Most young music fans are probably more familiar with Ludacris from the “Fast and Furious” film franchise than for his career as a Southern hip-hop star with a fast tongue and an even quicker wit. It’s doubtful he’ll find a new audience with his first record in five years, but he flashes the kind of song smarts and cleverness that elude many of the rappers he’s influenced. At 37 he’s toned down his ribald tendencies and added more pop and R&B elements, working with Miguel, Monica, and Usher. The party anthems (“Lit Up”) aren’t as convincing as they once were, yet his star producers mostly serve him well; only David Guetta steers him wrong. When Luda dials up the intensity, he’s relevant and angry, especially on “Beast Mode” and “Charge It to the Rap Game,” an astute dissection of the business. While introspection creeps in (“Ocean Skies”), the emphasis remains on his sharp humor (“And I sleep with the John Dillinger / I always keep an eye half-open like Forest Whitaker”). (Out now)
ESSENTIAL “Charge It to the Rap Game”Ken Capobianco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.