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Hip-hop has a towering pile of "the game needs me" albums where an artist returns to stake their claim, but Ludaversal still feels fresh, alive, and needed, and maybe just because it comes from the unique voice that is Ludacris. Back on his last album, the sex-starved Battle of the Sexes, the man barely even sounded like himself, and yet all that's wiped away by the David Banner-produced, simply titled "Ludaversal (Intro)" plus the cartoonish highlight "Grass Is Greener," which boasts about problems like "Did some movies and started to miss this rap shit/Back to rap, then started missin' them movies." "Call Ya Bluff" goes "back to the basics/Back to them Adidas with fat laces," then the key cut, "Beast Mode," earns a Chicken -N- Beer-sized laugh with the quintessentially Luda "since I'm always high it's hard to overlook me." "Come and See Me," with Big K.R.I.T., proves the man can still churn out essential street music while seated next to the current crop, and it wouldn't be a return to form without a bedroom number like "Good Lovin," with Miguel, which is entirely passionate and plush. "Ocean Skies," with Monica, offers a surprisingly honest and effective look at alcoholism and bad parenting, but "Not Long" with Usher might be an even bigger shock as the usually EDM-oriented producer David Guetta helms something that comes close to the soulful sound of Mark Ronson. The biggest complaint about Ludaversal is that the 18-track Deluxe Edition holds some of the album's true fire, with the Rick Ross feature "Money" and the John Legend-driven "In My Life" both deserving better than the "bonus track" tag. Otherwise, this is a welcome, snarling, and satisfying return.

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