lil' Wayne - Let The Beat Build (from Tha Carter III)

---It’s pretty self-explanatory as the beat actually builds while Wayne spits over. A bouncy sample with piano, than the claps, hi-hats, 808s, than it finally comes together. Wayne goes in and experiments with his flow (but when doesn't he). The main reason this song is on the list is because you must make this the last song, if you make a C3 mix. It just feels like the victory lap that Tha Carter III should've been.

Chamillionaire - Middle Finger Up (from Mixtape Messiah 4)

---Over the sad keys and rushing synths of Usher's Moving Mountains, Chamillionaire rips apart haters using the most ridiculous rhyme scheme since Nas' Shoot 'Em Up.

Rick Ross featuring Ebonylove - Money Make My Cum (from Trilla)

---I like that Drumma Boy is trying to be a little more versatile with stuff like You Ain't Missing Nothing and Here I Am, but he should stick to his specialty. He has perfected the art of synthy bangers like Put On and 187, but Money Make Me Cum is his magnum opus. His organ doesn't squeal, it blares. The small synths don't squirm, they gyrate. His trademark electronic apex is used to perfecton. Rick Ross is kinda considered a meh rapper, but his voice rests perfectly on top of beats and he's a solid lyricist. He here makes his woman out to be the perfect chick for a boss.

Cam'ron - My Aura (unreleased)

---Cam didn't do shit this year besides go to strip clubs, sell Santana, and record a track every 3 or 4 months. And as long as one of those tracks will be like My Aura, I'm perfectly fine with that. Synthesized string stabs interrupt the other tense, rapid, and synthesized strings and Cam goes in with those weirdo punchlines that has made him a top fiver since Purple Haze.

Snoop Dogg - Staxxx in my Jeans (from Ego Trippin)

---Over a screwed up hook and bouncy synths that T.I., Wayne, or even Plies would annihilate, Snopp uses the simplest rhyme scheme known to man to show these young bucks what swag really is.

Keri Hilson feat. Lil' Wayne - Turnin' Me On (from In A Perfect World)

---Spare, bleepy production seems to be the new fad nowadays. Polow Da Don kills all with this one. Keri Hilson (sexiest chick ever) shows another dimension of her voice as she lets it weave in and out of the hollow spaces of Polow's electronic bloops. Wayne drops his best guest verse of the year, despite the use of a shit metaphor.

COLLABO OF THE YEAR
Scarface featuring Lil' Wayne and Bun B - Forgot About Me (from Emeritus)

Cool and Dre (producers of the year) deliver a soul-infused banger that allows two southern legends and Lil' Wayne to brag about their realness. Wayne keeps it simple and delivers another one of his better guest appearances this year, Scarface's authority seeps out of that menacing baritone, and Bun B blacks out and spins ridiculous webs of technical lyricism and blunt force.

SINGLE OF THE YEAR
Young Jeezy featuring Kanye West - Put On (from The Recession)

Mostly because singles sucked this year, but Put On was that large sweeping epic banger that we needed in these tough times.

SONG OF THE YEAR
T-Pain featuring DJ Khaled - Karaoke (from Three Ringz)

Yes, I'm serious. People took the auto-tune thing and ran with it this year. Most of it was terribel (coughDwayneCartercough). Some of it was good (coughKanyeWest). If I was T-Pain, I'd be mad to. Everyone I know looked at T-Pain's auto-tune use as a joke and a gimmick. That's the main reason that this is song of the year. Confronting an issue that really needs to be confronted. And it knocks

12/10/08

Random Post #5

1 - I made another blog for all my old reviews and new reviews of old material DA LEFTOVERS

2 - If you thought that A Millie was wacky, you gotta hear Whip It, a Target bonus track from Tha Carter III. The beat is what Lollipop would sound like if it was made for a rapper and not a singing rapper. The electronic bleeps are there, but it's accompanied by thumping 808s and a rusty sounding tuba. Usually Wayne's verses sound freestyled, but the chorus is the wackiest thing ever. It starts with him saying the "I just do my Wayne" couplet from Let The Beat Build, then he says "do it" 100,000 times, then it evolves into him "whipping it like a slave" 100,000 times, then he "beats the block" 100,000 times. Crazy, man, crazy.

