Shamelessness is to be expected in the style-above-substance world of pop-rap, but even for a figure as famously shallow and materialistic as Jermaine Dupri, it takes chutzpah to give an album the blatantly Pavlovian title Instructions. The driving force behind Lil' Bow Wow, Kris Kross, and So So Def Records, Dupri made a fortune matching the right photogenic face to the right radio-friendly song, but what he really wants to do is rap. Yet, like fellow mogul-turned-lousy-MC P. Diddy, he seems to view rapping solely as a conduit for padding his bank account and conveying the all-important information that (as Instructions' "Ballin' Out Of Control" makes apparent) he is, in fact, balling out of control. Picking up where Dupri's similarly substance-free debut left off, Instructions features more of the pop-savvy but generic beats that have become the producer, rapper, and businessman's stock in trade, tethered to some of the limpest, least imaginative exercises in materialism ever recorded. At its best ("Ballin' Out Of Control," "Get Some," "Whatever"), Instructions manages a passable imitation of low-riding, guilty-pleasure West Coast G-funk, but for the most part, the album is as uninspired sonically as it is lyrically. Dupri rails against naysayers and haters throughout Instructions, most prominently on "Hate Blood," but considering the disc's grating attitude and negligible artistic worth, hating on Dupri is virtually unavoidable. For all its faults, Instructions at least has the decency to clock in at a relatively brisk 53 minutes, almost half an hour shorter than the latest release from another Atlanta native: Word Of Mouf, Ludacris' follow-up to his multi-platinum Def Jam South debut, Back For The First Time. The high-profile first album from the southern division of rap's most important label, First Time established Ludacris as the flamboyant new mouth of the South, a larger-than-life character dripping with eccentric star power. With the possible exception of OutKast's cosmic playboy Andre 3000, nobody does a better goofy Casanova routine than Ludacris, and when the rapper waxes libidinal and comic over silky-smooth beats, as on "Area Codes," "Hush," and "Freaky Thangs," Mouf can be irresistible. But Ludacris indulges his mediocre inner gun-clapper too often: He rounds out Mouf's nearly 80-minute running time—any reason Mouf needs to be half an hour longer than There's A Riot Goin' On?—with heaps of generic gangsta rap. Word Of Mouf boasts many of the same producers (Timbaland, Organized Noize) as Ludacris' debut, but where First Time drew inspiration primarily from Timbaland's rubbery New South funk, Shondrae, Word Of Mouf's main producer, seems to have enrolled in a crash course at Swizz Beatz' Institute Of Synthesizer Abuse. "Cold Outside" and "Growing Pains" showcase Ludacris' mellower, more introspective side, although the latter would be a lot more effective if it weren't 2001's third-best song to sample "I Forgot To Be Your Lover" (following Chino XL's "Sorry" and Dilated Peoples' "Worst Comes To Worst"). Ludacris' loopy charisma generally connects even when Mouf's production and song concepts don't, but the self-styled "abominable ho-man" would be better off if he followed his own advice from "Area Codes," to "stop the violence and put the .44 away" and let his Technicolor freak flag fly.
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If Jesse Armstrong wanted Jeremy Strong to jump in a river, he would have put it in the script