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Ludacris @ Miller Lite Oasis, Summerfest

July 2, 2017

Jul. 3, 2017
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If you’re at all familiar with Ludacris’s “Thong Song”-sampling latest single “Vitamin D,” it’s probably not because you heard it on the radio. Released early this spring, the track never charted, but it did find a little infamy online—thanks to some horrendous CGI that gave the rapper the lusty abs of a bodybuilder. The internet had a long laugh at Ludacris’s expense, snickering at the notion that the diminutive, nearly 40-year-old rapper would be delusional enough to cast himself as a sex symbol. The idea that maybe those superimposed muscles were supposed to look ridiculous never even crossed most people’s minds.

In his heyday, nobody would have doubted that Ludacris was in on his own joke. For years, the Atlanta wild card was one of the funniest, most creative and entertaining rappers on the radio, and his videos distorted his body in all manner of grotesquely comical ways. But that was the early 2000s, before Lil Wayne invented himself as a Martian and before Atlanta’s rap scene had fully actualized into the avant-garde mecca that it is today. Like nearly every rapper before him, with age, Ludacris has tamed and fallen behind the times. Whatever sense of danger and combustibility he brought to the radio was gone by the time he started doing Fast and Furious movies.

Ludacris did slip “Vitamin D” into his set during his latest return to Summerfest Sunday night, but mostly he stuck to the hits, pumping them out one after another: “Southern Hospitality,” “Area Codes,” “Roll Out (My Business),” “What’s Your Fantasy,” “Pimping All Over The World” and “How Low” among them, along with his verses from Usher’s “Yeah!” and DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is When.” That’s one of the most unimpeachable singles runs of the 2000s, and mostly the material sold itself, each song firing up the young, tightly packed crowd.

The crowd often seemed more animated than Ludacris himself, who slowed the show’s momentum with rehearsed stage banter between nearly every song. He talked about his 18 years in the music industry and the “people supporting me since day one,” complemented the beautiful women in the crowd and repeatedly commented on how the crowd was inspiring him to “do a little something extra tonight,” though for all that talk there was little evidence of going above and beyond. When, midway through the set, he said “we were supposed to be off stage like 10 minutes ago,” usually a surefire applause line, nobody seemed to believe him. 

He also shouted out a few times to the real Ludacris fans in the crowd, but as best I could tell they don’t exist. Even at peak stardom, Ludacris never had a dedicated following the way an Eminem or a Jay-Z did; listeners saw him more as a singles bot than an artist. His gracious but halfhearted Summerfest show reaffirmed that impression. The songs have held up amazingly well; most felt as fresh and exhilarating  as they did a decade ago. It’s Ludacris himself who seemed past his prime.

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