Calling its guest vocalist co-stars and kicking-off with a "the movie's about to begin" intro, Ludacris' Theater of the Mind is dressed-up as some conceptual piece but this hodgepodge of high-gloss tracks just barely sticks together. While his previous effort, 2006's Release Therapy, was much more the thematically tight album and deserved a concept, this loose set of tunes is all-together more entertaining, thanks in no small part to a highly inspired Luda and all the punch lines he lands. Most are unquotable jokes that sound nothing but filthy when taken out of context -- especially the one about rappers so full of something they end up "rhyming in farts" -- but the superstar team-up with T.I. called "Wish You Would" boasts about "So many shoes that my closet look like Finish Line" and brings other reminders of "Pimpin' All Over the World" and its unashamed vision that wealth equals victory. Speaking of reminders, "Call Up the Homies" is a slower version of "the gather up the crew" number with Luda and special guest the Game trading lines in the style of 50 Cent and Eminem's "Gattman and Robbin'," or Snoop Dogg and B Real's "Vato." The only innovation on the track is the working in of Willy Northpole, a new hire at Luda's DTP label who has his international debut ushered in by giants. The whole Luda universe -- a place where albums are now just part of the picture -- gets involved as Hollywood weaves in and out, and a Chris Rock routine that questions the rapper's appearance at the Oscar's is brilliantly flipped into the self-deprecating "Everybody Hates Chris." Ving Rhames doing the James Earl Jones thing, the Floyd Mayweather appearance, and Don Cannon's Edwin Starr meets karate film production on "Undisputed" are other amazing moments, and while the Lil Wayne, T-Pain, and Chris Brown collaborations are all completely unsurprising, they all come with rock-solid hooks. Tacked on the end is a genuine and moving wake-up call where Luda, Common, and Spike Lee ask the urban youth to leave the 40s and the cocaine game behind. "I see the sunshine/Gazing through the windowpane/Blazing like indo flame" is how Luda sells a better life to the kids, proving this very smart, smart aleck may not be as hungry as six albums back, he's hardly a sellout on autopilot.
Theater of the Mind Review
by David Jeffries