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Hip-Hop Fridays: Exclusive Q & A With Ludacris

Ludacris is one of the few hip-hop artists able to combine lyrical skill, colorful personality, commercial success and social consciousness. Such a confluence would be hard for many to manage, and in many ways, Ludacris' following looks as much like a constituency as a fan base. Now, Ludacris intends to complicate matters even further by bursting onto the silver screen. With only a few weeks remaining before his major acting role debut in the movie, "2 Fast 2 Furious" - released next month, Ludacris talked to Publisher, Cedric Muhammad, about his newest endeavor as well as what makes the Atlanta-based rapper unique. The discussion touched the multi-platinum artist's views on business, politics, racism, the responsibility of artists and even his controversial relationship with Pepsi Co.

Ludacris: What's up man?

Cedric Muhammad: Peace Luda, how are you doin'?

Ludacris: Good. How are you doin'?

Cedric Muhammad: Great, thank you. Tell me how this all developed with you starring in the upcoming move, "2 Fast 2 Furious"? How did you hear about the script and what is the movie about?

Ludacris: The movie drops June 6th and the soundtrack comes out May 27th. "Act a Fool" is the first single, by me, and the video just hit the screens. The way I got into it was John Singleton directed the movie and I guess he had seen my videos and was impressed with the energy. He had never met me. But based upon how I do interviews and my personality he wanted me to audition for the part. I did and I nailed it. And it was really good working with 'dude because when we met we automatically clicked and I was comfortable working with him and you know how important that is in your first movie. If I ever had any ideas or concerns he and I were open enough to talk about it, even on set. It was just a great working relationship. I play a guy named Tej in the movie. He is a street hustler who organizes all of the street auto racing that goes on. He is always about his paper - betting and business. He has his own garage as well - and people come there if they need a hook-up and accessories. He's the guy that everybody knows. You know how it goes down.

Cedric Muhammad: Hey, I just got word of this track that you did with R. Kelly, what's that all about?

Ludacris: Yeah, there is this song with R.Kelly and Tyrese and myself on there (sondtrack). It's called, "Pick up the phone". And the song is about how people can bother you with calls - since individuals like ourselves are very busy and make a lot of moves. Don't just call us talkin' about some bull...bullcrap! Basically, we don't pick up the phone unless you are talking about something important. That is basically what the song is about.

Cedric Muhammad: Well, Fat Joe said that R. Kelly is the best that ever did and every artist I know has a high opinion of his work. What was it like working with him?

Ludacris: Man, I definitely have a high opinion of him - he is like my musical inspiration. He don't have to rap, just seeing how he does in the studio. And his whole work ethic is ridiculous, man! Dude goes in the studio and does at least like 20 songs a night, and picks, from that 20, only 2. His work ethic is off the hook, he is focused.

Cedric Muhammad: You guys are going to collaborate again, right?

Ludacris: Definitely.

Cedric Muhammad: From the standpoint of someone who has worked with artists, I have to say that to me you are one of the most, possibly the most unique Hip-Hop artist out, right now, if you look at all of your qualities. What do you think it is that makes you so successful, in terms of your lyrical style and personality?

Ludacris: I would say that the personality is just me being myself, I don't know how to explain that! It is God-given. But as far as what makes me unique when it comes to verses and things of that nature, I would definitely say that when it comes to doing 16 bars, whether I am featured on somebody else's song or whether I am doing it myself, I am just not afraid to take it to the next level - doing something that I know no other artists would do - even with styling, metaphors or whatever. Because if there is anything...I want to be known as the most versatile MC out there. Whether it is who raps the best with other artists; or who kicks the best metaphors; or who raps slow; or over any kind of beat - whatever. That's me! I think that is what separates me from the rest.

Cedric Muhammad: And it is the cadence and the voice inflection man...

Ludacris: Yeah! Using the voice as an instrument, man, is real important also. So, I appreciate you recognizing that.

Cedric Muhammad: You killed it with the "deep tissue massage" line on the remix of Nas' "Made You Look".

Ludacris: (laughs) Thank you.

Cedric Muhammad: No doubt, seriously, and I think you are seriously underrated, but that is a subject for another day...