CLIPSE - ROAD TO TIL THE CASKET DROPS

So, Clipse have a new deal at Columbia, but their album continues to be pushed back?? They should just swallow their pride and sign with Koch. They probably won't ever top Grindin' (commercially) and a lot of people think they're dead. That being said Road to Til The Casket Drops is another solid mixtape release from the crack-obsessed Thornton brothers. Stylistically, it's the same as the We Got It 4 Cheap series: Jacked beats, anger at the industry not recognizing them, and coke-influenced punchlines. The most notable thing about the mixtape is that the selected beats represent a possible shift in sound for Clipse. The majority of the beats are made up of spare, bleepy tracks like Pop Champagne or So Fly and buzzy synth bangers like Dumb It Down and Swagga Like Us. Clipse's hollow, cold voices have great chemistry with these type of beats. At Lauren London's request, they flip Slim's So Fly into a humorous tale of a floozy that worked her around the crew. Ab-Liva drops the best verse of his "career" on SLU and the closer is the killing the most defiant and triumphant beat of all time, Feds Takin' Pictures.

Definitely worth a download.

12/9/08

Common - Universal Mind Control



Common's feeling pretty good. Be and Finding Forever were both releases that brought Common back critical acclaim and respectable sales, so he decides to go to a more " Universal Mind Control. Universal Mind Control is the result of self-consciousness. Common knows that he could probably make another Be-type album and retire for Hollywood, but he'd rather make an album that adds some versatility to his catalogue, despite the weakness of it.

The production, done entirely by The Neptunes and Mr. DJ, is ooook. It seems like Common just took whatever Chad and P were offering, instead of finding a common ground between his sonic style and their sonic style. It sounds like 10 different Neptunes tracks that were supposed to go to a rapper, a singer, a techno band, and they were gonna keep a couple for the next NERD album. Loose percussion and off-kilter synths make up the entirety of the production. Nothing is downright horrible, its just that few of these beats actually cohere with Common's kinda light voice and lumpy flow. Lead single Universal Mind Control illustrates this with Common adapting the flow of an alternative rock-band's rapper and sounding as corny as an alternative rock-band's rapper would sound.

Sex 4 Sugar is definitely one of the worst songs ever made. The beat is all cheap synths and shuffly drums and Common rapping about sex and actually whispering "Sex 4 Sugar, Sugar 4 Sex" is just......ugggghhhhhhhhhh. Common is supposed to rap about love and the love he makes, not how he's "gonna touch you where the sun don't shine". The other gross mis-step is the breezy Changes where Common becomes the annoying preacher-man that made me hate the 2nd half of Be (Besides The Food).

Four pretty good songs save UMC from being an abortion of Curtis or Encore proportions. Punch Drunk Love is the best beat on the album. Floating synths, auto-tuned background vocals, and electric bells. Kanye's chorus is catchy and Common's lazy, trapped delivery is just right. Announcement has a nice beat and Pharrell drops a pretty Biggie-aping verse. Common is cool, but his Biggie impersonation is a scary glimpse at what Biggie would sound like if he never adjusted his flow or dated punchlines. The album's gold star is Gladiator, a ruckus merger of blaring, blotchy synths, dusty horns, and some braggadocio I would've doubted was capable from Common. What A World is all bells, synthed horns, and Common using a nursery-rhyme flow to tell his story.

Everything falls into the category of mehness. Nothing great, but nothing terrible. The best thing about the album is that it's cohesive and it's short, so if you're one of the people that enjoyed Universal Mind Control, you should love this album. This album could've been good, if The Neptunes would've contributed some breezier material ala Excuse Me Miss or Someday or Lonnie could've went to Kanye or No I.D. and gotten some soulful, easygoing summertime stuff. Now I'm gonna quote myself, because I'm so right.
Universal Mind Control is the result of self-consciousness. Common knows that he could probably make another Be-type album and retire for Hollywood, but he'd rather make an album that adds some versatility to his catalogue, despite the weakness of it.


