Theater of the Mind is your sixth album. With all that you’ve accomplished so far, from platinum sales to Grammy awards, what do you have left to do?
Solidifying me in everybody’s Top 5 MCs. Every single song, there’s nothing but hot 16’s on that shit and at the same time it’s upping the level of creativity, which is what’s not going on in the music industry right now.
Why do you think you don’t always get the props you think you deserve?
I don’t think I’m not on everybody’s Top 5 lists. Certain people have given me credit for awhile but I think that being such a visual artist for so many years, and when I say “visual” I mean that people tend to overlook your lyrics when you have so much commercial success and sometimes my videos are so outlandish and you know, when I say “visual artist,” some of the things I would do in my videos were so comedic that I think it made people overlook the lyrics. I don’t know. I want to ask you. Why do you think people overlook me? The question’s in your hands. What would be your answer to the question? You can be perfectly honest. I just want to know what you think.
A lot of the artists that make those lists are either releasing a lot of mixtape material, which you’ve never really done until you dropped your Gangsta Grillz mixtape this summer and others are also producers. Plus there’s the comedy point like you said earlier, where fans don’t always equate humor with skills.
Right. Sometimes when you use a lot of comedy in your music you tend to be overlooked. That would be my answer to that question but I appreciate it, you giving your opinion.
Anytime. Did the fact that you feel overlooked inspire “Undisputed”?
Absolutely but I’ve always been a lyricist like that. I love using punchlines so I just put a gang of them shits in one song and creatively made it seem like I was going up against opponents and having Floyd Mayweather talking on it, it’s just letting everybody know how hungry I am even though this is my sixth album. I’m getting metaphorically sick on the song. It’s like when Floyd Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya were fighting each other and they were training for the big fight. Basically I was getting lyrically fit for the big album and that’s what “Undisputed” is all about.
It had to be cool having Money Mayweather talking on the track.
Oh hell yeah because no one has ever done anything like that, so getting people like Spike Lee to talk on the album and Floyd Mayweather, you know, Ving Rhames is actually talking on the “Southern Gangster” song which is just like American Gangster and he’s the voice for American Gangster. Every song is theatrical and so it’s not just music. It’s like everything has a presentation to it. Every song is like a movie.
Your punchlines is what first drew me in to your music when your album Back for the First Time was dropping. How do you come up with your punchlines and what’s your writing process like?
Man, I have no idea! (laughs) I don’t know. That’s a gift. That’s really what it is. I have no idea.
Clinton Sparks, who has produced some good songs but never any platinum hits, produced “Call Up the Homies” featuring Game and Willy Northpole. You also called on DJ Green Lantern for “Number One Spot” before he was really established as a producer. How important is it to you to give up-and-coming producers a chance to produce a hit for you?
They’re the hungriest ones, man! They’re the ones who have that hunger. What I think is I think it’s important because, you know, you have to give those people a chance and those are the ones who have a lot of great songs also. The same way they say they overlook me for lyrics, some people seem to overlook great producers just because they’re not out there like that because they haven’t had a big hit, basically.
Are you pretty open to listening to all the beat tapes you get from unknown producers?
Oh hell yeah! Absolutely.
What’s the best surprise you’ve found when going through your beat CDs?
The best surprise is when I find one that I like out of the blue and then call the producer up and tell him I want that shit for my album. That’s the best way for me to describe it.
What can you tell us about your song “I Do It For Hip-Hop” that features Nas and Jay-Z?
Oh, my God! That shit is so fucking…Man! I’m speechless when it comes to that song. I don’t know what to say. I think it’s timeless. I think that song is a classic song in my opinion. It brings back nostalgia about what hip-hop is about and to have Jay and Nas on it and everybody’s verse is different. I really think that that shit is going to get the people’s hearts. It’s one of those songs that fuck with your mind. That song is 100% from the heart for hip-hop and I think it’s perfect timing so I think that that song, there’s no better time in the world to drop a song like that. Everybody keeps talking about hip-hop and people keep arguing about where hip-hop is going. It’s going to spark a fire.
Will “I Do It For Hip-Hop” be one of those songs that will be one of your all-time greatest when you look back on your catalogue?
Definitely. That song is definitely gonna go down as one of those moments in my career when I look back and I say, “Damn, I’m glad I made that shit happen.”
There’s been some confusion as to who the producer of that track is. Is it Wyldfyer or DJ Premier?
“Do It For Hip-Hop” is produced by Wyldfyer. “M.V.P.” is produced by DJ Premier.
Did you go to Premier’s studio Headcourterz to work with him?
We were in Toronto when I worked with him.
Anytime artists talk about working with DJ Premier, they always have a good story and it’s always different. What was it like for you?
Yeah, man, I’m hearing that. That’s weird. Some people say they got the record at the beginning and some at the end. It wasn’t any of that. We worked. He came up with three beats and I picked the one I liked the most and that was that fucking beat. We came up with it easy, man. It was simple. We were just working in Toronto. I don’t really have any special stories except for the fact that I was in there working with a legend and I’m the first southern rapper to put a Premier beat on his album.
Did Premier adapt to your style or is it a classic Premier beat?
