Ludacris' strength as a rapper has been—and always will be—an unfortunate irony: He's a schizophrenic mess of disputatious bravado and wit. He's the musical equivalent to Allen Iverson, handicapped by his own bombastic skill and unending creativity—and Theater of the Mind may be the most accurate portrayal of that yet. Consider this one fact: There are 18 (!) other people featured on the album, a clear sign of a substantive want. Even phoned-in contributions from Nas and Jay-Z ("I Do It for Hip-Hop") painfully reveal the lyrical caste discrepancy.

Of course, when qualified by a "punch line per capita" stipulation, Luda is the best in the game, and he's at the height of his powers here. When he sneaks his way to a roaring proclamation on the horn-driven boom-bap track "Undisputed," announcing that the name of his insurance is "YOUR FUCKIN' FAULT!" it's outright brilliant. But subsequent listens dull the luster of surprise, and you're left wishing there were a way to experience it again for the first time. Perhaps he's more Sixth Sense than AI.

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Shea Serrano