Ludacris: Shit, me too! I am trying to demand respect now, for real.

Cedric Muhammad: You will get it. Cats that know...know how good you are, that's all that matters...

Ludacris: Yeah, longevity, longevity is what I am after.

Cedric Muhammad: Tell me about the Ludacris Foundation and all of your work there.

Ludacris: We are geared toward doing things to help kids help themselves. The Ludacris Foundation does different projects, we don't focus on just do one thing. We have done things like travel to Miami to feed the homeless. We have gone to rehabilitation centers for kids. Because, that is like a soft spot with me! It hits my heart whenever I know that kids are in the hospital and are immobile. I go and see them and it helps to make their day. I am sponsoring Boys and Girls clubs to help them get uniforms and things of that nature. We are sponsoring giving out Thanksgiving turkeys on Thanksgiving Day. We also sponsor families at Christmas time. We go to different cities and are careful to not just focus on one thing. We want to do a lot of stuff.

Cedric Muhammad: You know I spoke to Russell Simmons about the whole situation with Pepsi. What was your point of view on everything?

Ludacris: We still haven't come to an agreement, man. My point of view man is that they (Pepsi) just doesn't value the Black dollar. That's based off of the fact that they took me off and put the Osbournes on (in an endorsement campaign). That is like saying that I am worse than the Osbournes. I don't know how they come to that conclusion. I mean, what information are they basing that on? Hopefully it isn't just words because you should never base anything just off of that. It is crazy. But however it goes, I feel that people should form their own opinion based upon the facts and make their own decision as to whether they want to support that corporation (Pepsi Co.). Because I definitely don't support them. And I know that I have a pretty good following of people who drink soda and I know they wrote letters and I thank them for doing that. And I think they made a difference, because if you look at the numbers at the end of the fiscal year for that corporation, they are down, ya know?

Cedric Muhammad: Well, we looked at it thoroughly and when the whole settlement was announced, or whatever the arrangement was...

Ludacris: There is no settlement, we still haven't settled.

Cedric Muhammad: So you mean the $3,000,000 they promised they haven't followed through on?

Ludacris: They never followed through.

Cedric Muhammad: Wow, I did not know that.

Ludacris: Yeah.

Cedric Muhammad: I will have to get with Russell on that because he spearheaded that...

Ludacris: Yup.

Cedric Muhammad: Is there anything poppin' yet with this possibility of you endorsing Def Con 3 (Russell Simmons' proposed new energy drink)?

Ludacris: Yeah, we are still in the preliminary stages, we're supposed to be doing that. Russell wants me to be a spokesperson for it. So, I am definitely down for that. I am even looking at starting my own beverage drink. I am in the early stages of looking at it. But I am glad that everything happened the way it did, man. I learned a lot and I wouldn't have changed anything. Because for one, it tells kids out there that we need to learn more about businesses because if this is how we are treated in America, then we have to make a change for the future. We have to motivate the young people to learn how businesses are run because the decisions that were made at that company are completely wrong!

Cedric Muhammad: Last week had an article up that talked about the emergence of the "Hip-Hop Entrepreneur" and your part in that. It was centered on a documentary you are in called "Paper Chasers", I believe. What is the Ludacris business model? How do you see business and what is your approach as a "hip-hop entrepreneur"?

Ludacris: A hip-hop entrepreneur is one who creates new opportunities, as technology improves and as time goes on. A hip-hop entrepreneur is one who stays on their toes and maximizes and capitalizes off of opportunities...

Cedric Muhammad: You stress time-management as well...

Ludacris: Oh definitely, being on time is crucial - very important. My thing with it is that if you get somewhere late you are only hurting yourself. If you get there early or on time you can get as much information as possible and you can finish meetings on time or even ahead of schedule. That way you can get even more things done. Timeliness shows people that you are professional and it maintains and grows relationships, something that is very important in this game. It is a political game and the same people you see in one place you are probably going to see them in another. So relationships and how you spend time are very important.

