NEW YORK – Ludacris has lopped off the long braids that have been his trademark for nearly a decade -- and not because of the heat.
The rapper, whose real name is Chris Bridges, says his new, short hairdo -- a "shadow fade" -- was a "spur of the moment kind of thing." He acknowledges that after years of wearing braids, cornrows or a giant 'fro, he'd simply run out of new styles.
But he says the new look is symbolic of a larger change.
"This album that's coming out is so different than all the record material that I've recorded over the past four albums that I needed to complement the new sound with a new look," Bridges said by phone from Los Angeles.
Bridges says the album, "Release Therapy," is a clear departure that tackles more serious issues like the government and its response to Hurricane Katrina, being a father to his daughter, Karma, and his relationship with God.
"It's a lot of things that I'm speaking on that I've never talked about," he says. "I felt like people knew who Ludacris was, but people never knew who Chris Bridges was."
The Atlanta-based MC has been one of the biggest figures in rap in recent years, and one of its funniest. In the video for last year's "Number One Spot" he spoofed "Austin Powers," complete with Verne Troyer; 2003's "Stand Up" featured a 6-foot high afro.
In recent years, he has taken up acting, including well-received supporting roles in the Oscar-winning "Crash" and "Hustle & Flow." He's in the process of planning his next big screen role and hopes to soon do a comedy.
The title of "Release Therapy" refers both to its therapeutic lyrics and it being the fifth and final album release for Def Jam, the label that gave him his first big record contract. As that chapter comes to close, Bridges says he feels mature beyond his years.
"I've been through so much over the past six years, that I feel like I've matured at a rate where I could be at least five years older than I am right now," he says. "I may be 28, but I'm in like a 34, 35 state of mind."
Fans will get their first peek at the new 'do in the video for "Money Maker," which was just shot in Miami with a green screen. "Money Maker," the album's first single, can currently be streamed at www.ludacris.net.