One of a number of hip-hop musicians to successfully tackle a career in movies as well, Ludacris began his career as a humble radio DJ working in Atlanta, GA. He used the job as an opportunity to hone his skills as a musician and rapper, eventually hooking up with talents like super-producer Timbaland and getting signed to a subsidiary of Def Jam in 2000. He shortly thereafter released his first album, Inconegro, and soon became a household name, not to mention one of the most important forces in hip-hop. His fame was only boosted when, in 2002, he was signed to do a promotional deal with Pepsi, but the sponsorship was terminated when right-wing TV news shock-jocker Bill O'Reilly complained that Ludacris' image promoted violence. The controversy created much debate and attracted substantial attention, possibly more than the promo contract would have earned on its own, and the rapper's album sales continued to rise.
It wasn't long before Ludacris' notoriety had movie directors tapping him to make appearances in their films. After a small role in 2003's 2 Fast 2 Furious, he was cast in the 2005 film Hustle & Flow, a movie starring Terrence Howard as Djay, an aspiring rapper trying desperately to make it. Ludacris played Skinny Black, a world-famous hip-hop star who started out in Djay's hometown of Memphis. The movie became a critical success, and Ludacris followed it up with a 2006 appearance on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit as the stepson of cast member Ice-T. His booming music career didn't make it easy, but Ludacris couldn't help signing onto another project in 2007, parodying his own street-tough image as a disgruntled elf in the Christmas comedy Fred Claus.