After a few years away from music and the big screen, Ludacris is back with new projects on both fronts. On Tuesday, he'll release his eighth studio album, Ludaversal, which is also his first full-length record in five years. And on Friday, he'll be back in theaters alongside Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez in Furious 7, reprising his role as Tej Parker in the franchise's first installment since the death of Paul Walker in 2013.
TIME caught up with Ludacris to talk about how Furious 7 raises the stakes, what's wrong with the music industry today and whether he still has hoes in different area codes.
TIME: First of all, congrats on having another kid on the way. I was just reading about your proposal and the surprise ceremony — are you the first person to Beyoncé a wedding?
Ludacris: Ha! That’s a good one, that’s funny. I didn’t look at the historic facts or anything, so I don’t really know, but so far so good! Everything seems to be working.
How does Furious 7 take the series to the next level?
Man, this movie raises the stakes because we’ve killed the stereotype that sequels get worse over time. This franchise gets better and better. It just continues to raise the bar in terms of the action scenes and bringing in different people with fanbases, like Jason Statham. Of course, the number one thing about this one is honoring Paul Walker’s legacy, and people are going to be on an emotional roller coaster with this one. It’s going to be hard to deal with. At the same time, I think it’s going to be one of the best theatrical experiences of peoples’ lives. That’s how great this is going to be.
So this is a big flashy blockbuster that could also make people cry.
It’s definitely going to make people cry. Mark my words!
The scene where they drop a car out of a plane is crazy.
That’s what I’m saying! After the last one, I thought, “I don’t see how we can out-do this sh-t.” Then we go and do something like this? It’s out of this world, man! I promise you: it’s entertainment at its finest. It’s escapism. I think people go to movie theaters because they want to live vicariously through us.
Are you a thrill-seeker yourself?
I am an adrenaline junkie 100 percent. I’ve jumped out of planes before — not with a car, but damn it, I’ve skydived! I love doing really thrill-seeking stuff.
Your co-star Vin Diesel has a reputation for posting a lot of inspirational quotes on Facebook. It's funny that he's known for that, given the characters he plays.
It is crazy. He's a really thought-provoking individual. I've heard him say some speeches. I'm telling you, man, he'll surprise you. The people who don't really give much of their lives are the ones that are most interesting because they leave a lot to the imagination.
So is he giving a big pep talk before you all go on set, like a football coach before a game?
Oh yeah. Definitely. Not only does he do that, he protects his brand integrity and he lives for it. He might have individual conversations with each particular actor about each role, and he goes to the producers and protects us. He makes sure the script is constantly changing and evolving and progressing. He fights for this franchise, I'm telling you.
You have a teenage daughter. Are you nervous about her getting behind the wheel in a few years?
Not at all, because, humbly speaking, I am lucky enough and have worked hard enough to have 22 acres of land. We have a little pavement around a lake, and we have actually practiced driving, golf carts and stuff like that, so she’ll be well-prepared.
That’s a good question, but I have no idea. We’ll see what happens. I wish I could answer that.
What’s on your Fast & Furious bucket list, at least? A city you want to film in? A car you want to drive?
My favorite car has already been in one of the movies — that was the Ford GT. I loved that car so much, and that was in Fast Five in the train scene. I think Jordana [Brewster] pulled up in it. I’m telling you, that car right there, I’ve driven a lot of cars in my life — Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches — and that’s my favorite car for numerous reasons. It’s very ironic because it’s an American muscle car. Nothing against my country, but I never felt like we made the best cars. I love that car.
It’s been five years since your last album. What made you decide that now was the time for another?
Man, I’ve been trying to put this album out, but with the production of the movie shutting down [after Paul Walker’s death], it pushed a lot of things back. I wanted to do it around that time, but we started production back up five months later. I had a rollout plan, but I had to push it back along with the movie almost a year. Everything worked out the way it was supposed to. It allowed me more time to record and get the best songs and continue to do what I do.
