Ludacris (b. 1977)
One of the most prominent talents in southern rap music, Ludacris has benefited from the recent rise of the "Dirty South" style of rap, selling millions of albums as both a solo rapper and a guest artist. Supported by music television stations and widespread radio play, Ludacris quickly became a popular culture icon. Though his music often has an unabashedly explicit tone, Ludacris's witty and clever rhymes have made him one of the most sought-after rappers in hip-hop.
Ludacris was born Christopher Bridges on September 11, 1977, in Champaign, Illinois, to Roberta Shields and Wayne Bridges. His family moved to Atlanta when he was a young teenager. During the late 1990s Ludacris worked as a disc jockey at an Atlanta radio station, a job that granted him time to hone his rapping as well as to build professional relationships with some of Atlanta's most prominent rappers and producers. His first foray into rap came in 1998, when he made a cameo appearance on rap producer Timbaland's album Tim's Bio. In 2000 Ludacris released his first solo album, Incognegro, which sold well regionally and displayed his sense of humor.
By the time Incognegro appeared, Atlanta had become a well-known location for new rap talent. Styling themselves as "Dirty South" rappers, many groups in Georgia and throughout the South followed the lead of such platinum sellers as Goodie Mob and OutKast by signing with major labels. Their goal was to cash in on southern rap's rising popular appeal, and Ludacris was no different. After being scouted by hardcore rapper Scarface, he signed with Def Jam Records in 2000. Later that year Ludacris released Back for the First Time, a raunchy yet playful album carried to multimillion-dollar sales by the explicit single "What's Your Fantasy?" By the end of 2000 the song had become Ludacris's first national hit.
With the support of television stations MTV and BET, as well as a growing number of radio stations nationwide, Ludacris garnered greater attention from rap fans with such singles as "Southern Hospitality," "Phat Rabbit," "Area Codes," and "Rollout (My Business)." With Word of Mouf (2001) Ludacris continued his success in the rap industry, reaching number three on Billboard Magazine's album charts in December 2001. That same year he established the Ludacris Foundation, a nonprofit organization that benefits underprivileged children in the Atlanta area. His mother is the foundation's president.
After releasing the less popular Golden Grain in 2002 and working as a guest artist on singles by Missy Elliott and Jermaine Dupri, Ludacris collaborated with rhythm and blues artist Usher to produce the multiplatinum club favorite "Yeah!" (2004). In 2003 Ludacris released the successful Chicken-N-Beer and "Stand Up," and in 2004 he released Red Light District. In 2006 Ludacris released his seventh album, Release Therapy, for which he won a Grammy Award.
In 2004 Ludacris successfully crossed over into the realm of acting with a supporting role in the film Crash (2004), for which Ludacris, as part of Crash's ensemble cast, won a Screen Actors Guild Award in 2006 for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. The following year he appeared in the film Hustle and Flow (2005).
In 2008 Ludacris continued to branch out with two new business ventures. He and television producer Matt Apfel launched the Web site WeMix, which allows users to upload original music and network with other musicians. Competitions on the site offer recording opportunities and other prizes to the winning artists. Within three months of the site's launch, approximately 30,000 songs were uploaded to WeMix. That same year Ludacris became a restaurateur with the opening of a Singaporean restaurant in Atlanta.
In August 2008 a reality television program called Battleground Earth, starring Ludacris and rock musician Tommy Lee, debuted on the cable network The Learning Channel. The series featured the duo competing in a series of challenges to help preserve the environment.