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Thanks to The O'Reilly Factor and Pepsi, Ludacris got a bad rap

"It's gonna be, like, a multimillion-dollar, multiyear deal, where they're going to give money for my foundation," Ludacris says. (His mother, Roberta Fields, is president of the organization.) "And to be real with you, that's the only thing that the Pepsi Corporation can do for me right now -- to help me out with the community."

Ludacris never needed the exposure that the aborted ad campaign would have given him. He's out on the road through March, promoting both Word of Mouf and Disturbing Tha Peace's Golden Grain, and then he'll head home to finish off his third album, Chicken and Beer. The disc, hitting stores sometime this summer, features guest shots by Eightball and MJG, Scarface and Snoop Dogg, as well as the DTP family: Shawnna, I-20, Lil' Fate, Jay Cee and Titty Boy.

"We're about halfway done right now," Ludacris says. "It's gonna be the same Ludacris that, you know, my core audience loves -- and then expect some of the unexpected, 'cause that's what 'Cris is all about: doing things to reinvent yourself and the music; try things, like, they wouldn't even think they would hear me doing certain songs like that. So that's what it's about, man. It's about giving the audience what they want and some new things."

One of these new things is movies. In addition to his role in 2 Fast 2 Furious-- as Taj, who's sort of the Don King of the Miami street-racing scene -- Ludacris is in negotiations with MTV Films to produce and star in another flick. Also coming soon is Lil' Pimp, a Flash-animated feature starring Ludacris as Weathers, a foul-mouthed gerbil. "It's kinda like the hip-hop world meets South Park," he says. "It's crazy. It was a great experience, man, 'cause you know, it was just me voicing it and doing things like that. I try to use my voice to my advantage a lot, so it was a great experience, because I'm, like, this little gerbil with a big-ass voice."

Acting wasn't part of the original plan. But with so many other rappers adding that to their job descriptions, Ludacris figured he might as well give it a shot. Besides, he's been a success at everything else he's tried: selling records, running a label, giving back to the community -- well, everything except stumping for Pepsi.

"I feel like I want a helluva challenge," he says. "Just being in front of the camera so much doing videos and things of that nature, I just wanted to experiment and take it to the next step, try and get in front of there and do the acting thing, man. You know, it's almost like a progression. It's almost what you're supposed to do."

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