ne day Ludacris is going to make his own The Big Bang. You know: that album where an animated singles-machine/glorified guest rap obliterator offers a confusingly over-serious and insufferable claim to some imaginary rap throne, spitting in the face of every reason he was likable in the first place. Recent haircuts notwithstanding, Release Therapy isn’t it.
And, one day, Ludacris is gonna finally release that definitively great album he’s yet to deliver but everyone knows he’s clearly capable of. Unfortunately, Release Therapy isn’t one of those either.
Instead his fifth album for Def Jam is mostly exactly what we’ve come to expect from the erstwhile Chris Bridges: a little bit of this (Move bitch!), a lot of that (“what you got in that baaaaaaaaaag?”), intro, street anthem, single, club track, filler, filler, filler, R&B shit, deep song, punchlines, punchlines, punchlines, rinse, repeat.
Contrary to what you may have heard, that thoughtful pose on the album’s cover is a bit misleading. The tone of Release Therapy isn’t so much, “We’ve had a lot of laughs today, but let’s get serious for a second,” as it is Luda simply taking more time than usual to vent his personal frustrations: He’s sick of people getting in the way of him making money (“Mouths to Feed”), sick of the hardships in his community (album highlight “Runaway Love”) and sick of weak rappers coming at him (“War With God”).
But other than those three songs—and the album’s seven minute closer “Freedom of Preach”—there really isn’t anything on Release Therapy that distinguishes it from Red Light District, Chicken-N-Beer, or even Word of Mouf. It’s probably worse than all those records, but it’s definitely the same ol’ shit. And that’s kinda the best part.
As Ludacris’ singles go, so goes Ludacris: and, by that logic, the Neptunes produced first single “Money Maker” isn’t going to bring Ludacris very far. Its limp minimalist beat and subtle horn draws offer nothing to Luda’s clear baritone (There’s a reason “Southern Hospitality” was awesome). But “Girls Gone Wild,” sure to be a strip-club standard by year’s end, offers the perfect template for Luda to be lewd, crude, and tattooed, wrapping his jokey sing-song delivery around its bubbling fuzzbass synthline moaning, “I’m looking for some girls gone wiiiiiiiiild / I’m just trying to make these girls all smiiiiiiiiile,” It’s simultaneously obnoxious and completely endearing. Same story on the surprising, R. Kelly-assisted “Woozy,” where Ludacris’ effortless accented pillow talk makes a dire R&B track bearable.
Luda at his most playful is only almost as good as Luda at his most comically amplified intense: that hyper-enunciated super-slow-flows-remarkable that’s like wheels spinning pedal-to-the-metal in park, always threatening to take off at 100 mph but only rarely does. No more evident than on the Biggie-sampling street single, “Grew Up a Screw Up” where his plodding boasts, “And oh my gosh the Osh Kosh was picked out / I slipped in even my baby stroller was tricked out” suddenly release to a ping-pong double-time southern bounce flow spitting “Somebody get him the lil’ niggas out of control / Put a lil bit of rum in my bottle I'll dream about diamonds and gold, gold, gold,” only to immediately draw back.
Release Therapy may not be the mature Ludacris record it purports itself to be, but that isn’t to say it doesn’t have some jaw-dropping confessional moments. The sobering “Runaway Love” finds Ludacris weaving a tale of three girls dealing with the realities of rape, drugs, and alcoholism with a solemn resignation no Ludacris song has ever approached. And it does so without compromising his steez.
But for the time being, a good Luda record is still directly proportional to the number of times you LOL, and the Ludacris of Release Therapy is funny as shit (when he wants to be), charming as ever (as he can’t help but be), and willing to break a foot off in your ass (when the occasion calls). With the exception of “Runaway Love,” serious doesn’t suit him just yet; Release Therapy is at its best when Luda is at his.
Reviewed by: Barry Schwartz
Reviewed on: 2006-09-28