Like rappers-turned-thespians Will Smith and Ice Cube, rubber-jawed Atlantan Ludacris has transitioned from the world of rhymes to the land of casting calls. Since earning their SAG cards, the Fresh Prince and Cube have lost their rap cred, unable to keep up with hip-hop's speedy metabolism. Has Ludacris made the same mistake now that he's a movie star? Definitely not. Release Therapy, his fifth major-label album, offers enough fierce dis tracks and exuberant punchlines to all but ensure a top 10 debut.
Of course, that doesn't mean it's a great CD. Luda has a thrilling flow (listen to how he bobs and weaves in the slithering ''Ultimate Satisfaction''). And on ''Grew Up a Screw Up,'' he goes verse-to-verse against the white-hot Young Jeezy. But for an MC who's mastered the money-and-ho's jam, the first single ''Money Maker'' is awfully joyless. What's worse is that the lascivious Luda embraces dull message songs like the weeper ''Runaway Love'' and the prison-themed ''Do Your Time.'' Though well-intentioned, they come across as trite. It's a direction likely inspired by Ludacris' role in the Oscar-winning Crash. Maybe he hasn't escaped the pitfalls of a rap acting career after all.