Last summer Ludacris had to prove himself to Def Jam. Of course, selling 50,000 units of his independently released Incognegro was enough to make the label sign him as the first act on its Def Jam South offshoot, but with Jay-Z, DMX and Sisqó selling 50,000 records a week, he was the low man on the totem pole.
What a difference 2 million records and a year make.
"Man, I'm so happy to be getting the real attention right now," Cris said of the star treatment he gets from the label now. "I'm so happy they're believing in me."
Still, he's aware that some don't have as much faith in him as Def Jam, and he doesn't care.
"You can put the odds against me, but know in October when Word of Mouth drops from Ludacris, it's gonna be a different story all together," he said. "I'm playing with the hard hitters, straight up and down. If they want to call me the little brother of the industry, then they gonna find out exactly how powerful this little brother is, straight up and down."
Cris, who only released two videos for his current album, Back for the First Time, said his next project is going to be so hot it won't need an abundance of airplay.
"It's Word of Mouth because that's how I sold 50,000 copies of the independent album," he said confidently. "You know, we got some radio airplay, but I really think through the long run it's because of word of mouth. I'm putting the label on there because I feel like it's gonna be that good. I feel like every track on there is gonna be that great, that if there were no videos, if there were no press, ... [it could go] platinum on word of mouth alone."
The first offering from the album is "Area Codes," which features Nate Dogg and will appear on the soundtrack to "Rush Hour 2."
"He was in Atlanta performing at this club called 112," said the ATL native. "I'm a real approachable person so is he so we started vibing. The next thing you know, we're like, 'We need to get into the studio and do a song together.' ... The next day we got into the studio and we came up with a hit record."
Cris said his experiences on tour provided the concept for the track, on which he talks about picking up "hos" (to meet radio and TV standards, the word "pros" is used instead on the chorus) while gallivanting across the country.
"You're in different states and different cities all the time, and you know me, I'm kind of a natural freak as it is. You develop certain relationships, you start getting pros in different areas codes. And Nate Dogg, man, he's definitely got pros in different area codes. So it was the perfect song for us, and it's just realistic that's all I want to be is real to everybody that I talk to, everybody that listens to my music."
Obviously his peers have listened to and feel his music. He can currently be seen in the new clip for Missy's Elliott's "One Minute Man."
"I felt like the video was mine," he said with a smile. "I was there for three different days, four different sets [even though] I only got 16 bars on the song. I'm like, 'Damn, Missy's doing it.' I don't know how much that video cost, but she definitely got her point across. That was definitely one of the best video sets and best videos I've worked on, apart from my own."
The metaphor master met Missy through Timbaland and they hit it off instantly.
"I'm just a real person, so a lot of these artists that want to work with me just come up and they're like, 'Ludacris, nice meeting you. I want you to get on the album.' From there we get a relationship going, like particularly me and Missy. As soon as I met with her, we was acting almost like we were brother and sister. The next week we was in the studio, drinking, just getting completely crazy, and a lot of people don't know this, but I recorded two songs [for her album]. I was originally on 'Get Ur Freak On,' but they wanted her to have her first single [by herself,] so they took me off."
Cris felt that same good-time vibe when he worked with Mariah Carey on "Loverboy."
"We were in the studio and it was like a party. We was just drinking Cristal, of course being provided by Miss M.C. herself. Da Brat was in there, her artist 22. Shawna and I collaborated, came up with our 16 bars in about 15 minutes, we laid it down, and from there we were just in the studio wilding out, having fun. Mariah's a real down-to-earth person, cool as hell."
Besides the fall release of his album, Ludacris also makes his acting debut in 'hood comedy "The Wash" but don't blink when you go to the theater.
"I got about two minutes, but it's the best two minutes you'll ever see in a movie, ever," he bragged. "So I'm trying to see if I can get a couple ghetto parts from that or if somebody wants to put a little money in my pocket in between albums, so check that out when it comes out."