Digital Cover: Furious 7’s Ludacris Goes ‘Beast Mode’

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After taking off with the high-speed The Fast & The Furious series, Ludacris is making his grand return to music with his eighth LP, Ludaversal. But can he maintain his hip-hop pole position?

Christopher “Ludacris” Bridges has a public service announcement for the hip-hop world.

“I will destroy your favorite rapper,” says the 37-year-old MC/thespian, less than a month away from the dual release of his eighth studio LP Ludaversal and the debut of blockbuster auto-action film Furious 7. “There’s this stereotype that when individuals from music start acting, they forget about the music. Don’t get it twisted: I know what got me where I’m at today.”

Granted, it’s been half a decade since the release of Luda’s previous Def Jam release (2010’s Battle of the Sexes), plenty of time in an ADD-afflicted rap game. But he’s been backing up the big talk. Aside from his jackin’-for-beats “Ludaverses” series, the ATL rep has teased fans with Ludaversal’s hippo-hungry hype tracks “Call Ya Bluff” and “Beast Mode,” aggressive, punchline-heavy reminders of Luda’s finesse on the microphone. And Burning Bridges, the six-track December 2014 EP he released in conjunction with Google Play, gives some insight into his mo’ money, mo’ problems lifestyle. Amidst the New Atlanta movement—comprised of Migos, Rich Homie Quan and perplexing rhymer Young Thug—a king from the old guard is returning to prove that the crown isn’t one-size-fits-all.

But still, music is only half of Ludacris’ 2015 double feature. On April 3, he makes his fourth appearance in The Fast & The Furious franchise as Tej Parker, a former speed racer who spends more time under the hood than behind the wheel. When the saga premiered in 2001, no one expected it to evolve into a seven series. But Luda is down to ride—and rhyme—’til the tires blow.

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“A lot of the time movies put out sequels and they continue to get worse—this one continues to get better,” he says. “As long they continue to get better and we don’t lose the integrity of what’s going on, they can keep going.” —John Kennedy

VIBE: Ludaversal is your first album in five years. How has that time affected your approach to this album?
Ludacris: I didn’t mean for it to be like this. I took a little time off because after seven consecutive albums you need to get inspired again to have some shit to write about. However, I didn’t mean for it to be five years—more like three. When we were shooting Furious 7, of course there was the untimely death of our friend Paul Walker. Production got shut down and everything got pushed back an entire year. In the end, everything ended up working out perfectly because I was able to get rid of some records and continue to record and make the greatest body of work possible.

You’ve said that this is one of your more personal records.
Yeah, Ludaversal is inviting you into my world. I’m definitely getting vulnerable, talking about subject matter I don’t really talk about. One song is called “Ocean Skies”; it’s about my father, with Monica singing on it. It’s talking about his alcoholism. The reason I wanted to finally do that is because I felt like it’s bigger than myself, bigger than my father. There are people out there that can relate—[I want] to encourage those individuals to spend as much time with your parents as you possibly can. Because one day they might be gone. There’s another record called “Grass is Always Greener,” which is definitely personal to me. I think everybody can relate because no matter what you’re doing, you’re always looking at something else like it’s better than what you have.

“I’m in competition with new artists as well as the ones that have been in the game as long as I have… I love the energy.”

You’re returning in a very different landscape, with the likes of Rich Homie Quan, Father, Migos and Young Thug holding down Atlanta. Have you kept up with the new class of ATL rappers?
Yeah, for sure. I love the energy, man. I’m always embracing what’s new because I have to continue to keep afloat and I’m in competition to a degree with new artists as well as the ones that have been in the game as long as I have. So it’s definitely something that still inspires me, even if it’s not necessarily my type of music. I hear the hunger and the tone in their voice and I love their creativity and artistry.

That energy must be contagious.
Hell yeah. Especially Migos, they’re extremely aggressive on the record. [Laughs] You can’t help but to pay attention.

