Friday, March 19, 2004 | 8:22 a.m.
His stage name may be Ludacris, but rapper Chris Bridges knows when to balance his humorous side with a serious slant.
The 26-year-old Atlanta native is quite somber when discussing his 2002 clash with Fox News Network commentator Bill O'Reilly, a controversy that resulted in the loss of Ludacris' Pepsi endorsement.
"There's definitely a lot of people who judge hip-hop without finding out what it's about because they can't get past the fact that it's black people having an influence on a lot of other people in the world," Ludacris said in a phone interview from his tour bus en route to a recent gig in Seattle.
Ludacris' bus stops in Las Vegas tonight for a show at the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay. Opening acts: rappers Chingy, David Banner and Knoc-Turn'al. Doors open at 6:45 for the sold-out concert.
Ludacris is the biggest name on the bill, and has also made the biggest news. In August 2002, O'Reilly challenged Pepsi to remove Ludacris as its spokesman, citing lyrics he said he considered too explicit.
"Pepsi-Cola will run commercials featuring the rapper Ludacris, who some consider more vile than Eminem, if that's possible," O'Reilly said on his show. "Ludacris spouts the usual antisocial nonsense that enthralls people like Elton John and apparently the executives that run Pepsi."
The cola company subsequently dropped an advertising campaign featuring Ludacris, prompting a proposed boycott of Pepsi products by Russell Simmons' Hip-Hop Summit Action Network. Pepsi later donated an undisclosed sum of money to the Ludacris Foundation, a non-profit charitable organization, preventing a full-scale boycott of the soft drink by Simmons' group.
"(O'Reilly) does not listen to all my lyrics because if he did then he wouldn't have the opinion that he does about me," Ludacris said. "He would know that there's more to me than just curse words, and if he understood where those curse words are coming from in some of those songs then he wouldn't be such an (expletive) and such a racist individual.
"A lot of the frustration, a lot of the anger, a lot of the curse words ... comes from growing up in a certain environment. We can't sugarcoat anything because that's what being an artist is all about."
Ludacris also included a message for the Fox pundit on a track titled "Blow it Out" on his latest album, October's double-platinum seller "Chicken -N- Beer."
"Shout out to Bill O'Reilly, I'ma throw you a curve / You mad 'cause I'm a thief and got a way with words / I'ma start my own beverage, It'll calm your nerves / Pepsi's the new generation? Blow it out your (expletive)."
Above all, Ludacris questions Pepsi's choice of the Osbourne family for an ad campaign soon after he got the ax.
"Ozzy Osbourne can bite the heads off of animals and (the Osbournes) curse and their family does drugs inside their house this is the way they live and we're watching it on live television," Ludacris said. "Yet a man criticizes me for what I am saying on a record? And the drop me from a Pepsi deal and add the Osbournes?
"That is completely, blatantly racist. What else can you say?"
Despite his bout with O'Reilly, Ludacris retains the sense of humor so vital to the success of his three albums. He broke into laughter often during his Sun interview, whether discussing the new "Ludaplex" recording studio inside his house ("It's very convenient to have a new studio inside my house; I don't have to go nowhere") or January's Janet Jackson Super Bowl halftime incident.
"I think she picked the wrong time and place to show her breast on CBS, because of course there were a lot of kids watching ... but regardless of my saying that, I think that was like the hottest moment on television," he said, chuckling.
"Chicken -N- Beer," widely hailed as Ludacris' best disc to date, is also filled with lighthearted moments.
"Watch out for my medallions, my diamonds are reckless / Feels like a midget is hanging from my necklace," he rhymes on "Stand Up," the No. 1 single with the chorus that goes, "When I move you move, just like that."
Though "Stand Up" -- co-written by producer Kanye West -- is the first Ludacris composition to top the Billboard Hot 100, the rapper has helped plenty of other artists reach the upper regions of the chart.
Mariah Carey's "Loverboy," Missy Elliott's "Gossip Folks" and Chingy's "Holidae Inn" are just a few of the hit singles Ludacris has guested on in recent years. And he said there are plenty of others on the way.
"There's a lot of cameos ... Cee-Lo, the new Usher, Method Man's new album, Redman's new album," Ludacris said. "There's a lot of stuff going on."
Ludacris has also appeared in several movies, including 2001's "The Wash" and 2003 box office success "2 Fast 2 Furious." Up next: this year's "Crash," alongside stars Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon and Brendan Fraser.
The rapper said his budding film career provides a welcome complement to his hectic music lifestyle.
"Doing movies takes a lot longer, but at least I'm in one city for the amount of time the movie is shooting," he said. "Whereas in music I move around so much that you kind of start getting tired of traveling.
"Sometimes you like to be sitting still, and sometimes you like moving. So if half the year you're moving around and the other half you're doing a movie, it just kind of balances out your life."