ATLANTA — No wonder Ludacris is one of the richest artists in rap. He's running "a racket" out of his mansion.
"If you want to work in here, it's only about $50K an hour," he says with a straight face about his home studio, which is located in the basement of his home. "So if you really want to come to Ludacris' home studio and work — if you got that kind of cash, you can come on through."
'Cris — who will perform with Pharrell at the Video Music Awards on Thursday (see "Christina, All-American Rejects, Pharrell To Perform At VMAs") — isn't showing off à la "MTV Cribs," even though his pristine home and its miniature lake would be the envy of any MC. He's inviting MTV News to be the first media outlet to not only see his year-old studio, but also to hear his upcoming LP, Release Therapy, which is slated for release on September 26.
"At first it was [called] the Red Light District, but I decided to call it the Luda-Plex — my own personal studio inside my home here in College Park, Georgia," he says, sitting down at the console. Among a collection of Smooth magazines covering a table, you can find several rhyme books with lyrics written in Luda's own handwriting, or as he calls it "chicken scratch."
"I was able to record some of the Red Light District album in here, which is why I wanted to call it that," 'Cris says. "But as you can see, it's blue and gray in here, which kind of sets the mood for me. I just feel like certain colors motivate me to want to do certain things. So apart from black, those are my other two favorite colors and I didn't want to make the studio blacked out. So I just did it like that."
'Cris says he still records in different studios when he's out of town, especially if it's with a hot producer. But when he's in the A, he keeps it in the crib.
"One of the pluses of having my own studio is I can wake up, [use the bathroom] and come right downstairs and record a verse," he says, losing his straight face. "I mean, what more do you want out of life? I'm good! The work ethic is crazy because once you get tired, it's not like you have to drive home or anything like that. We put in late nights, and what's really good about it is if I'm tired, all I need is the strength to walk my ass upstairs."
At the top of the console is a picture, taken during the '80s, of a mischievous-looking Christopher Bridges wearing a T-shirt that says "No autographs, please." Back in the day, Luda was bad — straight B.A.D.
"Man, nobody seems to want to believe [it's me in that photo] for some reason," he smiles. He picks up the picture and cradles it in his hands. "I don't have any idea why. People think I was born with braids or something. But this handsome young gentleman happens to be me. This was at a time when ..." he pauses. "I've always been a pretty humble person, but I had to have been 6 or 7 years old [in that photo], and I knew I was going to be a damn star. So I had to wear that T-shirt. I knew what I wanted to be. I knew what I wanted to do ever since that young, and I made my first song when I was like 8 or 9 years old. It's just something that I've been doing all my life, and that's a sign right there."
The sign most prevalent in Luda's life since the release of his major-label debut, Back for the First Time, in 2000 has been that of the dollar. He's been one of the most consistently multiplatinum artists of this decade, with a catalog of hit records and show-stealing guest appearances alongside everyone from Nas and Usher to Jamie Foxx and Snoop Dogg.
Still, Luda is looking for more. He doesn't have the street credibility of a Young Jeezy or T.I., and even when people talk about the top lyricists in the game, some critics rank Eminem, Jay-Z, Nas and even Lil Wayne above him.
Ironically, the thing that's kept him out of many of those conversations is also one of his greatest strengths: 'Cris is a character. He's one of the few rappers that hasn't been afraid to show his comical side over the years, and he admits that it has caused some to label him a comic rapper. That's something he refuses to get boxed into.
"They might have loved the music but they didn't really take me serious," he concedes. "With Release Therapy, you have no choice whatsoever. You're going to take me serious on this album, I guarantee it.
"Sometimes its takes a little bit of time to really get your credit," he continues. "It takes longevity in the game, and I'm a person with patience. So I'm always with that mentality that if people are sleeping now, then eventually they're going to wake up. I got all the time in the world. I'm consistent and I will stay consistent, and honestly I feel like I'm the most well-rounded individual in this rap game. When I say well-rounded, it's about selling records, it's about lyrics, it's about all the guest appearances I've been on; it's about hit-making, it's about the number of albums. In all of these things, I don't feel like anybody's messing with me."
Even the most sour hater can't deny that 'Cris has elevated himself to an elite level. He can flow on any beat, and he can bring commercial appeal to a track and still throw in sprinkles of ghettoness so the 'hood can feel it.
"I'm coming for that number-one spot, and after this album I'mma get that number-one spot," he declares. "I feel like people are starting to realize it, and they're definitely going to give me the respect I deserve. I feel like this one is going to stamp it. It's going to absolutely stamp it.
"I was a perfectionist to the third degree," he said about creating the 30-plus records that came out of Release Therapy's recording sessions. "To me it's my classic album. If anybody tells me anything different at this point, it doesn't even matter to me. I know it's my classic album. It's one of those albums that's so powerful to me that I feel like it's going to mark the moment in history. Five, 10 years from now, if you look back and be like, 'You remember that album Release Therapy?' You're going to think about what was going on in the world and what was going on in your personal life."
After a quick trip to the vocal booth, where Luda lays down rhymes for a record tentatively titled "Grew Up a Screw Up," 'Cris gets back behind the console. He's itching to play some of the selections from his LP. There's the first single, "Money Maker" which features Pharrell Williams and seems very likely to be performed by the pair at the VMAs. The song marks his reunion with the Neptunes after the production duo crafted one of his early hits, "Southern Hospitality" (see "No Sexy Coeds Here: Ludacris Reunites With Neptunes On 'Girls Gone Wild' "). There's another record called "Slap" in which he playfully talks about laying five fingers to someone's face. And one of the most surprising records is a duet with Mary J. Blige called "Runaway Love." Luda calls the song a 2006 version of Tupac's "Brenda's Got a Baby." The album also features a host of other guest performers (see "Strip-Club Anthems, Cautionary Tales — Luda's Upcoming LP Has It All" and "Therapy Is In Session: Kanye, Pharrell, R. Kelly Hop On Luda's LP").
'Cris gets an extra big-cheese smile when he plays a song that features his daughter Karma talking.
"Every time she comes down to this studio — cause it's in my home — she's automatically trying to mimic her father," he smiles, getting that daddy gleam in his eye. "She's been waiting to get into the booth for the longest time, let alone hear herself on the radio. Now she's really bugging. When it came time and I was like, 'I'm going to put you on this record,' she was like, 'I'm ready. Let's do it!' She got in the booth and did what she had to do. She's a one-take woman. She knocked it out."
For more on Ludacris, see "10 Candidates For The Next 'Greatest MCs Of All Time' List."