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The trailer for Furious 7 definitely put the world on notice as well. What was it like shooting in Abu Dhabi?
It was great. There’s so much money in Abu Dubai, so much oil. It shows what life can be in terms of how much money is out there. And the people are all about family. They’re extremely disciplined. It’s inspiring.

So far you’ve worked with three directors on the Fast series: John Singleton, who brought you into the fold with 2 Fast 2 Furious, Justin Lin, and Furious 7’s James Wan. What’s the difference in working with the three?
Each director brought something totally different. John comes from the background of making things bend towards his creativity and how he wants to do things, by putting myself and Tyrese in the movie. Justin Lin—we call him the Zen Master because he’s able to bring all these different celebrities together and blend perfectly without any issues. And James Wan, he’s a new face bringing a whole ’nother realm to the franchise.

How did you pass time on set between takes?
Me and Tyrese were cracking jokes as much as we are on camera. That’s just what we do. We keep everyone laughing from the cast to the crew to people behind the scenes.

Did you guys clown on Vin Diesel for his viral karaoke videos singing and dancing to songs like Beyonce’s “Drunk In Love”?
Hell yeah! We were like, “Man, what the hell?” We joke about it with him but we didn’t go in because we could tell he was pretty passionate about that shit. It was a small poke.

“[Caleb and Cody Walker] look and act exactly like Paul, so there were a couple of times where you kinda forget and you glance over thinking it’s Paul. He’s living through his brothers.”

Djimon Hounsou and Jason Statham joined the cast for Furious 7, but if there’s an eighth chapter, who would you want to see added?
Tom Cruise would be the ultimate. He’s legendary. The man has been in every action film you could think of. I think that’d be exciting to the fans.

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You also got to shoot some scenes for this movie with Paul Walker’s brother’s Caleb and Cody Walker, who filled in after his tragic death. What was that experience like with them on set?
It was surreal. They look and act exactly like Paul, so there were a couple of times where you kinda forget and you glance over thinking it’s Paul. I feel like he’s living through his brothers. There’s so many similarities, it just reinforces genetics, how important family is, carrying on a legacy, all of these different things. But I enjoyed working with them. Paul passed away when he was already 80 percent done with his parts, so it wasn’t too much work that had to be done.

Your major label debut album Back For the First Time turns 15 in October. What do you remember most about releasing that project?
What do I remember the most? [Laughs] Just the overall theme about how artists get frustrated by the political process. Because I had skits in there from certain movies and they wouldn’t clear them. There was something from Trading Places, bits and pieces that made the whole shit complete. When I came out, those parts were just blank on the album, which other people didn’t notice but I noticed it. But I’m very thankful that after 15 years I’m still actually able to put out albums and there’s a fanbase. Because there’s not that many artists that even make it remotely to album number two or three, let alone to number eight. So just blessed and thankful. Back for the First Time marks a moment in history. For me it was the beacon of success. That one sold three million records, so I couldn’t be happier. I knew I was here to stay.

You were in court recently for a custody case over your daughter, Cai, and some of your lyrics were admitted in the case. Do you think it’s fair for art to put on trial and used against its creator?
People will use whatever they can to try to paint a picture of who they think you are. It’s as simple as that. Same thing as when Bill O’Reilly tried to tell me what type of person I am based off my lyrics. All I can tell you is that hip-hop is a coded language. It’s very misunderstood. If you don’t speak the language, then you’re only assuming that you know what we’re talking about. But you don’t, so there you have it.

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You’ve started from being a radio jockey, to proving yourself as a rapper and onto a big-budget movie actor. Is there a next passion you could see yourself pursuing?
There was a point where I felt like I was spreading myself too thin by doing too much shit, so I kind of just narrowed it down to loving this music and picking and choosing the very good movie projects. I have some other stuff going on that you’ll hear about in the future. But definitely not too many things at once. I need to focus on the things that are most important and protect their integrity.

So basically, we won’t have to wait another five years for the next Ludacris album?
Exactly. 100 percent.

Photo Credit: Erik Ian for VIBE Magazine