Overall: 2.5/5 - 5/10 - C

Best Songs: Gladiator, Punch Drunk Love, What A World

12/7/08

Grammys 07-08

Most rap fans don’t care about the Grammys and for good reason. The Grammys (At least in the rap category) is all about who sells the much and who can move away from traditional rap the most (Eminem, Outkast, Kanye West). But being the awards show addict that I am, I have to review the 5 albums nominated for Best Rap Album.

I know, I know, I’m late, stop bitchin’.

Best Rap/Sung Performance
American Boy - Estelle feat. Kanye West
Got Money - Lil' Wayne feat. T-Pain
Green Light - John Legend feat. Andre 3000
Low - FloRida feat. T-Pain
Superstar - Lupe Fiasco feat. Matthew Santos

This category is pretty weak. Superstar is clearly the best song on here. American Boy is pretty good. Estelle and Kanye West have some nice sing-songy chemistry and Ye kills his verse. Green Light is ooooooook. Kinda schmaltzy and Dre's verse is definitely his worst verse since he came back, but it has a nice groove. Low and Got Money both have solid beats and great T-Pain choruses, but Wayne and Flo-Rida both do nothing to help the tracks.

WILL WIN: American Boy. Low and Superstar have solid chances
SHOULD WIN: Superstar
SHOULD'VE BEEN NOMINATED: Live Your Life - T.I. feat. Rihanna, Turn Off - Keri Hilson feat. Lil' Wayne

Best Collaboration Song
Mr. Carter - Lil' Wayne feat. Jay-Z
Put On - Young Jeezy feat. Kanye West
Royal Flush - Big Boi feat. Raekwon and Andre 3000
Swagga Like Us - Jay-Z and T.I. feat. Kanye West and Lil' Wayne
Wish You Would - Ludacris feat. T.I.

They hit it out of the park with this one. Royal Flush is probably there just to include Outkast and because of Dre's societal examination. Big Boi's verse is the best, despite Dre's show-boating. Mr. Carter and Wish You Would are dope-ass album tracks, that are kinda surprises. Wish You Would is better just because it doesn't have Wayne's weak little attempt at besting the better rapper. Swagga Like Us is an ll-star collabo, where only one of the all-star actually comes with all-star material (T.I.), but it gets by on the beat and the outrageous amount of swag that is seeping from the song. Put On is pretty much the best single of the year.

WILL WIN: Swagga Like Us
SHOULD WIN: Put On
SHOULD'VE BEEN NOMINATED: My Life - The Game feat. Lil' Wayne

Best Solo Song
A Millie - Lil' Wayne
NIGGER (The Slave and The Master) - Nas
Paris, Tokyo - Lupe Fiasco
Roc Boys - Jay-Z
Sexual Eruption - Snoop Dogg

Best category, by far. The schmaltzy Roger Troutman jacking Sexual Eruption, the wacky non-sequitor fest A Millie, the breezy and uplifting NIGGER, the glossy club track Roc Boys, or the jazzy grooves of Paris, Tokyo. You're in good hands in whatever you pick.

WILL WIN: A Millie or Sexual Eruption
SHOULD WIN: Pick one
SHOULD'VE BEEN NOMINATED: No Matter What - T.I.

Best Song
Lollipop - Lil' Wayne feat. Static Major
Low - Flo-Rida feat. T-Pain
Sexual Eruption - Snoop Dogg
Swagga Like Us - Jay-Z and T.I. feat. Kanye West and Lil' Wayne
Superstar - Lupe Fiasco feat. Matthew Santos

Lollipop and Low suck, but alot of girls downloaded these songs, so.... Swagga Like Us is pretty good, but it could've been so much better. Sexual Eruption and Superstar are the only really great songs here.

WILL WIN: Pretty hard to call. I'm leaning towards Lollipop
SHOULD WIN: Sexual Eruption
SHOULD'VE BEEN NOMINATED: Whatever You Like - T.I.

