But what you may not know is that Ludacris is also a great community leader and philanthropist, a man who's been given the keys to Atlanta in recognition for his charitable work through the Ludacris Foundation. Here, he talks to ARTISTdirect about his foundation work, his new album The Red Light District, and what makes Atlanta such a hip-hop hotbed.
First we want to congratulate you on the two Source Awards you just got.
Yeah, man, thank you. That was my first time winning a solo award, so it did feel pretty good.
That surprises me. I can’t believe that’s the first time you’ve won as a solo act.
Yeah, well, being a solo artist, I was always put in the same category as Eminem and Nelly and people like that for the past four years, so it was just hard to crack through. I was never really upset, I was just like, hopefully one will come soon. I look at it as, this is where my career starts.
Give us two words that describe your new album.
Disturbing Tha Peace has got albums coming out left and right these days. You’ve just released debut solo albums from Shawnna and I-20. You pleased with how things are going for them?
There are technical things involved that I’m not as happy about, but that’s like, behind the scenes….Besides that, I’m very happy with the both of them and how much work they put in, and I’m very happy with their albums as a finished product.
I want to ask you about your work with the Ludacris Foundation, which I think is something that maybe people don’t know enough about. Can you tell us a little bit about how the foundation got started and what it’s accomplished?
I had been doing a lot of community work ever since I worked at that radio station about five years ago. That being said, I kinda just started my own thing with helping kids help themselves. I do everything from donating money to different charities that help out kids to lending my own celebrity. We go all across the country, not just Atlanta. We donated money to housing developments, we go into hospitals and visit children, into rehabilitative centers. We fed the homeless in Miami, we donated money to Boys and Girls Clubs in New York, we donated money to places in Chicago, Detroit.
That's awesome. And I'm sure that's part of why you got the keys to Atlanta from the mayor this year.
Yeah. Not the real keys, though. I need the real keys so I can bust into all the fine-ass women's homes in Atlanta, Georgia. But besides that, it did feel good. (That was a joke, by the way.)
The most obvious question for anyone to ask you is: How do you find time to do everything? You run your own record label, a charitable foundation, you're a recording artist, an actor, and now you're even a video game character…
I have help, man, no one man can do it by himself. I have a great team, from Chaka Zulu to Jeff Dixon, and my whole staff. I just have a good team. It's not me by myself.
So somewhere in there you do find time to sleep.
Oh, yeah. Sometimes.
Atlanta is the hottest thing going in rap music right now. What is it about the scene there that produces so much talent?
A lot of people around the country don't know how many independent albums the South puts out before they become worldwide. Practice makes perfect. We've had time to make our little mistakes doing independent albums which only sell like, thousands of records. So a lot of record companies come and they see that we're doing it on our own, and they just give us money to continue doing what we're doing, only on a larger scale. And there's a lot of artists doing that. A lot of Atlanta artists, from Lil Jon to myself to the Ying Yang Twins, we all started out doing independent albums. So I really attribute our success to that.
Speaking of Lil Jon, what's that guy like in person?
Real cool and calm….Him and I are the same person in that, on stage or in front of the camera we're just really wild, and then off-camera we're kinda laid-back and chill. He's not always hype, and I'm not always hype like that. We have a business side and then we have a stage side. Both [sides] are definitely our personalities, but we're not just wild as sh** 24 hours a day. Nobody's like that.
So you guys are pretty good friends then, you and Lil Jon?
Hell yeah, man.
Is there a little bit of a friendly rivalry there? The two kings of the Dirty South trying to outdo each other?
Well, seeing as I think our music is completely different, I wouldn't necessarily say that. But yeah, there's friendly competition with everybody. I'm competing against rock 'n' roll artists, too, if you wanna say that. But there's rumors of a Lil Jon, Ludacris and Usher album to come, so we'll see what we can make of that.
So Ludacris might go crunk?
Well, I have a crunk song on my album with Lil Jon on there.
Have you got any film projects coming up that you want to talk about? [Note: This interview was done before Crash and Hustle and Flow hit theatres.]
Two movies. There's one called Hustle and Flow, produced by John Singleton. He's known for making really classic urban movies, I would say. And not only that, this is his first time bringing it to the South. I just think it's gonna be something everyone's gonna love. Terrence Howard is the lead, and it's all about him as a Memphis pimp trying to make a demo tape and break into the music industry. Which sounds ridiculous, but just seeing the movie, it'll change your whole perspective. Both these movies should be coming out in the summer of 2005. The other movie's called Crash, and it [focuses] on racial discrimination in everyday life. That particular movie has a lot of people in it, from Matt Damon to Sandra Bullock, Brendan Fraser, Larenz Tate, Thandie Newton, Loretta Devine…it's an all-star cast, so it's gonna be a really good drama movie.
It sounds like it's a more dramatic project for you than, say, "2 Fast 2 Furious."
Exactly, 'cause I like to be versatile. That's my whole thing, I don't wanna do the same things over and over again. So this is completely different from "2 Fast 2 Furious." Completely different.
I do see kind of a car theme in a lot of your films. "The Wash," "2 Fast 2 Furious," I guess in "Crash" you play a carjacker…
That's funny you say that, I never looked at it like that. That wasn't premeditated.
Do you collect or race cars yourself?
I collect those little cars, like the model cars.
What else do you do in your free time, if you have any?
I really like to chill and watch movies. Spend time with my daughter, she's three years old. And I love to eat food, even though I can't cook with a damn.
What's been your proudest moment as a performer or a community leader?
My proudest moment was starting the Ludacris Foundation and being able to give back in large amounts to a lot of different charities.
Click here to order your copy of Ludacris' new album The Red Light District today!
Ludacris Bio from Discogs
Born in Champaign, Illinois, of African American and Native American descent. Luda wrote his first rap song at age nine when moving to Atlanta and joined an amateur rap group three years later. He attended Banneker High School in Atlanta, Georgia. From 1998 to 1999, and studied music management at Georgia State University.
Ludacris worked as a radio editor under the pseudonym "DJ Chris Lova Lova" at Atlanta hip hop station HOT 97.5 FM WHTA, now located at 107.9 FM, when producer and rapper Timbaland made an offer for Ludacris to work with him at the radio station, leading to his performance on the track "Phat Rabbit" on Timbaland's 1998 album Tim's Bio: Life from da Bassment.
Ludacris released his major label debut, "Back for the First Time", in October 2000. This album was actually a modified re-release of the album "Incognegro", made in 1998. It was produced with the help of the underground producer Sessy Melia, whom he dated for a short while. The album reached as high as #4 on the U.S. Billboard 200, and was a major success. Ludacris made his mark on the industry with singles such as "Southern Hospitality" and "What's Your Fantasy", along with his first ever single the "Phat Rabbit", from two years prior. Guest appearances included 4-Ize, I-20, Shawnna, Pastor Troy, Timbaland, Trina, Foxy Brown, UGK, and others. Ludacris stated in an interview on MTV's hip hop program Direct Effect that he came up with his stage name based on his "split personality" that he considered "ridiculous" and "ludicrous".