What do you do when your main chosen career ends up overshadowed by a sideline? It’s probably not a problem that Christopher “Ludacris” Bridges ponders too often, admittedly, considering his rap exploits and acting endeavours have doubtless each netted him the GDP of a small country.
But thanks to the almost concurrent arrival of his latest album and his cinematic return in Furious 7 (which, in case you've been sleeping in the desert, features plentiful shots of Abu Dhabi), the Atlanta rapper's combined stock is arguably higher than ever – certainly since turn-of-the-millennium days, when he would routinely shift two to three million copies of every record he dropped in his native country alone.
Since then, there's been a conveyor belt of albums with, it seemed, more thought put into their pun-tastic titles and goofy cover art than the songs within. Not that his success has noticeably dipped: 2010's Battle of the Sexes, his previous studio album, still topped the American charts. Which brings us to Ludaversal, almost lost in the Furious 7 Hollywood hubbub.
The whole timbre of club hip-hop has shifted in the five years since Battle of the Sexes, something that Bridges pays lip service to on Call Ya Bluff.
In other hands, lines such as “When you see me ... say it like you said it in the booth” might sound like empty battle rapping – here, it’s very pointedly directed at the current crop of Dirty South exponents, turning up the lyrical pace over bouncing bass.
The partying anthem Get Lit tries a similar trick, staying minimal before erupting into lackadaisical low-end designed to burst speaker cones.
Bridges has always had a knack for a grin-inducingly dumb punchline, and he's still occasionally able to pull out a show-stopping simile. Witness Beast Mode, in which he declares: "I leave rappers confused like Will.i.am's barber".
Immediately afterwards, however, he seems to forget what year it is with a skit titled (and about) Viagra. Hello there, 2003 – welcome back.
The album’s second half, which features R&B cameos from Miguel and Usher, is subtler and more introspective, but the damage has largely already been done.
Growing older gracefully is an almost-taboo subject in hip-hop and you can't blame Bridges for attempting to stay relevant while maintaining what he sees as his "realness". Yet the final track, This Has Been My World, is an accidental acknowledgement that the zeitgeist has moved on. While it's an album full of slick skills, all too often, Ludaversal is also the sound of a leader becoming a follower.