From multi-platinum rapper and Fast and Furious actor to host of MTV's summer sure thing Fear Factor, Illinois native Chris "Ludacris" Bridges has become a pop culture superstar—and he's just getting started.
Is there anything Ludacris can’t do? The Champaign, Illinois-born rapper has sold 15 million albums and won three Grammys; proven his acting chops in five of the mega-popular Fast and Furious movies; and made his entrepreneurial mark in restaurants (Atlanta’s Chicken + Beer), tech (the Slang N’ Friendz app), digital (hosting the YouTube show Best.Cover.Ever.), and television, recently emceeing the Billboard Music Awards for the fourth time. As the Oak Park-raised entertainer recently prepped for his gig as the host of MTV’s Fear Factor reboot, the speed-rapping 39-year-old spoke exclusively with Michigan Avenue about summer in Chicago, his much-anticipated new music, and his ultimate dream to be the next Ryan Seacrest.
Music, movies, TV hosting, a restaurant, an app—you’re becoming a one-man multimedia empire. Where do you get your inspiration?
Man, you know what? It’s not just one place. I get inspired by so many different things and people. I’ve always rapped. And even when I started at the radio station [Hot 97.5 in Atlanta], a lot of people didn‘t understand that that was a means to an end. Me going into that radio station was really just a way to get in front of different producers and musical artists so that I could actually get into the music industry, as opposed to, “Oh, I want to work at a radio station.” I was just trying to get my demo songs listened to—and before I knew it, getting a job there turned into me actually having a start. So me trying to be a media mogul started with a means-to-an-end plan of getting a job at a radio station in order to get noticed.
Did you see yourself as more than a rapper even then?
I always have; I just always knew that [rapping] was my number one love. But I knew I was much more than that [too], and I’m just glad and honored and humbled to be able to live out all of these different dreams in the entertainment and music worlds, because that’s really what it all comes down to. They say [everybody wants] to be a rock star and a movie star, and I can humbly say that I’ve satisfied and continue to satisfy my curiosity in doing both.
You’ve created a personal brand that crosses over and appeals to people of all ages and backgrounds. What is it about Ludacris that attracts people?
I think the best way to answer that question is that I’m just myself—I show all the different sides of myself. Whereas, not to down any other artist, but a lot of people only show one side of themselves, the side they want fans to see. They don’t show behind the scenes, them laughing or being a father or doing things where you see the dynamics of someone’s personality. I’m not afraid to do that because I don’t take myself so seriously. And I think that comes with different rewards—it shines through.
What drew you to the idea of hosting Fear Factor?
I was always a fan of the show [during its first run], and when they came to me and said, “We’re going to revisit this in a different way, different camera angles, appealing to a wider audience and younger kids,” I thought it was a great idea and that I could put my spin to it, and that’s exactly what we did. It’s always going to have that DNA of Joe Rogan and everybody else that starred in it, so all praise due to them—but now we have an opportunity to expand it and put a twist on it. Me being the host, I’m going to bring a comedic edge and my personality to it.
You recently dropped a new single with Ty Dolla $ign, “Vitamin D.” What else do you have coming our way in terms of music?
I have another song dropping sometime this summer, but right now I’m letting all the attention stay with “Vitamin D,” because that song’s just getting started. [This is] me getting back into the bloodstream of music—no plans to drop an album immediately, but I’m always working and I’ll always be prepared to drop some music. I [also just] did a personalized remix of Bruno Mars’ “That’s What I Like” that’s really dope.
Let’s talk Chicago. You spent some of your formative years in the city—how has that influenced the work you’ve done?
That’s my upbringing. Chicago’s one of those places where your heart is always going to be there, and I took so many different things from it. It’s a culture of just loving Chicago and Illinois as a whole. Chicago has been the [place that’s been] most supportive of my career outside [of] Atlanta, as far as my entire catalog of music—I always look at statistics of where I was selling the most records, besides Atlanta, my home, and it was always Chicago. So it means a lot, not only to be doing this publication but to be able to talk to Chicagoans and continue to thank them.
Do you still feel a connection to the city?
Oh, absolutely—and that’s something nobody can ever take away from me. That’s between me and the city. It’s great energy as always.
Any places you like to hit when you’re in town?
Taste of Chicago was always something that I absolutely loved—corn on the cob, all the different pizzas, Home Run Inn and Giordano’s—but the crazy thing is that I can’t do it [anymore] unless I’m disguised somehow, so I just have to live vicariously through [my friends] who go.
You’re a father of three daughters—how has that influenced your work?
It’s given me a whole new motivation—to work not only for my kids to make sure I provide them the greatest future [possible], but going above and beyond and just thinking about the entire generation that’s coming up with them. It makes me want to give back even more through all my philanthropic work. It’s like, “How can I impact the next generation and make the world a better place for my kids and their children?”
Which is why you established the Ludacris Foundation.
We just [celebrated the 10th anniversary] of the LudaDay Weekend [fundraiser in Atlanta]; it was monumental to make it to 10 years, and I’m very excited for number 11 this year, 100 percent.
As an actor, is there a role out there that you would love to take on?
I actually just did one—I always like to take on roles that are unexpected of me, and there’s a movie called Ride that’s coming out [in November]. It was an independent film, really to offset all this blockbuster stuff with Fast and Furious and to put myself in a category where people look at me differently. It deals with racial tension; [I play] a guy married to a white woman and we adopt a white kid together, and the white kid is not too fond of me being black.
You have your hands in so many different enterprises—who out there do you look at and are inspired by what they’re doing?
What’s crazy is that I just thought about this the other day. Believe it or not, Ryan Seacrest is one of those guys where I was just thinking to myself, “What is he trying to prove at this point?” He’s somebody I’m inspired by just for the simple fact that he has so much going on as a producer, and a lot of people don’t even know about it. He’s getting checks from numerous shows and different things, and then him hosting and being a part of [multiple] shows as well—you would think he had a twin brother. I’ve been to his house before, I feel like he’s somebody I am definitely inspired by in terms of just making his impact on this culture, period.
Last question: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years, man… you just named it. You started this off by saying I’m a “media mogul.” That’s where I’m at. Not spreading myself thin, but making sure I’m doing my job to make an impact on pop culture and this entertainment industry as a whole with acting, with music, philanthropy, producing, hosting, and just making my mark. I feel like I’m doing that now, but [the goal is] to do it on an even grander scale.
photography by ZACK ARIAS