15 Years Ago, Ludacris Disproved The Sophomore Slump With “Back For The First Time” (Editorial)
It was just under two weeks before Halloween in 2000 when Ludacris, an MC from Atlanta, Georgia whose independently released Incognegro a year earlier barely registered on the charts, dropped his second album. It’s possible the spooky story of the dreaded “sophomore slump” circulated around the periphery of his consciousness; after all, Jay Z, Snoop Dogg, Missy Elliott, Wu-Tang Clan, and even Luda’s mentor, Scarface had seemingly suffered from the syndrome, releasing follow-up projects that failed to reach the critical or commercial success of their debuts. Nevertheless, Luda braved the choppy waters and Back For The First Time not only would go on to triple-platinum status, but it signaled his major-label debut and the arrival of a superstar, 15 years ago today (October 17, 2000).
This triumphant feat was particularly amazing considering the album’s content. 75% of the tracks on the LP appeared on Incognegro, making Back for the First Time both perfectly titled but also confirmation that he already possessed the talent for a major label despite not having been signed. That isn’t to say that the Scarface-helmed Def Jam South played an insignificant role in the album’s success. “Phat Rabbit,” “Southern Hospitality,” “Stick Em Up,” and a remix to “What’s Your Fantasy” with Foxy Brown and Trina were added to the re-loaded album, but even “Phat Rabbit” had its origins in earlier years as the result of a collaboration with Timbaland in the late ’90s. Back For The First Time‘s tracklist reads like a who’s who of super producers, with Bangladesh, Jermaine Dupri, The Neptunes, Organized Noize, and Timbaland handling the lion’s share of the work, resulting in what may be one of the most exemplary sonic time capsules of the early ’00s. In less than two months, the album was certified platinum by the RIAA and it would serve as the springboard for 2001’s Word of Mouf, which achieved its own triple-platinum status in just 11 months.
The album begins with the barreling “U Got a Problem?” which invites listeners to get right in the face of a man who is determined to claim his rightful spot at the top. In addition to introducing listeners to Disturbing Tha Peace, the opening cut possesses much of the signature qualities of Ludacris The Rapper’s style. His multi-syllabic approach to bar construction is clearly evident, as is his humor (“you shit out wheat Chex and fart out deep breaths”). With no hook, the song relies on three meaty verses whereas the album’s closing track, “Phat Rabbit,” is a richly produced duet that sounds straight out of the Freaknik. In between the album’s bookends are 11 tracks that made the album so well received, it only needed to spawn two singles. Contributing verses from Fate Wilson, I-20, Pastor Troy, and UGK made it a distinctly Southern affair while contributions from Shawnna and Pharrell on those singles helped the project appeal to a wider range of Hip-Hop fan. “What’s Your Fantasy?” made “back seat, windows up…” a common colloquialism while “Southern Hospitality” continues to elicit instantaneous elbow throwing.
Part of Back For The First Time’s nostalgia-inducing quality for many Heads is its inclusion of what was then the ubiquitous album skits. Just like fellow Southern Hip-Hoppers the 504 Boyz’ 2000 debut Goodfellas, the Big Tymers’ 2000 album I Got That Work, Three 6 Mafia’s 2000 album When The Smoke Clears: Sixty 6, Sixty 1, the St. Lunatics’ 2001 album Free City and others, Back For The First Time punctuated its musical contents with straight comedy. “Come On Over,” “Ho,” and “Tickets Sold Out” add some levity where tracks like “Hood Stuck” and “Stick Em Up” add braggadocio-laced threats. Throughout, the high-wattage energy of tracks like “Game Got Switched” and “Get Off Me” resonate and spill into the posse cuts “1st & 10” and “Catch Up.” One of the album’s most memorable tracks is “Mouthing Off,” which features a cypher-like swagger accompanied by 4-Ize, beatboxing and even a reference to A Tribe Called Quest. “Ho” wasn’t a blockbuster single, but its cult popularity makes it a contender for a fan favorite.
Christopher “Ludacris” Bridges has released a total of 9 solo albums winning three Grammy Awards (including “Best Rap Album” for 2006’s Release Therapy), nine BET Awards, and a Screen Actors’ Guild Award (for “Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture,” thanks to his appearance in 2004’s Crash) along the way, among other awards. For Heads, though, perhaps his most enduring legacy is that which contributed to the astronomical rise of Southern Rap. According to the book Third Coast: OutKast, Timbaland, and How Hip-Hop Became a Southern Thing, Southern Rap acts constituted nearly 60% of Hip-Hop singles in 2002. In the years immediately following, Outkast earned six Grammy nominations, Three 6 Mafia won an Oscar, and Houston, Texas quite literally blew up, disseminating a slew of artists including Chamillionaire, Mike Jones, and Paul Wall into the mainstream. The success of Ludacris’ albums Word Of Mouf and Chicken-n-Beer undoubtedly helped cultivate such a landscape, and while his name is not often mentioned when discussing the most influential and original MCs, Ludacris serves as one of Hip-Hop’s greatest ambassadors to the world, thanks to his involvement in philanthropy and blockbuster film franchises.
15 years later, Back For The First Time joins Ludacris’ latest album in his discography. 2015’s Ludaversal may not have been as commercially successful, but it stands as a testament to Luda’s determination. After three years of delays, it was finally released and debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200 chart. Along with the birth of his daughter, 2015 has brought the veteran spitter a full plate of accomplishments, which also includes a guest-star role on the enormously successful television show, “Empire.” On October 17, 2000, Ludacris came back for the first time, and to the great delight of Heads everywhere, he has never left.