Ludacris' Theater Of The Mind will both benefit and suffer from comparisons to Kanye West's 808s And Heartbreak, which was released the same week by the same label. Where Heartbreak boldly challenged listeners, Mind gives Ludacris fans exactly what they want and expect, leading to an album that's more immediately accessible, but ultimately less resonant. Familiarity breeds contempt, and a distinct air of "been there, done that" hangs over Mind. The obligatory T-Pain-assisted single "One More Drink" offers an ode to the judgment-impairing powers of beer goggles, while "Call Up The Homies" finds Ludacris reaching out to out-of-state pals in his quest to hook up with hos in different area codes. Both are fun pop songs, but they're also the kind of glib mirth-makers the rapper could probably churn out in his sleep.
Though clever and consistent, Ludacris' colorful lyrics and wildly expressive delivery lack the laugh-out-loud, abuse-the-rewind-button hilarity of his best guest verses; it's his misfortune to contribute his meanest 16 bars to other rappers' albums. Nevertheless, Mind is never less than good. The Jay-Z/Nas collaboration "I Do It For Hip Hop" and "Wish You Would"—Luda's long-awaited teaming with former enemy T.I.—meet but don't exceed expectations, while the DJ Premier-produced "MVP" is a little underwhelming. A Heartbreak-like act of radical reinvention might be just what this flamboyant entertainer needs. Even steak can get boring if eaten too many nights in a row.