The last five years have not been kind to Joe Budden. Once a rising star in the rap game with his hit Pump It Up, Budden seemed poised to become the biggest thing to come out of New Jersey since the mafia. Then his deal with Def Jam deteriorated after his sophomore album The Growth was apparently a little too grown for Jay-Z, prompting Budden to ride the mixtape circuit before signing with Amalgam Digital – only to experience a serious case of hip-hop deja vu. Budden’s long-awaited album Padded Room has been delayed again, …
DJBooth Album Review
As always the truth is somewhere in between, but one thing is undeniable; Budden is a very complicated man. One of the best line-for-line rappers in the game, Budden uses Halfway House to touch almost every version of his multi-faceted flow. Budden may have staked his place in the game on the foundation of his intelligence and lyricism, but don’t get it confused, the man can definitely go hard. Let’s start with Slaughterhouse, a posse cut that will have aspiring rappers hitting rewind and taking notes. Joell Ortiz leads a roster of hard-hitting lyricists, but fittingly Budden saves the best for last, overshadowing everyone with lines like “I get it, you get hot leaded, until everything on you but your torso is prosthetic.” Damn. If Halfway is a preview of Padded Room then there’s going to be a lot of rock-edged tracks. Just take On My Grind, a song that blazes with power chords and live drums. This is the Joe Budden that’s been burning through the underground, a man seemingly capable of writing a novel’s worth of dope lines, and Grind displays his strong but complex flow.
The other side of Budden is at times an almost frighteningly honest and tortured man, an openness that’s earned him his most intense fans. Halfway has plenty for those heads as well, starting with the...um...soulful, The Soul, a track soaked in nostalgia and memories. Soul is a glimpse of Budden as a young man past who loved hip-hop and life with a sometimes destructive tendency, which come to think of it is a lot like the adult Budden. An even better explanation of Budden’s current situation is Sidetracked, a track that explores his often bi-polar relationship with music and the music industry: “Sometimes I want to make money, but sometimes I ain’t motivated, sometimes I think it’s overrated.” The list of rappers with big enough balls to be that personal is small, and Budden’s willingness to step so far out the box no one can touch him is what makes him such a compelling figure, and Halfway House a compelling album.
Then there’s the third and final side of Budden. It’s the part of himself that he seems the most uncomfortable with, the voice in his head (and probably from just about everyone else) that asks “When you gonna drop another hit like Pump It Up?” Rarely has a rapper been so tortured by the implications of that question – money, fame, artistry – than Budden, but still, he keeps trying. Touch And Go is blatantly club friendly track complete with stuttering synths and a catchy hook. I won’t deny Budden another shot at a hit, but the more interesting question is how many Touch And Go-esque tracks will make it onto Padded Room. The answer will be the difference between a good album, and a great one.
Joe Budden is to album delays what Snoop is to weed smoking – just about everyone does it now and again, but not like these guys. These delays seemingly stem from Budden’s refusal to put out an inferior product, which is what makes him so good, but that kind of perfectionism can be paralyzing. Let’s just hope the next time we hear from Budden it will be because he released Padded Room, not ended up in one.
Listen to More: Joe Budden Written by Nathan S.
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"New Jersey Drive ft. Redman" (2007)
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