To get to Cris' crib, you need to drive clear past College Park's parade of deserted fast-food joints, grimy rim shops and dilapidated churches and into a semi-rural idyll of tree-lined dirt roads and rolling, yellow-green farmland dotted with spotless, planned communities. You need to drive far enough that you decide you're lost and pull into a gas station that looks like a relic from the 1950s to ask for directions. You need to find the pale, 40-ish guy with stringy, brown hair and a grease-stained Atlanta Braves T-shirt, who knows all the roads -- and most of the people -- in this area, who will help you find the street you're looking for. He'll point you up the road another half-mile or so, to a middle-class neighborhood of ranch-style houses.
That's Ludacris' new 'hood.
Of course, Luda's place is the biggest on the block by far, and the electronic gate at the top of his long, winding driveway looks a little out of place on the otherwise modest stretch of homes. The house, a grayish McMansion monstrosity, sits on a sprawling piece of property that includes woods, hills and a pond stocked with catfish.
There's a shiny Cadillac Escalade SUV in the garage and two gleaming Yamaha four-wheelers parked nearby. The circle driveway and large carport at the front of the house gives the appearance of the entry to a posh country club. For its sheer audacity, the whole place harks back to the palatial estate that helped twist MC Hammer toward bankruptcy.
Taking it all in, you can't help wonder whether he can really afford this place. Granted, both of his first two records, 2000's Back For the First Time and 2001's Word Of Mouf, sold over 2 million copies. But the way most record deals are structured, that just doesn't seem like the kind of financial windfall needed to cover a place like this. There was also the Pepsi endorsement deal, but who knows how much he got out of them before the deal got quashed by the caterwauling of Fox News blowhard Bill O'Reilly.
Just then, Ludacris comes rolling down the driveway, behind the wheel of a shimmering, metallic blue Chevy Cutlass convertible. He hops out of the car, apologizes for being late (he's early by hip-hop standards) and offers to show you around.
With his Afro pulled tight in cornrows, Ludacris looks (per the celebrity cliche) shorter in person. He walks with an unhurried gait around the back of his property and points out a pool, a tennis court and a full-length basketball court with the logo of his record label, Disturbing Tha Peace, tattooed in the center. Two of Ludacris' friends toss a football back and forth on the basketball court, while Luda talks to the construction crew working at the house about which lines he wants painted on the court's all-weather surface. He's only recently moved into the house and there's plenty of daily hassles to be sorted out.
"This is my life, man," he says with a subdued laugh. It wasn't always, though.
You were born in Illinois, right?
Yeah. I was born in Champagne, Ill. That's where my parents went to college. I basically grew up on the college scene. They used to take me to parties with them. So I would be on the dance floor, 2 or 3 years old, being the little dude, dancing and doing all sorts of crazy stuff. But I moved here at a very early age, went to high school here.
Your parents moved down here after college?
Well, my dad moved down here. I was with my mother for a little while and then I came to stay with my father, because basically I knew that Atlanta was the place. The music scene was really starting to blow up here. That was when Kris Kross and ABC, and all these little kid groups were coming up. So I was like, "Man, I need to move to Atlanta because that seems like the place to get put on."
So you were already into music at that age.
Yeah. When I was growing up, my parents used to always play music. Every day my father would play things like James Brown, Frankie Beverly and Maze, Michael Jackson. From a very early age, before I could even speak, I was born into music. I knew I wanted to do something with music from way back when my dad bought me the first piece of vinyl, which was U.T.F.O. I had to have been about 5 or 6 years old.