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The Bling Thing 

by Leah Sottile and Mike Corrigan


Bottom line: The Northwest has no clue about mainstream rap. Sure, we see it on television and hear it on the radio, but we have no mainstream rap genre to claim as our own. California has gangster rap. The East Coast has its own brand of Upper East Side rags-to-riches rappers. And the South has its "Dirty South" genre. What kind of mainstream rappers could come out of the Northwest, anyway? Rappers who enjoy soy lattes and camping on weekends just don't seem to gel with the mainstream image of rap culture. So, with the exception of Seattle-based Sir Mix-A-Lot, the Northwest has been forced to feed off the mainstream rap culture of the rest of the country.


With the end of the 1990s came the torrential tidal wave of Southern-based rappers that washed away the rock-dominated airwaves and replaced it with diamond-clad artists like Nelly, Outkast, Nappy Roots and Trick Daddy. But one Atlanta-raised Dirty South rapper has continually dominated the rap landscape since the late 1990s with his controversial, witty and skilled rhymes.


Ludacris busted onto the rap scene with the re-release of his first album Incognegro, and the trademark hot-and-sweaty Dirty South sound with his blissfully bawdy "What's Your Fantasy?"


He's seen enormous praise from fans along with plenty of criticism from the political and religious right. In fact, his songs came to the forefront of the right-wing censors' agenda in 2002 when radio talk show host Bill O'Reilly urged a boycott of Ludacris' songs--eventually fizzling the rappers' sponsorship by Pepsi.


He's a shock rapper--but unlike shock rocker Marilyn Manson or the frat boy rap of 2 Live Crew, Ludacris' ability to weave wit and wisdom into the ludicrous lyrics of his songs has kept him popular enough to avoid the censors' spotlight and to earn a nice wad of cash. I mean, how many rappers out there are talented enough or shrewd enough to find a place for phrases like "mammary glands," "Jacuzzi" or "bits and kibbles" in their ghetto-lined tracks? Perhaps that's because not many rappers have been in the business as long as Ludacris has. Few rappers can convey the Southern style of rap any better.


Ludacris released his third album, Chicken N Beer, in October 2003, and has watched the record dominate the charts ever since. Chicken rounded off a year dominated by Southern rappers, and further spread the style of Ludacris to the far corners of the country.





Inlander: Tell me a little bit about your new album. After 14 weeks, it's still in the Billboard Top 25. What is it about this album that is making it so successful?





Ludacris: I think it's my most personal album so far, because on every album I get to know myself better. Any artist, whenever they come out with another album, you can't keep talking about the same shit. You've got to give people a little insight into what's going on. So that, and I think I've gotten better lyrically, and it's just like a step up. As time goes on, it's just getting better and just trying out different things. And that's what Chicken N Beer is all about.





Why did you decide to call it Chicken N Beer?





'Cause you are what you eat.





And I take it you eat a lot of both?





Yeah.





Is there a difference between the barbecue in Atlanta and the rest of the south? I had ribs in Mississippi and they were fabulous.





It's just that the South has the best cooking, period. Whenever it comes to barbecue, whenever it comes to soul food -- any of that stuff -- you can guarantee that the South puts it all the way down.





So what's your favorite way to eat chicken?





Mostly fried. But I don't cook. I eat out a lot.





What's your favorite kind of beer?





[laughs] Anheiser-Busch. We just got a deal, and don't want to say the wrong thing.





Have you ever had any Northwest beer?





I never have, man.





Inlander: Having gigged at everything from a radio deejay to a microphone-toting emcee, Ludacris brings a diverse background and a versatile tongue to the rapping industry--aside from some of the most down-and-dirty lyrics in the business. His talent has led the Southern rap industry, and he was one of the first in the region to get picked up by Def Jam Records when it opened its Southern-focused label. He's stayed with Def Jam since, and continues to produce the trademark greasy and gritty tracks characteristic of Southern rappers.


Ludacris says that he never could have really expected his music to reach the Northwest, but he's happy that people are out here are enjoying his music--even if he might not understand anything about the Inland Northwestern neck of the woods.





Name three things that you think of when you hear about the Northwest.





I think of a lot of f***ing land, like a lot more rural than suburban. I think of Seattle, Wash. And I think of the Dakotas, and I wonder if anyone really lives there. And that's pretty much it. I don't know what the hell I think about.





Have you ever heard of Spokane?





Where is that, man?! I really don't know.





It's actually right near Idaho. Do you have any idea what you're in for?





No.





So 'bling bling' is a pretty new term here in the Northwest. I mean, we've heard it, we say it, but we can't quite understand what that means. To us it would be a nice new pickup truck. Could you explain it for those of us who don't understand it?





Bling bling? It's jewelry with a lot of diamonds. The more diamonds the more bling.





Is there any difference between 'bling' and 'bling bling?'





No, it's pretty much the same. It just depends on how you want to say it.





Name your top three pieces of bling.





My earrings, which are five carats each. My necklace, it's like a big skull. You've seen it in my video, it's a man's face, but it's a skull. My rings. I have a lot of rings.





Has the whole 'bling' thing become an essential part of the rap scene?





Yeah, it really has. They put that sh** in the dictionary, man. The rap scene is one of those scenes where people like to floss a lot and show off what they have. And we all know diamonds cost a lot of money. So the more diamonds you have, the more you floss. That's basically what it comes down to.





While we may not have any diamond-encrusted Escalades driving around the streets of Spokane, listeners can still enjoy the music of the dirty South. And artists like Ludacris don't need to pass a course in Geography of the Northwest. They just need to keep selling records: more bling for their already bulging pockets.





It's official: Love Is dead -- Color me cynical, but if there is a more obviously manufactured-by-the-greeting card industry holiday than the one that falls annually on Feb. 14, I'd like to hear about it. Valentine's Day is all about shotgun romanticism, induced sentimentality, pink and red clashing like hell everywhere you look, and candy hearts that melt in your mouth like plaster.


For a break from all that lovey-dovey goo, you should check into the second annual Love is Dead festival at Club Soda this Saturday night, brought to you once again by event organizer and Mead High School student Sam Dobbins. Once again, a flock of local bands -- This Inertia Burns My Iris, the Awesome Miami, Broken Within, Hijacked Royalty, Branches Apart, the Reign, Sonnet, Southerly (from Portland) and Soma -- are getting together on this most un-holy night to sear the bleeding hearts out there with some red-hot rock. And just in case your blood-pumper hasn't totally turned black, you might even take some satisfaction in the knowledge that the show is a benefit and that your next-to-nominal cover charge will go to benefit the local chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. And if helping out a worthy cause doesn't wash away your mid-winter cynicism, nothing will.


Happy Valentine's Day, suckers.





Ace of Bass -- Bill Powers of Mayhem Media Productions is branching out, making the move from promoting local rock shows to actively participating in them. He's strapping it on -- a bass guitar, that is -- in the local band, Mourning After, for a show at the Detour this Friday night.


"This will be the first show that I'll be playing bass with them," he admits. "And I've never played bass before, so it should be interesting."


With a great lineup playing at such a nice, accommodating all-ages venue (with beer for those 21 and older), this Detour show should be thoroughly entertaining as well as interesting. Also on the menu for the evening are the Awesome Miami -- "If you haven't seen them, you're missing out on a real Spokane musical oddity" says Powers -- Branches Apart (formerly Skyfade) and Eloi.





Publication date: 02/12/04
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