Cedric Muhammad: There are some things bubbling underneath the surface, I don't know if you are aware of it. There certainly are several Mom & Pop retailers and Independent stores in Atlanta and Georgia, where you are from, that may be affected by this. The RIAA has really been locking down stores that are pumping mixtapes. Not the bootleg unauthorized "greatest hits" albums that we all know are outrageous. But just the straight up compilations - the standard mixtapes, that labels approve. I wanted to know from your perspective how important mixtapes are in Hip-Hop and if you had considered talking to artists about possibly doing something about how the industry is cracking down on something that is largely responsible for how lucrative the genre is, and has become.

Ludacris: I'll tell you what, that is one of those subjects that I am not so much concentrated on because I find that it happens way more outside of where I usually am, than in the south. Down there we put out independent albums and I think that is great because artists are able to get money off of what they do. I find that in New York, and not just New York, but really the whole tri-state area; the whole North - that is where the mixtape situation is a real problem, straight up. But that is not something that I am focusing on, at this time. That's really not me.

Cedric Muhammad: Are you saying that it is more of a regional thing, because you guys in the South came up by selling records on your own, even straight out of the car trunk...

Ludacris: Not even just out of the trunk, but we have independent distributors down there that help us out by getting in a few, select stores, at first. And if it bubbles there, it just keeps growing out - further and further.

Cedric Muhammad: Have you given a thought to what is going on with these undercover taskforce groups in Hip-Hop? We wrote, like almost 3 years ago, about what happened with Rap-A-Lot Records. I attended the congressional hearings that were held at the time about it. And I have to tell you it was almost unbelievable to see how the DEA, IRS and Houston Police Department had in effect formed this task force and were harassing James Prince and Scarface. And, of course, there is what is happening in New york with that type of arrangement. Is that something that you are concerned about - hip-Hop artists being uniquely under surveillance?

Ludacris: Definitely. It is a stereotype man. You know how people are always concentrating on negative things so of course people thing we are corrupt. They don't think any Black man can do it legally. They always think something illegal is involved. I definitely think that is wrong. It is bad. The more people that we can get out here proving that we can do it without having any bad circumstances or, illegal...what is the word I am looking for?

Cedric Muhammad:...affiliations

Ludacris: Yeah, affiliations, then we are proving them wrong, more and more. But this is nothing that is a surprise to me. This goes along with a lot of things that we are stereotyped as – as far as the cops are concerned. They are always trying to crack down on us - trying to keep a Black man down! They don't want us to be successful, for real. If anybody is doing too good then they are going to try and find a reason why that person shouldn't be doing that good.

Cedric Muhammad: So what is the solution then - unity?

Ludacris: Yeah, definitely, unity and like I just said - having more and more people prove to them that we can do it without any illegal ties. We have to prove that we can do it legally and the right way.

Cedric Muhammad: I don't know how aware you were of what happened in Detroit at the recent Hip-Hop Summit but I do know you all were ready to go in Atlanta - but the summit couldn't be scheduled. But something is happening in Hip-Hop, in the opinion of many, politically. People talk about a "rap vote" or a "hip-hop vote" or the potential for hip-hop artists to pull young people into the process in massive numbers and register them as voters. Is that something that you support?

Ludacris: Yeah, definitely I support it. I think that we have a voice, we can definitely do that. I think it something good that is going down with the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN). They are doing a lot of positive things and that is something that I definitely support, you know. It was supposed to be coming to Atlanta but it got cancelled at the last minute. I am not sure if they are going to reschedule it or what but I am down for the cause and it's real. As far as me, I think people get words misunderstood in Hip-Hop music. Are we narrating a story or telling about something that goes on in the 'hood? But the truth hurts and the White society - they don't want to hear it. But it is still the truth. Because they didn't grow up that way and experience or see the same thing we did it may seem negative to them, but it is realism to us. But that is the only thing we are talking about - the truth. They are scared of the truth but we aren't. This is how we speak. This is how we talk. This is what we do. Now, it does result in a dangerous backlash for those kids who don't live that life or haven't had it that bad. In that sense, the music is almost like a motivation for them to do negative things but if anything, it is just a misunderstanding because we are not intentionally trying to motivate anybody to do anything negative but we are just talking about things that happen in our everyday world or that happen in our society, you understand?

Cedric Muhammad: Does it matter to you that 80% of rap music is purchased by Whites that are primarily in the suburbs?