Do you wait till you’re inspired, or do you feel like you have to put out albums regularly to maintain your career?
That’s a really good question, and I’m glad you asked that. Another reason I’m taking a little time between albums is because we draw inspiration from life as artists. After seven albums, I almost needed to take break and live a little bit of f-ckin’ life so I could have more sh-t to talk about!
Iggy Azalea recently said the lifespan for most recording artists' careers is 3-4 years. How do you explain your longevity?
I can’t speak for everyone, I can only say my love for music has never left — my hunger, my loving the competition. I’m not only competing against people who came before me or the people who came up around the same time as me, but also the people who came after me. It’s a competition and a love of music.
You’re featured on one of my favorite rap songs of all time, “Gossip Folks” by Missy Elliott. Have you reached out about working together again now that she’s back in the studio?
Yeah, we were trying to do something, man! I know that she’s working on a project secretly. I dont know if that’s out or not. But she’s constantly working on stuff, it just depends on when she wants to drop stuff.
You have a lot to say on this album. For a rapper named Ludacris, this might be your heaviest album to date.
Hell yeah. Over the last seven albums I’ve given bits and pieces of my personal life, but I’ve never 100 percent really let people in on my life. Like the song about my father and his alcoholism — I’m really just being very vulnerable here. That’s why it’s called Ludaversal — welcome to my world.
What topic was the hardest to open up about?
That right there, because I wanted to do my father justice once I realized that there could be other people going through the same thing that I went through with my father. It’s really encouraging people to make sure you love your parents — and make sure you tell them that you love them — because you never know when they could be gone.
You offer some very candid opinions about the music business on “Charge it to the Rap Game.” What do you think is the biggest problem in the industry today?
I know this is random as hell, but having to clear samples with publishing. It’s funny because of this whole f-ckin’ Marvin Gaye and Pharrell lawsuit, but I think it’s one of the biggest things. It’s so hard. When you do art you don’t necessarily want to be a restricted in your creativity. In terms of getting stuff cleared, it can take months and months. Sometimes they ask for way more they really should get. The whole politics of it is bullsh-t. I think every artist hates that.
Since you mentioned it, what did you think about the “Blurred Lines” case?
Man, you know what, I’m going to tell you, and this is not me being political — I went through some court sh-t myself — I know that the media tends to get certain things wrong. I do not know enough to even give a f-ckin’ opinion about how extremely serious that is. I’m telling you, man, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s don’t speak on sh-t you don’t really know anything about.
Fair enough. You criticize the media on “Charge It to the Rap Game,” going so far as to fantasize about shooting up a magazine and laughing as it burns down. So… should I call security downstairs?
Nah, it has nothing to do with you, my man. You know exactly what it is: it’s the people that sensationalize sh-t. I think everyone does that to a degree, but some people keep their integrity on actually speaking the truth and not trying to put out falsehoods.
Were you nervous about putting that out after the Charlie Hebdo shooting in France?
What happened in France?
In January there was a terrorist attack on a satirical newspaper that published controversial comics about the Prophet Muhammad. Masked gunmen shot and killed several staffers.
Oh, okay. When I said it, I wasn’t speaking from a literal sense. I wasn’t being serious talking about shooting anything up.
Right, I didn’t think you were. I figured you recorded it before that.
It was definitely recorded before that. When it comes to stuff like that, I don’t encourage violence at all in any shape or form.
You were an early Justin Bieber collaborator. He’s a had a bit of a rough time since he put out an album three years ago. Can he make a comeback?
Absolutely, man. Underneath all of whatever the hell that has been said about him and what’s been done, his passion and love for music I don’t feel is going anywhere. Anybody who has that love and passion, I believe they can always do whatever they need to do musically to get their fanbase around.
You reference some of your older hits on this album, including “Area Codes.” Do you still have hoes in every area code, or have you consolidated?
Ha! I do not have any more hoes in area codes. I’m a married man, my brother.