In the rap game, it often seems like nice guys finish last. But Atlanta's Ludacris isn't particularly worried about proving how hard he is. With a persona about midway between those of mike-wielding clowns Biz Markie and Busta Rhymes, he's only too happy to take a lighter approach to hip-hop -- despite song titles like ''Move B -- -- .'' He even manages to find some humor in his being hired, then fired, as a Pepsi spokesman following Bill O'Reilly's criticism of the rapper's bawdy lyrics. He addresses the incident on his just-released third album, ''Chicken-N-Beer.'' Although the disc features well-known rappers such as Snoop Dogg and Eightball, Ludacris handpicked up-and-coming producers over high-profile hired guns like the Neptunes. He professes to be pleased as a mama jama with the results. In fact, we could almost see the chicken-eating grin on his rubbery face when we checked in with him by phone to see what the dilly-o was down Hotlanta way...
L2T Do your friends call you Luda or Cris?
LUDACRIS Most of 'em call me Cris.
L2T Isn't being a rapper with a moniker like Ludacris sort of like being a boy named Sue?
LUDACRIS What do you mean?
L2T Well, one of Webster's definitions of the word ludicrous is ''meriting derisive laughter or scorn as absurdly inept, false, or foolish.''
LUDACRIS I don't ever have any problems like that, brother. Everyone understands that my name goes hand in hand with my music and the type of person I am. I just like havin' fun -- I'm a wild and crazy person.
L2T You're an Atlanta homeboy. Were you a supporter of Freak-nik, the citywide black-college equivalent of spring break?
LUDACRIS Yeah, I was. It was something that was good way back around '95, '96, until the cops started really taking control, not letting people have as much fun as we would like to. It's not as good as it was; cops and the mayor pretty much shut it down. It was a great part of Atlanta's history for young black students, though.
L2T Why'd you call your album ''Chicken-N-Beer?''
LUDACRIS You are what you eat. I'm eating chicken right now.
L2T You drinkin' beer?
LUDACRIS Not yet, but I will be.
L2T Who makes better chicken: Popeyes or KFC?
LUDACRIS Between me and you, the political answer is, I can't answer that right now because I'm trying to get an endorsement deal with one of them.
L2T What about your favorite brew?
LUDACRIS Ha. That would also depend on whether I sign a particular endorsement deal. Let's just say it's between Bud Light, Heineken, and Corona.
L2T How about a malt liquor like Olde English 800 -- is that too strong?
LUDACRIS Nothing's too strong for me. I drink alcohol -- big alcohol -- so I'm always good.
L2T Did you stop drinking Pepsi after they dropped you as a spokesman?
LUDACRIS I never really drunk Pepsi anyway, so I didn't have to stop. Soda's got too much acid. I'm more of a juice drinker. Or beer. But I was angry about that situation. I felt it was a completely racist and hypocritical thing for Pepsi to do. To me, it was a slap in the face. And after I got dropped, they hired the Osbournes. You're trying to tell me I'm worse than the Osbournes? To me, that's completely racist.