Ludacris: See, I think that is because that is the ratio of Whites to Blacks in the United States of America. That's why. I'm not mad, that is just how it is, shit. I would be mad if it was the same amount of Black people and White people on this earth and the percentage for sales was the same!

Cedric Muhammad: Do you think there is something unique about Hip-Hop culture - the way it is affecting White youth and the power it is bringing to Black youth - that is threatening to the establishment?

Ludacris: Well first of all, Black culture is the most imitated culture and then Hip-Hop within that is the most imitated culture in the world - as far as how we dress, talk and everything. So just by that fact, yes - they are very scared by all aspects because Hip-Hop music is very emotional. You had soldiers out there in Iraq listening to Hip-Hop songs before they go out there to fight! So, obviously Hip-Hop is so emotional that it is going to make you do something. Whether it makes you angry and want to fight or cry. That is what music is all about so I feel like we are always going to have that problem, especially in Hip-Hop, because it is damn near the most emotional music on the planet, possibly next to rock and roll, where people get rowdy as hell. But in Hip-Hop people get rowdy also. So it just seems like a no-win situation because the more emotional music is the more it is going to sell and the more it is going to affect those youths and they are going to get angry, so, it is just like a never-ending cycle! It is ridiculous – the power.

Cedric Muhammad: So, having said that where do you think we are headed?

Ludacris: I think we are headed in a direction where it is important that people get more understanding. It is going to take folks like myself to try and get out so that people hear what I am saying. If people would just listen to what the hell we are saying and not just take everything for face value. For instance, with me, when I say the word "bitch" or "ho", I am not always talking about women. I am trying to desexualize the word. I say "bitch" but I might be talking about a man. I called myself a "ho" on one of the songs on my first album. Women call men "hoes" all the time. So, I am desexualizing the word but no, when one of those people hear it - like Bill O'Reilly - he automatically thinks I am talking about women and being disrespectful. I think people really need to listen more and understand exactly where the hell we are coming from

Cedric Muhammad: On that last point, because I have a high opinion of you as a lyricist, don't you think that it is the responsibility of the artist to be more skillful, more intelligent and wise in how they use words?

Ludacris: Yeah, but at the same time, you have to understand that some artists are still in a growing area in their minds and in the way they write. Sometimes, because of a person's age and maturity, some people don't give a damn what they say or who they say it too. They don't necessarily think before they speak, but as you grow older, the responsibility, the wisdom, the growth, more understanding, more learning, is something that comes along. Being able to articulate and say what you want to say, but get more political with it - ultimately depends upon what type of person you are and what you are trying to get across and who you are talking to. You have different types of artists. So to that question, my answer would damn near be, "to each his own". If someone is lost in their own mind, then it is up to other artists to help that one find the way...

Cedric Muhammad: Do you see that happening a lot?

Ludacris: No I don't but you know, shit...

Cedric Muhammad: No, the reason why I asking you that is because when I was with Wu-Tang we were all the same age, give or take a year, but even though I was a manager my view was that it is artists who have the most influence over other artists - potentially older ones over younger ones. I always looked at KRS-One, Rakim, Big Daddy Kane and Chuck D. and I just felt like it was a lost opportunity and more when artists, to this day, will not consult with them. Not that they had to - but to me it seemed natural and in the best interest of the culture. But to me it just seems like there is no passing of the torch among artists at all, it is almost like the egos…

Ludacris: Yeah, you got it right there! The ego shit and what people think other people are saying and what the people around them are saying. With all that type of shit going on? Damn, Brother, it is going to be hard. We can try and struggle but it is going to be hard. It is going to be hard.

Cedric Muhammad: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Ludacris: I see myself as trying to take more of the role of a record company because I already am a CEO and have artists that I am trying to promote. I have a clothing line called CP Time coming out and that is going to be a good thing.

Cedric Muhammad: (laughs) good name, make sure that is trademarked

Ludacris: Oh yeah, (laughs) no doubt it is definitely taken care of.

Cedric Muhammad: Well, look, Luda, I appreciate this and look forward to getting together soon.

Ludacris: Fo' sure man, later

Cedric Muhammad: Peace

Friday, May 9, 2003

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