Almost nine years ago, after waiting for two years, post-Release Therapy, fans across the world got Ludacris' concept album Theater of The Mind. The fourteen-track album featured a sort of look into the life of Ludacris, presented as a movie of sorts. Spearheaded by somewhat "typical Luda" tracks such as "One More Drink" and "What Them Girls Like," the album also featured a hungrier Ludacris, going back to the days when Chris Lova Lova was prepping to drop Incognegro (the album that later became Back For the First Time). But, was it "underrated?" Now, full disclosure: this is my favorite Luda album, but I'll try to be as subjective as possible.
The album sold well and was pretty well-received, which should dead any and all talks of the project being "underrated." However, compared to some of Luda's work, pre-TOTM, there wasn't as much of a buzz surrounding it from some of his fanbase. Yes, they were excited to have Luda back. But, maybe because the project showcased that evolution of Christopher "Ludacris" Bridges that began with Release Therapy, pockets of fans don't hold this project in that high of a regard. "Sure, it's Luda and Luda always goes in," they'll start. "But, I went in expecting X and I got Y."
Now, the project isn't really underrated in a traditional sense. Again, it sold well and people loved it, even those who weren't as warm to it. However, when you compare it to Luda's previous efforts, it does go a bit under the radar. There weren't as many quotable lyrics. There wasn't a "Move Bitch"-type of turn-up song. Overall, it was an album that wasn't as heavy on moments per se, even though it relied heavily on moments.
Instead, we got a concept album that displayed Ludacris' life as a bevy of scenes. These scenes are tied together by a director (portrayed in the intro by Russell Brand and otherwise alluded to be Ludacris himself). Said director is hellbent on displaying the most epic presentation of Ludacris possible.
And because of that, we get double-time flows out the ass. We get Luda on tracks with legends from Common to Jay to him hopping on a DJ Premier beat. We got Luda going bar for bar with Mixtape Weezy. We got Loverman Luda on songs like "Contagious," which is, for real, a pretty sweet love-making track (trust me and don't ask me how I know). We got Angry Luda on songs like "Last Of A Dying Breed" and "Wish U Would."
Overall, it was the album Ludacris was always capable of making, but hadn't up to that point. Yes, albums like Word of Mouf and The Red Light District are classics. But, in some ways, they weren't as diverse as Theater of The Mind was. Again, don't get me wrong: I feel Luda can't really make a "bad" CD (Battle of the Sexes included). But, Theater of the Mind showcased a more mature Luda than we'd even seen on Release Therapy and that album had a song with him talking about child abuse and domestic violence.
So, was TOTM underrated? Eh, yes and no. It's a more mature, more subdued Luda in some ways and folks, like with RT (even though it won Best Rap Album), still didn't know how to take that. Additionally, even though it was well-received, it's still glossed over when folks often talk about Luda's discography. They'll mention the moments like "Saturday" and "Ho," but they'll miss him rapping with Nas and holding his own on a Premo beat. They'll mention him throwing 'bows, but miss out on the fact that he did a song with Game that didn't rely on Game name-dropping everyone and their mom (sorry Game; you kind of have done that a lot). They'll--well, you get the point I'm making.