Ludacris is a rapper and actor from Atlanta, Georgia, known for his boisterous lyrics and “Dirty South” sound. He made his mainstream breakthrough in 2000 with his second album, Back for the First Time, and has since become a label boss, restaurateur, and philanthropist, while still releasing music. He is also a regular in the Fast and the Furious film franchise. What marks out Ludacris as an innovator is his comedic flow, peppered with punchlines — a style that fits his chosen stage name perfectly.

He was born Christopher Brian Bridges in Champaign, Illinois, on September 11, 1977, the only child of college students Roberta and Wayne. His parents split when he was young — although he remained close to both — and he moved to Atlanta with his mom around the age of 12. He had been rapping since the age of nine, and before the move to Atlanta was a member of a childhood group, the Loudmouth Hooligans. Times were tough for the teenage Bridges and his mom, but he credits her for being strict with him to ensure he stayed in school and studied hard.

Ludacris had his first brush with stardom in 1998 with a guest verse on Timbaland’s debut album — Tim’s Bio: Life from Da Bassment — rhyming on the track “Phat Rabbit.” He was already recording his debut album, Incognegro, with production from Jermaine Dupri, Bangladesh, and Organized Noize, which he released independently on his own Disturbing Tha Peace label in May 2000. Much of the material on the album would be repackaged for his major label debut, Back for the First Time, after he was signed to Def Jam South in 2000, including the hit single “What’s Your Fantasy.” The song was remixed for the new album, with additional guest verses from Trina and Foxy Brown, while the second single, the Neptunes-produced and Pharrell-featuring “Southern Hospitality,” was another new addition. The album reached No. 4 on the Billboard 200, eventually selling more than 3 million copies. Rolling Stone picked up on Ludacris’ lively rap style, calling him “that rare brand of a rapper who shows you his skills as much as he tells you about them.”