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He Stoops to Conquer

 

Ludacris: Chicken -N- Beer

Def Jam South, 2003

Rating: 2.8

 

 

Posted: November 13, 2003

By Kevin Forest Moreau

Critiquing a rapper -- especially one from the "Dirty South" -- for relying too much on bawdy sex talk and puffed-up bluster may seem an oddly out-of-touch tack. But before you accuse Shaking Through of having thrown in with right-wing blowhard Bill O'Reilly, hear us out. No one here at Shaking Through World Headquarters is advocating that the Atlanta-based word-slinger go all Bill Cosby and turn his talent to more wholesome pursuits. Ludacris isn't Mos Def, The Roots or any of a number of successful high-minded hip-hoppers. But he does share one trait with that crowd: He doesn't need to "work blue," to use a term popularized by stand-up comics.

Well, that might be overstating the case a bit; there's no denying that part of "Luda"'s appeal lies in his audacity. But it's fair to say that he doesn't need to pander so fully to the lowest common denominator, to his own spoiling-for-a-fight id, to the garish extent that he does on his third full-length, Chicken -N- Beer. On the album's first full track, the raunchy boasting session "Blow It Out," he invites critics to "blow it out your ass!" with the childish glee of a second-grader discovering the power of naughty words for the first time. Braggadocio is a necessary, even welcome, weapon in a rapper's arsenal, and Ludacris has an undeniable gift for the genre's requisite trash-talk -- a gift he displays to far better effect on "It Wasn't Us," his collaboration with the Neptunes on that duo's recent album Clones.

But despite what noted busybody O'Reilly might believe, it isn't merely gutter talk, per se, that hobbles Ludacris here; it's the bristly arrogance beneath it, an arrogance increasingly at odds with his impish persona. The Fox News fussbudget took Ludacris to task after the latter scored a lucrative endorsement deal with Pepsi (which the soft-drink maker, in an act of cowardice, quickly rescinded); in particular, he decried the rapper's brutish gangsta posturing, which only O'Reilly (and, perhaps, Ludacris himself) failed to see as desperate attempts at garnering thug-life cred. The guns-'n'-poses moves are largely absent from Chicken, thankfully, but the misplaced ugliness at their core is still present, from the regrettable "Hoes In My Room" (aided and abetted by Snoop Dogg, another rapper whose talent is greater than his lowbrow tendencies would suggest) to even the agreeable dance-floor igniter "Stand Up," whose air of sexy confidence is undermined by glimpses of sour prima-donna chatter.

There are instances where Ludacris's ribald wit shines, most notably the dozens-fest "Hip-Hop Quotables." Likewise, the lewd "P-Poppin'" (hint: that first P doesn't stand for "pill") actually straddles the fence, its indecency-for-its-own-sake gratuitousness grows tiresome before it hits the one-minute mark, but mercifully is forgotten just as quickly. And to his credit, Ludacris isn't afraid to leaven the party-hearty mood with introspective fare like "Hard Times." But the good will such grace notes generate is undermined by the coarse attitude behind "Hoes in My Room," and instantly obliterated by indulgent tripe like the skit "Black Man's Struggle," an exercise in defecation-noise "comedy" that even the Farrelly Brothers might have outgrown by now. When he strikes the right balance of mischievous charm, rapid-fire wit and genial bravado, Ludacris proves why he's at the top of his game. But Chicken -N- Beer too often flashes us threatening glimpses of a less-likable persona behind that avuncular veneer.

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