“I fill her up… balloons!”
Those five words were all it took to completely derail the career trajectory of one of the most prominent MCs of the 2000s.
Now, don’t get it twisted. Ludacris still holds a spot as one of the most respected rappers to enter the game in the late ’90s, and I doubt he’s crying himself to sleep at night in his mansion basically made of the money he’s earned as a member of the insanely lucrative Fast And Furious ensemble. But somewhere along the way, the man affectionately known as Luda lost any of the cachet he wielded at the turn of the millennium as the performer of immensely enjoyable hits like “Move, Bitch,” “Number One Spot,” and “Roll Out.”
While it’s not unusual for rappers to experience that weird transition from “hitmaker” to “has-been” as they age, it is pretty rare that we can trace the exact moment of the fall-off so precisely to just one line in a career that spans thousands. And now that we live in an era where rappers can maintain musical relevancy long past their perceived expiration dates, even experience late-career rebirths like Luda’s rebranded onetime label-mate 2 Chainz (FKA Tity Boi), there’s no real reason to think he can’t make a comeback — after all, his skills haven’t exactly atrophied and his charisma is still world-class.
But the first step to fixing the problem is finding its root. So, how exactly did “balloons” cause the downfall of one of the biggest and best rappers in the game?
Let’s rewind to the summer of 2010. The latest craze in rap, which has seen all sorts of permutations from whisper flows to double-time speed rap, was the “pause flow.” Also known as the “hashtag flow,” this particular lyrical approach was coined in its current form by Big Sean on his Finally Famous Vol. 2 mixtape, on the song “Supa Dupa”:
“I am a supa, dupa troopa’
Used to the bottom… scuba
So I’m on the grind, skateboard or scooter
‘Til I am the king of my castle… Koopa”