Album of the Week: Ludacris’s Word of Mouf (2001)

If you’re around my age, this CD cover haunted your childhood. It’s so ridiculous: Ludacris’s meteor-sized fro branching out over his snarling maw, slapped on a bobblehead-body, wad of cash in hand. And that dog, that fucking cartoon dog. The dog’s face is so eye-popping, you might never notice that he’s perched atop a trash can, or that there’s an Atlanta street depicted behind Luda, the city’s evergreen canopy poking out from the blank spaces. Lurking behind this wacky cover is an outstanding album, Luda’s sophomore release and arguably his greatest effort.

Ludacris likes cars. 2 years before co-starring in 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), Ludacris told an interviewer about his writing process for Word of Mouf, “most of the time I write [while] just driving in the car. When I’m driving alone and I’m listening to my music is where I write most my stuff. It’s usually dangerous because I’m writing and driving at the same time.” This clearly translates to the smash hit single “Move Bitch” – “I’m doin’ 100 on the highway / so if you do the speed limit, get the fuck outta my way!“. This banger (those drums!) was tailor-made for Mystikal, who delights in his absurd delivery (“Hold up wait up shawty ooh aw whazzap…”). While I-20 dilutes the track a little bit, it’s still a classic. Plus, the Wiki page currently contains this incredible description: “In the song, the rapper exhorts a person to move.”

The Nate Dogg assisted “Area Codes” is another classic single. Jazze Pha (Mr. “1, 2 Step”, if you didn’t know) provides the perfect laid-back groove for Luda and Nate to slide on. No less than 43 area codes are name-dropped (shoutout to the 215) and thanks to Wikipedia you can see a complete list of them. Years later Luda would reflect, “The song could only be but so… long. And yes, there are many area codes that I wish I could’ve put in there. However, I tried to get the ones that were as honest to the actual hoes I had in those area codes as possible.” Honesty!

And then there’s “Rollout”. A Timbaland production both brash and glittery allows Luda to be as pompous as he wants, lyrically predating the barrage of media questions on Drake’s “HYFR” by about a decade. On the note of production, the lineup throughout this disc is stacked, with major contributions from Organized Noise and, perhaps most notably, a young Bangladesh. The producer who would go on to make Weezy’s “A Milli” has 5(!) contributions here. I particularly love the deep cut “Freaky Thangs”, with an exceptional chemistry between Ludacris and Twist. Cris matches Twista’s signature triplicate flow with both rappers in peak form, (also, both are Chicago natives). It’s a fitting follow-up to the classic “What’s Your Fantasy”.

“Growing Pains” is also incredible. A collective reminiscence on growing up in the 80s, Lil Fate and Ludacris detail the toys they played with, clothes they wore, dreams dreamt and friendships forged. It’s a track with refreshing emotional depth amidst lots of (effective) bravado and sex raps. “Cold Outside” has weight to it too, with a relatable refrain: “I’m hidin’ out and smokin’ herb / Cause my boss is gettin’ on my motherfuckin’ nerves / but I gotta take it, cause it’s cold outside”.

Jermaine Dupri’s “Welcome to Atlanta” serves as a victory lap of a bonus track. At this point in the album, Ludacris has proven himself a multi-faceted talent with humor, vulnerability and technical skill in spades. Throughout the next decade he would remain a tried-and-true hitmaker, as inescapable as any other rapper on the radio. It’s been 6 years since he released an album, and the 43-year old seems content to sit back and enjoy the fruits of his labor, deservedly so. On Word of Mouf, you can hear him transitioning from local phenom to superstar, and the sound is sweet.

Listen to Word of Mouf here.

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