If Bill O'Reilly's anti-Luda rants taught us anything nearly a decade ago, it's that crotchety old conservatives can't take a joke. The Atlanta rapper's stage name is a synonym for zany, for God's sake.
Likewise, while just about every MC rhymes about the female body, it almost goes without saying that Luda's constant references to strippers, booties, and strippers' booties have always been about humor even more than sex. As deplorable as some might find the idea of him bragging about sticking it to a bunch of "ho's in different area codes," as he did in his 2001 single "Area Codes," the fact that he referred to himself as "the abominable ho man" pretty much made his sins forgivable.
But in recent years he seems to have lost the, um, scent. He became a one-dick pony of sorts as his style failed to evolve. And so, on his 2006 album Release Therapy he responded with "Runaway Love," a Grammy Award-winning collaboration with Mary J. Blige that told the stories of three troubled young girls. It was a powerful tune, sure, but Release Therapy didn't sell as well as most Ludacris albums. The conscious turn didn't quite jibe with an MC previously infatuated with "perpendick-ular, vehicular homicide."
So his follow-up Theater of the Mind found him reverting to some of his old tricks. "One More Drink" was about the perils of beer goggles and how they lead to seducing women with gap teeth and overbites. On the surface it felt like vintage Luda, but it still fell limp.
Nevertheless, hope sprang eternal, and the premise of his new album, Battle of the Sexes, initially sounded promising. Unfortunately the LP, released last week on Def Jam, is a fight fixed in no one's favor.
Originally, Battle of the Sexes was to feature him collaborating with his Disturbing Tha Peace artist Shawnna, thereby giving a female MC – practically an endangered species in hip-hop – a chance to go toe-to-toe with him. Considering such early, memorable collabos between them as "What's Your Fantasy" and "Stand Up," the outcome was expected to be a wet, wild, equal-opportunity romp. Maybe she would even have a chance to respond to his cheeky brand of sexism?
But the project hit a major stumbling block when Shawnna announced she was leaving Disturbing Tha Peace for T-Pain's Nappy Boy Entertainment. Though Shawnna still appears on some of the album's tracks, her lack of a starring role leaves it unbalanced. In her place, the rest of the album features Nicki Minaj, Lil Kim, Monica, and Eve, as well as turns from such unfunny male rappers and singers as Lil Scrappy, Trey Songz, Flo Rida and Ne-Yo.
Consisting of little more than party anthems and booty calls, Battle of the Sexes feels like the same stale, sexed-up refrain mainstream hip-hop's been stuck on for far too long. "Ladies rub your titties and my gangstas put your guns up," Luda rhymes on "Party No Mo'." "Your girl might be sick, but my girl's sicker/She rides that dick and she handles her liquor," he adds on "My Chick Bad."
Ubiquitous chart-topper "How Low," meanwhile, is particularly grating, although for some reason the big-head-on-little-body special effect in the video never tires. (Who knew the Wayans brothers' Little Man movie would have such lasting impact?)
While the men on the album grumble about women on their periods, the women featured complain about men who don't pay their child support. It's all about as predictable as a really bad episode of HBO's "Def Comedy Jam."
Not that we expected Ludacris to morph into Gloria Steinem or anything, but he had promised the album would tackle gender issues, and nothing of the sort is really addressed until track eight, "Hey Ho," which ponders why promiscuity is acceptable for men but not women. Here, it's Lil Kim who gets off the best jab: "Fellas, do what you do/ Cause y'all don't fuck us/Niggas, we fuck you!"
Unfortunately, that's about as profound as it gets. As if we didn't see it coming, the final track, "Sexting," is set in a sex rehab clinic, the first of what are sure to be many hip-hop songs lampooning Tiger Woods. "My girl went through my cell phone!" cries the song's anguished narrator. If there is something funny about Woods' exploits and his subsequent fall-out with his wife – and surely there is – it's nowhere to be seen here.
It doesn't help that the album's hooks are weak, but the main problem is that Ludacris is starting to sound less like the clever MC we once knew and more like the scores of other rappers who degrade women sans humor. Instead of telling his ladies like he once did to read their "whore-oscopes" and eat their "whore d'oeuvres," he's bragging about how he will "take her to the crib/I ain't take her on no date!"
With so many critics instructing Ludacris to evolve over the years, he's clearly lost his ability to walk the line between offensive and hilarious, misogynist and outlandish. After all, loving titties and the women who bear them need not be mutually exclusive. Unless your name is Bill O'Reilly.