With particular emphasis on the "current state of Hip Hop," there's a lot to be said about cocky motherfuckers. I don't think anyone can argue that today's overwhelming dominance of the braggadocios emcee is simultaneously the genre's most loved and hated attribute. Everything from the legacy of BIG and the empire of 50, to the invasion of "the South," has been built on how cool rappers are. Don't even get me started on "Hov swagger" big enough eat up a small country. It's gotten to the point where the best way to convince people how good of a musician you are is to tell them, over and over and over again (see: Kanye West). It's the truth. Accept it.
That being said, I have always found something peculiar about Chris "Ludacris" Bridges. He's arguably the most arrogant bastard in the music industry. He fucking spray painted a midget silver and hung him from his damn neck. Yet, he's never really talked about his status too seriously. There's a ridiculous amount of people who believe that this man should be seen as one of today's greats. Yet, they all agree that he just hasn't been able to put out that one big record to solidify his rank. Release Therapy is that album. I've joked a lot about the seriousness of the cover art, and how it's a big sign that Ludacris is coming with something bigger than ever this time around. It showcases a braid-less Bridges with his eyes closed and hands folded - a much more artistic cover than say, sprinkling salt on a woman's leg. And as for the music...
As always, Luda does this album big. Big, base, big trumpets, bit organs, big snares. The production is just nasty. The opening track (after "Warning," another trademark blazing Ludacris intro), "Grew Up a Screw Up," pushes a chopped & screwed Biggie sample that punctuates a harder than hard instrumental put together by DJ Nasty & LVM. Jeezy is totally out-classed here at Luda owns his song with a ridiculous opening verse; "Im still the best but now I'm grown with more ranges than a Texan/ I'm a heavyweight, you niggaz is lighter than my complexion."
The lead single "Money Maker," featuring Pharrell, is a sub-par Luda-Neptunes collab, but the following "Girls Gone Wild" is that vintage Neptunes shit I've missed and Luda eats it up. The sound of everyone flowing together over the 2 miles an hour beat on the Field Mob-accompanied "Ultimate Satisfaction" is just hypnotic. While Luda more than shows out on both tracks, both the Bobby Valentino-assisted "End Of The Night" and R. Kelly-featured "Woozy" have no business on this album other than to stick to the formula.
This is the turning point of the album - it really picks up from here. "Tell It Like It Is" and "War With God" back to back make up this albums golden opus. Mr. Bridges airs out all of his issues with industry suits, wack emcees, haters and critics making this near 10 minute ride Release Therapy's quintessence. Luda says more in these two songs than he has in his entire career to this point - it's almost strange to hear. Beanie Sigel, Pimp C and C-Murder provide their skills on the prison-etiquette manual "Do Your Time." He keeps the emotion coming with "Slap," a mellow tack laced melodic guitar riffs by The Runners, where frustration has him on the brink of losing his mind. Unfortunately the song, like a few others here, suffers from an awful hook. The Queen Mary lends her vocals to a very somber Polow Da Don-engineered "Runaway Love," an album gem where Luda puts on his story telling cap, and paints three pictures about kids having to escape hellacious lives. The album appropriately closes out with "Freedom Of Preach," a telling example of how much Luda has matured on this effort.
The introspective real talk comes heavy on this record. These last six joints noted come in sequence making the final 30 minutes of this record unlike anything else Ludacris has ever put out, and thus on another level completely. He's finally showed us a side of himself that wasn't a clown, and that there's more to him than sharp punches and an aggressive demeanor. He finally filled in the gaps in his already stunning talents.
Unfortunately though, if you're in love with the abundance of sharp fight-starting hooks Luda LPs are known for, be prepared to be a little disappointed. There is no "Roll Out" or "Southern Hospitality" on this record. The truth of the matter is, Release Therapy is a product of timing. You may hate me for holding this higher than his first two major releases, but Ludacris reached a new plateau and opened up a whole new dimension with this project. It's timing. He couldn't have recorded Release Therapy before Back For The First Time or Word Of Mouf. He needed those to make this. He needed to walk before he could run. And, ladies and gentlemen, Ludacris is here.