No! That shit is a classic Premier beat. It sounds like some shit that could have been pulled straight off of one of Gang Starr’s albums. I guarantee you. I can’t wait for you to hear that shit. I couldn’t even realistically say it’s one of the hardest songs on the album because there’s a lot of really good songs. I have one with Lil’ Wayne that’s called “Last of a Dying Breed” that talks about MCs in the game and how much MCs there are and I have “I Do It For Hip-Hop”. I have the “M.V.P.” record. I have “Do the Right Thing” with Common and Spike Lee that 9th Wonder produced.
I remember seeing that footage of you and 9th working together. You really ran the gamut as far as producers go on Theater of the Mind.
Man, life is all about versatility and I think that’s why, at the end of the day, people, you know, they’re spending their money wisely. They want something where they’re going to get their money’s worth and it’s not just going to be, like, one or two good songs on it. That’s why I tell people that this entire project is worth their money and then some because it’s a fucking presentation. I provide you to the audio to open up the theater of your mind.
Your publicist asked us to take down the remix to Ron Browz’ “Pop Champagne” that you’re featured on. Do you know why?
I did my verse. Maybe you had it before it was supposed to be on there. I did do that verse for the official remix. I heard different versions. I heard one with Jim Jones and Juelz and I heard one with Lil’ Kim.
Ron Browz ran your voice through autotune right before you got into your verse. What did you think of that?
I didn’t even know that they used that part because that’s crazy. The flip part where he says, “Pop champagne,” that already had autotune on it. So I don’t know what the hell is going on. There are so many different versions out there but if you asked me how I feel about autotune, I guess I could say to each his own. Some of that shit sounds like trash to me and then every now and then it sounds okay. The only reason I accept it from the ones that do and that it sounds okay on is because I can understand people looking for something new and something innovative to do but now it seems like something that people are starting to run it into the ground and that’s when it’s becoming not good.
You have a huge lineup of guest MCs and great producers on Theater of the Mind. Did you get everything you wanted for the project?
Yeah, pretty much, man. I still have on my list of things to do a song with Eminem and, you know, hopefully I’ll be able to make that happen on another album. But, you know, one of my goals was to work with Jay-Z, of course, and when I made that happen I wanted to make it classic and when you asked me about that song earlier, that’s why I said that I believed I made that shit all the way classic.
What are your goals for Theater of the Mind when it finally drops?
I want this album, in a time like this, in a recession, I want this album to be purely entertainment for everybody and for them to understand how creative and how different and how left I went and how different it is from anyone else’s album, first and foremost, and of course to understand that I’m in your Top 5 MCs because there ain’t nothing but hot 16’s on this entire album to the point where it’s undeniable, like, you can’t tell me I’m not in your Top 5 after this one. I won’t take no for an answer. So I of course set out to be in the elite amount of MCs, the last of a dying breed, and just the creative process in offering something that I feel can be a franchise as far as Theater of the Mind. The whole album is themed after movies and television. I’m going to go ahead and say it – it’s easy saying that it’s a classic album but I would say that this shit is a collector’s item, man! (laughs)
I’m looking forward to hearing it. Speaking of all the big songs and the fact that the album drops November 25, how have you managed to not have all of these songs leak out yet?
Even the song with Lil’ Wayne, it was still a premature version of the song because sometimes you get in and freestyle just to get a melody so some of those verses ain’t even the same of the version that leaked. The “Do it For Hip-Hop” song is the very last song I recorded so that’s probably why that one hasn’t leaked but I don’t even know where the other leaks came from because those were versions that happened six or seven months ago.
How frustrated do you get when your songs leak prematurely?
It is frustrating but you know, anytime somebody’s leaking or bootlegging your shit, sometimes it can be seen as a form of flattery because nobody bootlegs wack shit! (laughs)
Looking at your career as a whole, do you have many plans to retire or is that too far down the road?
That’s so far down the road that I’m not even thinking about that right now, man. I love this music shit. I’m passionate about it and this album Theater of the Mind, I guarantee you will prove to everyone how hungry I am as if I just got started and how much I love music and that I do it for hip-hop. Hah! (laughs)
With your movie and recording schedule, how do you find the time to make quality projects while staying sane?
Sacrifice other shit for the thing that puts you in the position you’re in in the first place and that’s music. Never lose sight of what got you where you are. So sacrificing time, yeah.
Are you happy with how things are moving for your up-and-coming artists signed to Disturbing Tha Peace?
Absolutely. Even though due to times like this, it’s a very hard time to establish a new artist so we always try to just continue doing what we do.
Did you get out and vote today?
I voted about a month ago, man. I did the absentee early vote.
Max Payne is out and doing great. What was it like working on that film?
It was cool working with Mark Wahlberg. Me and him have a lot in common from the music world so we had a good time with that.
He didn’t try to get on Theater of the Mind, did he?
Man, he said the only way he would go back to music is if hell freezes over so I don’t think he’ll be going back into music.
You also worked with Jeremy Piven on Rocknrolla. What was it like working with him?
It was great working with him, man. He comes from theater so it’s always great to learn something from different artists and different actors, when you can pick something up along the way. He’s real cool, man. We’re good friends too. It’s funny, everybody I’ve done movies with, we turn out to be real cool and real good friends.
Ed. Note - This interview was conducted on Tuesday afternoon while all
polls were still open. Ludacris did not want to discuss what an Obama
victory might mean, so he declined to answer that question. However,
Ludacris did answer this question early Wednesday morning.
How does it feel to see Barack Obama elected as the 44th President of
the United States?
Look at what happens when people come together for a common goal. I am
proud to be alive to witness this and I'm relishing in the moment, but
we've only just begun.