Best Album
American Gangster - Jay-Z
The Cool - Lupe Fiasco
Paper Trail - T.I.
Tha Carter III - Lil' Wayne
Untitled - Nas

Wayne has this category wrapped and it's sad, because his album is the worst. A sprawling mess that has no type of flow and displays Wayne's two personality: The dude who really wants to be the best rapper alive (Dr. Carter, Tie My Hands, A Millie) and the dude who wants to be the biggest rapper alive (Lollipop, Got Money, Mrs. Officer).

Nas and Lupe both made very good albums that could've been great if A) Lupe cut off some of the fat and maybe had a couple of rappers to be his foil and B) if Nas' beats didn't suck and he used some gems from The Nigger Tape.

T.I. and Jay-Z have the only great nominated albums and both are return to forms. After getting a little lazy and catching a case, T.I. wrote some shit down and came with his hardest lyrics since Urban Legend. One of the best mergers of braggadocio and introspection since The Blueprint. If only he would've cut Swing Ya Rag and Porn Star for Let my Beat Pound and A Better Day. Jay went to the drawing boards after Kingdom Come. American Gangster works as a perfect companion to the film. Deep, lush production and nimble storytelling. Yes, a classic.

WILL WIN: Tha Carter III
SHOULD WIN: American Gangster
SHOULD'VE BEEN NOMINATED: The Recession - Young Jeezy

12/5/08

Scarface - Emeritus



Pain, Pride, and Paranoia. While Tupac's fear of life drifted along parody at times, Scarface's has always seemed natural, mostly due to his towering baritone. Beneath seemingly shallow gangsta lyrics is the fractured mindset of a man at odds with his environment and the insanity that brews inside him. He's a natural lyricist who has grown better with time, has worked with some of the best rappers ever; Jay-Z, Nas, Tupac, UGK, and he is the owner of the best discography in rap. Scarface has delivered his allegedly final album, with Emeritus (He tried this trick with The Fix).

Emeritus is really no different from any other Scarface album since Last of a Dying Breed. Bruising reassurements of his realness, societal examinations, and cinematic street tales. Emeritus' main flaw is the production. Its not bad at all, but it never develops a flow and some of it is stripped down to an elementary level. From the bouncing drums and jagged synths of High Powered, to the bruising soul of Forgot About Me and Cant Get Right, to the 2001-aping Who Are They and It's Not A Game, Emeritus lacks a sonic identity.



The first half is pretty flawless.It begins with J. Prince airing out snitches and corrupt officials in Texas over a militant Mike Dean production. It blasts right into High Powered, a banging diss to Lil' Troy's snitching accusations. Forgot About Me is a Cool and Dre banger featuring Lil' Wayne and Bun B. Lil' Wayne (actually awake) and Scarface go in, but Bun B comes through and murders it. Arguably the best guest appearance this year. Can't Get Right is this album's What Can I Do? or Who Do You Believe In. A painful examination of society's ills dealing with inner-city violence, politics, and the economy (even though gas prices have become regular again). Still Here is a funky lament for the destructive environment that America has become. It's Not A Game and Who Are They sound like tracks straight out of 2001. It's Not A Game, a less in-depth In Cold Blood, has a slinky piano melody and vibrating synths. Who Are They might be the best beat on the album. Crisp drums, funky sound effects, and swirling, stringy synths. Scarface, K-Rino, and Slim Thug diss the women who wouldn't be bothered with them before their fame (who is K-Rino?).

The 2nd half is a little sketchy. Soldier Story is a monotonous urban decay track, made specifically to showcase his meh crew The Product. We Need You and Unexpected have meh beats and bad choruses from Wacko, and Face sleepwalks through the former. It's not all bad. High Note showcases Face's wit and sexual prowess over a dusty soul sample and Face murders the rugged boom-bap of the title track.

Emeritus is a solid release from one of the best to ever do it. It pales in comparison to the rest of his excellent material, but it's a worthy addition to his catalogue. The Fix was allegedly his final album, but Emeritus feels more like a true finale because Face always sounds more alive when bragging about his realness and accomplishments.

