LUDACRIS – “Southern Hospitality”

Watching the devil: Greil Marcus doesn’t seem to have much time for hip-hop now, but way back in ’92 he wrote one of my favourite rap reviews ever, taking time to pick apart the Geto Boys’ “Mind Playin’ Tricks On Me”, in particular the final verse, where Bushwick Bill meets a giant on the street at Halloween, who turns out to be the devil, or something very like it. That devil vanished (leaving Bill feeling “just like a fiend”), but in “Southern Hospitality” he’s back, and this time he’s the one on the mic.

“Cadillac grilles, Cadillac mills, check out the oil my Cadillac spills” thunders Ludacris as the track starts, an extraordinary, resonant opening that makes the rapper sound twenty foot tall. Desert-dry Neptunes beats, the ghost of a pan-pipe and an electronic hornet buzz are the backdrop to this half-sermon, half-gloat, as Ludacris places himself midway between Stagger Lee and JR Ewing: one part tycoon, one part pimp. His delivery is harsh but measured: you are in his country now, he owns it, and that means he owns you. If you were feeling fanciful (but not so fanciful) you could call “Southern Hospitality” the first great record of the Bush era, as Ludacris sings a Dirty South where money is power, and where Ludacris has that power, and knows it, and knows America knows it. “If you sweat in your sleep then you sweat for me”: pure evil, and essential listening. Especially for Greil.