“You sell 3 million copies, you become a role model,” hip-hop artist Chris “Ludacris” Bridges said Thursday afternoon.
The 60 Branford College students, who had waited in line for tickets a day earlier, gathered in Master Steven Smith’s living room for a Master’s Tea with the legendary rapper. Ludacris told the audience about his rise to stardom and discussed current issues, such as financial responsibility and the Chris Brown–Rihanna controversy.
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After a brief meet-and-greet, which was cut short because of Ludacris’ late arrival after his campus tour ran overtime, students clamored to snag front-row seats. The rapper, who performed at Yale’s 2006 Spring Fling, shared the students’ excitement.
“I love intelligent minds, and I like to be around powerful people,” Ludacris said of his visit to Yale. “When they told me I was doing [Spring Fling], I was more excited than I’ve ever been.”
Ludacris said his musical career began as a child, which he spent between Chicago and Atlanta. When he was 9 years old he wrote his first song, where he said he faked his age for the sake of a rhyme.
“I’m cool. I’m bad. I might be 10, but I can’t survive without my girlfriend,” he rapped to the crowd.
As an undergraduate at Georgia State University, Ludacris interned at an emerging hip-hop radio station in Atlanta called Hot 97.5, where he was first assigned the graveyard shift and later appeared on the station’s morning show.
“Whenever someone calls up and sounds sexy as hell, she’s not,” Ludacris said of a co-worker’s experience working an evening shift at the station.
At Hot 97.5, Ludacris met rapper Tim “Timbaland” Mosley, who listened to his demo tape and then featured Ludacris on his album in the song “Phat Rabbit.” After that first recording, Ludacris decided to invest his savings in recording a full CD and working with independent distributors to launch his career.
Because he achieved some success without being signed to a record label, the rapper said he was not put through the “artist development” track many new signed artists follow and quickly accepted an offer with Def Jam Recordings in 2000.
Later that year, he released the album “Back For The First Time,” which featured hit singles “Southern Hospitality” and “What’s Your Fantasy.” The first single, “What’s Your Fantasy,” became an instant hit, he said.
“It was nasty, yes, but it was a good song,” Ludacris said.
People in Jamaica — who he said did not appreciate explicit allusions to “men giving women oral sex” — protested the song’s derogatory lyrics; upon his arrival, Ludacris found a note on his hotel door that asked him not to perform the song.
Ludacris drew criticism following the 2006 Spring Fling, when he interrupted his performance and asked, “All the ladies in the house, if your pussy’s clean let me hear you scream real quick.”
Though his music is often criticized, the rapper, who grew up listening to Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy, assured the audience he is “just being comedic.”
Yet Ludacris said many Americans do not view his lyrics as such, mentioning Oprah Winfrey and Bill O’Reilly. He called O’Reilly “the most hypocritical person in the world” for criticizing the rapper’s lyrics, referring to the sexual harassment allegations made against the Fox News personality in a 2004 lawsuit.
Unlike other rappers, some of whom he said are involved in drugs and conspicuous consumption, Ludacris has kept his hands clean. He only has one plane, which he said his uncle, a war veteran, maintains for him. He said he never conformed to the so-called hip-hop stereotype.
“I’ve never sold not one drug in my life,” Ludacris said. “This is the story of me getting 100 percent legal money.”
The tea was originally planned for fall 2008, when Ludacris was promoting his movie “Max Payne” with co-star Mark Wahlberg in New York City. Ludacris canceled the fall trip to Yale. This spring, however, Ludacris scheduled a gig in Hartford, and contacted Smith about rescheduling the visit. The Hartford gig was canceled before the tea.
“It’s been in the works for a while,” Smith said in an interview with the News.
Tour guide and Branford master’s aide Jenny McClain ’09, who showed Ludacris the Branford dining hall, Harkness Chapel and Sterling Memorial Library, said students and dining hall staff flocked around the celebrity.
“[He was] so great, really chill, really laid back,” McClain said of the artist during the tour.
At the end of the Tea, Smith presented Ludacris with two gift bags of Yale paraphernalia. He tried to put on his new Yale sweatshirt but stopped when he noticed it was a size medium.
“This is a medium. I need an extra large,” he said to Smith.