Overall: 3.5/5 - 7/10 - B

Best Songs: Can't Get Right, Forgot About Me, High Powered

12/4/08

Kanye West - 808s and Heartbreak



This last year has been a pretty rough one for Kanye West. His mother died due to complications from plastic surgery and he broke up with the fiancée he has been with for the last couple years. He has concentrated his efforts of the last three or four months to creating 808s and Heartbreak, a daring piece of work that further pushes the boundaries of urban music and solidifies Kanye West’s status as one of the best producers, rap or otherwise, to arise from the 21st century.

Kanye has said that he made this album for himself and only himself, and it shows. The production reflects the pain and emotion that he has experienced in this past year. Skeletal drums, creeping keyboards, ominous strings, and techno-influenced synths build to a cold environment that matches Kanye’s auto-tune-assisted singing. His voice isn’t as bad as one would think, even though some high notes leave him out to dry. His voice isn’t traditionally great, but he does obeys rule number one of auto-tune: Let auto-tune do what it is supposed to do; TUNE. He doesn’t go into histrionic yelps and off-key crooning all in the name of “emotion”. He sings like a real singer is supposed to sing and succeeds for the most part. His frigid emotions have sucked most of the humor and slyness out of his lyrics, but he retains his everyman relatability and gets off the occasional smirker.

The majority of the album is a representation of the cycle of emotions that occurs after a break-up: Depression, the attempt at reconciliation, anger, and acceptance. Say You Will is a slow creeping opener expressing his sadness at his parasitic relationship. After his verses, he lets the spare drums, electronic bleeps, and ominous strings continue for two minutes, setting a frigid tone for the rest of the album. Heartless and Paranoid are the only sonically upbeat songs on the album. Heartless is a bouncy single with blooping flutes and Kanye’s only traditional rapping. Paranoid is a nice adaptation of 80s schmaltz, but the lyrics never allow it to get too “happy”. Bad News is the strongest lyrical track on the album, playing like the conversation that occurred after he realized it was over. Cloudy waves of distortion and background vocals mask Kanye’s voice on the breezy, organic Street Lights.

His combo of losing mom and fiancée has made Ye begin to question the true worth of his fame and materials. Welcome to Heartbreak develops scenarios that show that there is more to life than the material things; His friend showing pictures of his kids when all Ye can show is pictures of his house and car, being late and leaving early from his god-sister’s wedding, etc. Stiff drums, a simple keyboard pattern, and a chorus choir make up the egomaniacal Amazing. He flips his highly publicized ego trips on the public and even admits that he’s the only thing he’s afraid of. Young Jeezy appears and drops a verse that represents the other struggles Kanye has faced on his way to the top. Pinocchio Story is a live six-minute sung freestyle that is one of the most touching moments on the album, because it was freestyled. Ye expresses his internal emptiness and his desire to be one of the normal people in the world. The cheering and clapping of the live audience somewhat reflects the idiocy of the average listener. He doesn’t want to be applauded and cheered, he wants to be understood and sympathized with. The album’s gold star, Coldest Winter, is a repetitive, haunting, and cinematic longing for his deceased mother. It’s also Ye’s best vocal performance of the album.

Only two songs keep 808s from being a stone-cold classic. Robocop is the Bring Me Down or Drunk and Hot Girls of the album. The joyous strings blot the mood Ye is developing and he doesn’t even use the potentially great ricocheting drums. See You In My Nightmares is a solid track, but Lil’ Wayne’s mediocrity could’ve been easily replaced with T-Pain, an artist who actually knows how to use auto-tune.

Overall, 808s and Heartbreak is a transcendent work of art that transplants the listener directly into Kanye’s depressed mind. The only true flaw is that Kanye West is a rapper, so listeners expecting an album like his previous three will be disappointed. There is only four rapped verses on the album and it’s a cold listen. There is no New Workout Plan or We Major or The Glory to lift the spirits. The closest you get is Heartless and that’s pretty early on. It’s an album meant for isolated listens and not a group session.

