Everyone knows Joe Budden is crazy - or at least that’s what they say. Bring up Joe’s name...
DJBooth Album Review
Even Joe Budden knows Joe Budden is crazy. Why else would he name his new album Padded Room? Whatever his intentions, it’s been a long, hard road for New Jersey’s finest. After jumping off in 2003, Budden’s broken up with Def Jam and signed with Amalgam Digital, created a supremely dope mixtape series and seen his sophomore album redefine the term “long-delayed.” (For the record, Padded Room isn’t “long-delayed.” A long delay is when you get stuck in the airport for five hours, this album just took a long f**king time). Semantics aside, if Padded Room doesn’t live up to the hype its more because nothing can live up to six years of expectations, not necessarily because of any of the album’s failings. Ultimately, it’s unfair to keep bringing up Budden’s past. He is where he is now; at the center of a very small circle of truly premier rappers.
If Budden’s been confined to a straightjacket it’s only given the man more time to think, and you know what happens when Budden has time to think...he makes tracks like In My Sleep. Budden’s earned a legion of loyalists for his fearlessly personal lyrics and In My Sleep is no exception. Sleep is a sonic dreamscape that flies from vision to vision, from longing for a lost life (“I’m chillin with my grandma, she ain’t die”) to ephemeral thoughts (“Had a convo with a man with no ears, all of a sudden everything became so clear”). It’s the rap equivalent of a Salvador Dali painting, and almost no one but Budden could pull it off. But while other rappers can use abstraction as a crutch Budden isn’t afraid to tackle his life head on. If anything, he can be so direct it’s hard to listen. I Couldn’t Help It is a brutally honest cut that has Budden admitting that he tried to pressure his son’s mother to have an abortion, and Exxxes revives Budden’s biographical exploration of his relationships with women, which if his music’s to be believed, has been about as functional as Bobby and Whitney’s marriage. Occasionally these introspective ruminations cross the line into overwrought confessionals (like Happy Holidays), but they say all the best artists are a little crazy, and Padded Room proves it.
Padded Room is at its best when its essentially just Budden and a mic, but the album stumbles a little when things get more complicated. The Future is one of the album’s most up-tempo tracks, a notably electronically oriented single that also contains one of the album’s rare hooks, and not a particularly good one. The Game stops by for some typically guttural vocals, but even he can’t rescue Future from sounding forced, as if Budden felt determined to squeeze something lighter into the album, even if the fit wasn’t perfect. If I had to pick something more fast-paced from Padded Room I’d go with Blood On The Wall, a grumbling track with a layer of east coast grime covering its surface. Lyrically, Blood is a reminder that while Budden can drop emotionally touching lines he’s still nobody to f**k with, even going so far as to launch into some full-scale verbal warfare with Prodigy: “never mind me, worry bout your Medicaid, s**t’s so unfair, beats carried your ass most of your career.” Speaking of which, Padded Room’s most obvious room for improvement is its uninspired production. The gap between the quality of the album’s beats and the quality of the vocals is disappointingly large, but I can’t complain too much on an album that has an track like Pray For Me, Budden’s extended conversation with god (think Dre and Em’s Guilty Conscience, only exponentially deeper). In the end, if Budden belongs in a padded room it’s because he’s self-destructively focused on making music that matters, and if that’s crazy, I don’t want to be sane.
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 02/23/09
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