Ludacris rode the early-2000s Dirty South explosion to widespread popularity, as his songs enjoyed an enormous embrace, mainly by urban media outlets but also MTV and pop radio. The Atlanta-based rapper (born Christopher Bridges) went from local sensation to household name after Def Jam signed him to its Def Jam South subsidiary in 2000. In addition to connecting him with super-producers like Timbaland, the Neptunes, and Organized Noize, Def Jam gave Ludacris remarkable marketing push. Ludacris thus quickly became one of the rap industry’s most in-demand rappers, guesting on hits for everyone from Missy Elliott (“One Minute Man”) to Jermaine Dupri (“Welcome to Atlanta”) when he wasn’t dominating the urban market with his own hits, most notably “What’s Your Fantasy?,” “Southern Hospitality,” “Area Codes,” and “Rollout (My Business).”
Before he became the Dirty South’s most popular rapper, Ludacris DJed at an Atlanta radio station. He used the opportunity to hone his craft on the mic, learn about the industry, and make a name for himself throughout the Atlanta area, which had become the South’s rap mecca starting in the mid-’90s. Eventually, he began aspiring toward a career as a rapper rather than as a radio jock, and after working with Timbaland — appearing on the producer’s Tim’s Bio album (the original version of “Fat Rabbit”) in 1998 — Ludacris began taking his rap career seriously. He recorded an album, Incognegro (2000), and released it on his independently released Disturbing tha Peace label. Ludacris primarily worked with producer Shondrae for the album, though also with Organized Noize to a lesser extent. Incognegro sold impressively in Atlanta, where Ludacris was well known for his radio work.
Soon after Incognegro became the talk of Atlanta and “What’s Your Fantasy?” became a regional hit, Scarface came knocking. Def Jam had given the veteran rapper the go-ahead to scout for talent in the South, since the Dirty South movement was gaining steam at the time and Def Jam wanted to start a Def Jam South subsidiary. Ludacris became Scarface’s first signing, and Def Jam repackaged the tracks from Incognegro, along with a few new productions: a U.G.K. collaboration (“Stick ‘Em Up”), a Neptunes production (“Southern Hospitality”), and a remix of his previously released song with Timbaland (retitled “Phat Rabbit”). Def Jam then gave the resulting album, Back for the First Time (2000), substantial marketing push, choosing “What’s Your Fantasy?” (an explicit duet about sexual fantasies from both the male and female perspective) as the first single. Though some radio stations were hesitant to air such a provocative song, “What’s Your Fantasy?” became an enormous success — as did, to a lesser extent, its even more provocative remix featuring Foxy Brown and Trina — opening the door for countless other truly “dirty” Dirty South songs that would soon become the norm rather than the exception.
Following his initial breakthrough with “What’s Your Fantasy?,” Ludacris remained ubiquitous.
He toured the States with OutKast and released a flurry of successive hit singles: the Neptunes-produced “Southern Hospitality,” the Timbaland-produced “Phat Rabbit,” the Nate Dogg collabo “Area Codes,” the Timbaland-produced “Rollout (My Business),” the Organized Noize-produced “Saturday (Oooh Oooh!),” the KLC-produced “Move b****.” His second album for Def Jam, Word of Mouf (2001), peaked at number three on the Billboard album chart in October and hovered at the top of the charts for a long time. Furthermore, he contributed to hits for other artists during this same time, most notably Missy Elliott’s “One Minute Man” and Jermaine Dupri’s “Welcome to Atlanta,” and also released another album, Golden Grain (2002), which featured his Disturbing tha Peace posse. The proper Ludacris follow-up, Chicken -N- Beer, was released in October 2003, and he returned a year later with Red Light District. In 2006, he returned with a more introspective album, Release Therapy, and vowed that he would be taken more seriously than in the past.