Overall: 9/10 – 4.5/5 – A

Best Songs: Coldest Winter, Pinocchio Story, Say You Will

12/1/08

Ludacris - Theater of the Mind



For a while now, Ludacris has been emersed in the world known as Hollywood. He won a SAG award for being a member of Crash's excellent ensemble, appeared on Law and Order, and attended the Oscars. To a certain extent, his musical reputation has suffered from it. His last two albums have both went platinum and he's still a monster on guest appearances, but Red Light District and Release Therapy have stretches of boredom and overreaching that never plagued his first three releases.

Theater of the Mind's concept is that every track is cinematic and like a mini-movie and for the most part he succeeds. The production is thick and layered enough to get every track an aura of the situation. Producers are composers and guests are co-stars, so Luda is fully dedicated to the concept. Release Therapy had some great moments, but this is Luda's best lyrical performance of his career. Always known for his killer punchlines and comedic delivery, Luda provides every track with his dexterous flow and slinks around beats with ease. There is an abundance of guest appearances which takes away from Luda's star performance, but most of them are good enough to be acceptable foils and stand on their own.

Don Cannon has kinda replaced Just Blaze as the go-to guy for soulful chipmunk bangers. He produces Undisputed and Everybody Hates Chris. Undisputed finds Luda in a boxing ring being coached by Floyd Mayweather and throwing brutal punchlines at his imaginary opponents. Everybody Hates Chris begins and ends with Chris Rock flipping Luda's accomplishments into hilarious disses and Luda gets to playfully brag about his riches and accomplishments. Nas collaborator Wyldfyer joins Don Cannon as the only producer who delivers two tracks. Last of a Dying Breed is a banger filled with bombastic fanfare, regal horns, and brutal drums. Luda loses his mind addressing his position as one of the only lyricists in the game and his unspoken nature addressing the presidential election. Lil' Wayne's delivery adds intensity to a already intense situation, but his lyrics leave something to be desired. I Do It For Hip-Hop is a slow syrupy ode to hip-hop featuring Nas and Jay-Z. Ludacris does his thing, but Nas and Jay-Z both underwhelm.

Luda balances the fact with fiction with tracks that have a darker aura than the others. Wish You Would is a dark celebration of wealth where T.I. joins Luda over DJ Toomp's squirming gothic synths. The Game is probably the closest thing to a true co-star that Luda has on the album. Call Up The Homies is a brooding track where Luda and Game visit each others respectable hometowns and get into sticky situations. DTP weed-carrier Willy Northpole is featured, repping Arizona, but his solid verse could've been excommunicated. Southern Gangsta is a menacing track that plays like a spin-off of BET's American Gangster. Ving Raimes' authoritative voice does the intros for Luda, Rick Ross, and Playaz Circle. Dolla Boy's verses have made me a fan.

Ludacris' love for females is represented here by four tracks aimed at females. One More Drink is a slinky club track where Luda illustrates the term "beer goggles" with his liquid flow. What Them Girls Like is an overly sing-songy club track where Luda explains.....what them girls like. Chris Brown's hook and Sean Garrett's Mase impression are not welcome at all. Nasty Girl has a surprisingly great Swizz Beatz production. His keyboard funk is a nice bed for Luda and Plies' dirty talk about the perfect woman. Contagious is a lush R&B track featuring Jamie Foxx that confirms Unpredictable's chemistry.

Luda has the esteemed honor of being the first southern rapper to ever have a track produced by DJ Premier and its as great on CD as it it on paper. Swooping strings, christmas chimes, scratches, and Luda's shit-talking make for one of the best tracks on the album. The final track, Do The Right Thang, is the album's gold star and also the most cinematic. Backed by dusty horns and flexing flutes, Ludacris and Common beg lower-class black people to stop adding to their communitie's ills.

Overall, Theater of the Mind is a return to the old Luda. Punchline exercises, gangster bangers, club joints, lady jams, and a solid conscious. Some iffy guest appearances and the flow is iffy at times, but Luda's lyrics and the purely great songs make this one of the years best releases.

Overall: 9/10 - 4.5/5 - A

Best Songs: Do The Right Thang, Undisputed, MVP