You can call Chris "Ludacris" Bridges a number of things. Hip-hop superstar. Actor. Entrepreneur. Philanthropist. Restaurateur. Pitchman. Online visionary. Columnist. All of these labels are accurate, and with his forthcoming October 21st album release, Theater Of The Mind, the Grammy winning, Atlanta-based entertainment maven shows that, as he continues expanding his reach, his musical prowess remains as potent as ever.
"I wanted an album where you could listen to it from beginning to end and it would put you in an imaginative state," Ludacris says of his sixth major label album. "Ice Cube, Scarface, 2Pac, The Notorious B.I.G., they paved the way for me. I feel like they're some of the greatest of all time and they lyrically and conceptually put you in this place. I want my fans to feel like they're part of the music. That's what Theater Of The Mind is all about, drawing people in."
Indeed, Theater Of The Mind highlights Ludacris' rap supremacy, on a number of levels. "I call myself the MVP of rap," he says. "When you put everything together in rap, as far as lyrics, visuals, record sales, personality, conceptual songs, I feel like I'm the summation of all. I feel like there's nothing I can't do."
Ludacris has good reason to feel that way. His acting career remains on an enviable trajectory. After star-making appearances on the NBC drama Law and Order SVU, the Oscar-winning Crash and the independent film sensation Hustle & Flow, Ludacris stands as one of the most in-demand actors in Hollywood.
In October 2008, Ludacris will star in two major motion picture releases. In Max Payne, based on the popular video game, he stars as an internal affairs agent alongside Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis and Beau Bridges. Then, in Guy Ritchie's Rocknrolla, Ludacris joins an ensemble cast with Gerard Butler and Thandie Newton for a captivating tale of the Russian mob setting up shop in London.
Even though many actors who break through as rappers first have a hard time securing plum roles in Hollywood, Ludacris has been able to avoid playing only a rapper. "When I choose movie roles, I want to be versatile and not typecast," he explains. "I make a conscious effort to take on different roles. I'm exploring and trying to reach new heights to continually challenge myself."
That mentality extends to his other business pursuits.
With his DTP Records, which has a joint venture with Island Def Jam Records, Ludacris and partners Chaka Zulu and Jeff Dixon experienced gold success with R&B act Bobby Valentino. Future DTP hit makers include R&B songstress Shareefa, rap group Playaz Circle and rapper Willy Northpole.
Ludacris has also partnered with Chef Chris Yeo to open Straits Restaurant, a Thai/Singaporean cuisine located in the heart of downtown Atlanta. Straits has become a good place to network for Ludacris, as have Ludacris' two online ventures. WeMix.com is a social networking site aimed at showcasing and developing artists, while Myghetto.com serves as a myspace for the hood.
With Ludacris' visibility in a variety of media at unprecedented levels, it's no wonder major corporations enlist Ludacris as an endorser. He has worked with Puma, XM Satellite Radio and Boost Mobile, and is the first rap act signed by communications giant AT&T to represent its brand.
Given his phenomenal success, Ludacris is keenly aware that others are less fortunate. That's why his Ludacris Foundation is in its seventh year of operation. Thus far, the non-profit organization has given more than $1 million to organizations that help out underprivileged children. The Foundation helps kids to help themselves by using music and the arts to inspire them to develop goals and work to achieve them.
The Ludacris Foundation's mission was expanded when Ludacris recorded the hit song "Runaway Love" with Mary J. Blige and teamed with the Chicago-based National Runaway Switchboard to provide support for runaway children. The Foundation has also spearheaded college tours where Ludacris spoke to students about safe sex and HIV/AIDS awareness.
Though Ludacris has more going on than most, he remains focused on delivering the highest quality product regardless of the business. "I'm still passionate about everything that I do," Ludacris says. "It's about doing what I love. I'm living my dream and there's no amount of money that you could get that's going to make you stop living out your dream."
So even as Ludacris becomes a bankable Hollywood star, a respected label head, a multi-faceted entrepreneur and a philanthropist, music remains his first love.
"Music is still No. 1," he says. "Theater Of The Mind should showcase that."