By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Brian Palmer
"I think that true talent doesn't need profanity to shine," scoffs the 25-year-old UC-Santa Barbara grad from Fairfield, California. "Plus, when words like ho' and the b' and n' words are thrown around, I think a lot of the suburban' – okay, white' – consumers of hip-hop aren't exactly picturing people who look like them. So they end up being entertained at the expense of getting these sometimes twisted perceptions of black people" -- like himself. "I hate hearing my people demeaned like that."
Nevertheless, Ahiakpor loves his "clean-edit" version of Mouf, and considers Ludacris one of his favorite artists. "Ludacris is bursting at the seams with sheer charisma," he chuckles. "He's great!"
Lisa Acosta, 15, from New York City, didn't have a choice of which Ludacris CD she could buy. But the high school freshman admits she actually likes some of the sound effects used to cover up the dirty words on her copy of Ludacris' Def Jam South debut, Back for the First Time. "I love the laser-gun sound effects on Game Got Switched,'" she says. "And the chorus is awesome!"
Andrew and Lisa are part of a largely ignored segment of the hip-hop audience: the "clean-edit" crowd, CD buyers who, either because their parents won't allow them to get the dirty versions or because of their own distaste for profanity, choose to buy the edited versions that now accompany the release of nearly every major-label hip-hop album.
Ludacris himself admits he's never stopped to think about the clean-edit versions of his CDs – or, for that matter, about who actually buys them. "I don't know anything about the edited versions," he says in a tired growl. "I just do the bad' versions."
The 25-year-old Chicago-born Atlanta transplant did contribute a crucial vocal redo for the radio version of his hit "Area Codes" – altering the now-famous catch phrase "I got ho's in different area codes" to "I got pros." Other than that, he leaves the cleanup work to his main producer, KLC.
Still, now that it's mentioned to him, Ludacris is intrigued. While it's hard to determine how well the clean-edits sell on their own (Geoff Mayfield of Billboardlaments that SoundScan "marries" the bar codes for the two versions upon release to track the tallies of total sales), people are clearly buying them. "About 13 percent of rap sales are from Wal-Mart stores," estimates Wendy Day, founder of Rap Coalition, a not-for-profit artists' advocacy group, "and they sell only edited albums."
Sure enough, Ludacris' Word of Mouf and the debut album by his hip-hop clique, Disturbing Tha Peace, called Golden Grain, sit among the top-selling CDs at Wally-Mart over the past 12 months. Clean-edits are also sold at Target, Kmart and Sam Goody.
Ludacris ruminates on the preponderance of the clean versions of his albums as if hearing the news that he has a long-lost twin – a "good" twin, in his case. "I wonder what they're getting to hear," he thinks aloud. The Eddie Murphy fan appreciates the suggestion that it's a Professor Klump/Buddy Love clash of identities: The clean Ludacris serenades the girl at the bedroom window, and the explicit Ludacris sets off the fog alert with her in his Escalade.
And indeed, there is a clean Ludacris with his own career. He's the Ludacris who shows up on the cover of Teen People sitting on an inflatable pool toy – instead of swinging it in front of his crotch. He's the Ludacris whose picture and bio show up on family-oriented Web sites like KidsWorld.com without links to the official Ludacris site, which offers "behind-the-scenes" hot tub shots from his "What's Your Fantasy" video.
When Ludacris saw the debut of that Pepsi Twist commercial during the Super Bowl – the one where the cursing-crazy Osbourne kids transform into the Osmonds – rap's sharpest comedian couldn't help but see the irony.
Only five months earlier, Ludacris had seen his own Pepsi commercial yanked off the air after storms of protests, led by O'Reilly, Fox News' rabble-rousing conservative. During an August episode of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly stirred up such a fuss about Pepsi partnering with the "decadent mercenary" that the company announced it was dropping Ludacris the very next day. It actually issued a statement reading, "We've decided to discontinue our ad campaign with this artist and we're sorry that we've offended anyone."
Then, come the Big Game, we saw Ozzy, Jack and Kelly – the dysfunctional TV brood responsible for making the "bleep" the punch line of 2002 – pitching their favorite soft drink.
"Y'know, all this time I coulda been yappin' my mouth and saying bad things about them," Ludacris admits. "But I didn't. I just had a plan. I thought this issue was bigger than me, so I had to get somebody bigger than myself, you know, who had a voice on a whole 'nother level."