“I understand something’s off about me, but nothing’s false about me…”
I met Joe Budden only once, which is possibly once more than many. It was before a Slaughterhouse show in Montreal, and a friend and I had each bought a VIP ticket, which guaranteed each of us a free t-shirt, and a signed copy of the group’s debut album. I stand six-foot-two and so, Budden started calling me six-two for all of 12 minutes.
This was in April of 2010, and I was at the height of my fandom. (Since then, it’s cooled down a little but I still consider Budden to be my favourite rapper.) About a year earlier, Budden had just joined Royce da 5’9″, Joell Ortiz and Crooked I and formed the rap supergroup Slaughterhouse. For most fans of rap music, this was great news and symbolized a triumph of lyricism and skills. Slaughterhouse showed that you could be skilled at rapping and still be successful, and that you didn’t need a catchy chorus.
The irony, of course, is that most of us would probably say that the latter is pretty much exactly how Joe Budden’s career started–that when he spit Look, pump it up if you came to get it krunk With a dame and shit that’s drunk You came to get it on…over an instrumental from Just Blaze, it seemed like the newest commercial rapper was discovered. Budden, in 2003, was different from others but not much. He was backed by a major label, but everyone seemingly was. And he definitely knew how to rap but again, it seems like everyone was more skilled then than they are today. Regardless, all of us fans were pumping it up then.
I say this with hindsight, however–because in 2003, I wasn’t really impressed with Joe Budden. At the time, I liked the Just Blaze instrumental, liked the song enough, but then I heard ‘Fire‘–and just like that, I stopped listening to him.
Fast forward a few years until the first time I listened to ‘Whatever It Takes.’ By then, I hadn’t heard much from Budden since his first two Def Jam singles and I definitely was guilty of what he explained on that new song. They ain’t like the album, so they ain’t cop the album, wouldn’t give a chance to it, not a second glance to it.
‘Whatever It Takes’ was from the first album in the Mood Muzik series, which continues to this day. It was revolutionary to me–this song isn’t simply about dope rhymes, it’s about Budden putting his heart and soul on a nice instrumental and hoping that the listener can relate to it. This is Budden’s greatest strength, that his music and his lyrics are so personal. (For exhibit A, listen to ‘Whatever It Takes,’ especially the part starting at 4:49.) Budden obviously had a lot on his heart at the time, and I’m thankful that he uses all of it because to this day, this song remains a favourite of mine and one of the realest I have ever heard.
In 2006, Mood Muzik 2 dropped, and I loved it. That time again, it started with a single song, namely ‘Dumb Out.’ Compared to ‘Whatever It Takes,’ this song is more of the typical braggadacious mold that is customary of American rap music. It’s also almost eight minutes long, and that album probably is what turned me into a Joe Budden fan for good.
He remains one of the few rappers that I can listen to regardless of whether the beat he is rhyming over is any good–and well, let’s say that this was a good thing in 2006 and prior. Budden’s pure lyrical skills aren’t quite as great as some other rappers, but he’s gotten better at it. And anyway, I’d much rather listen to music that makes me feel something, anything, over an empty and boring verse that has witty wordplay but little substance.
Most of us don’t have 99 problems–we have two or three at once, maybe. And one of them quite possibly is regarding a lady friend, or lack thereof. A precious relationship of mine unraveled in 2007, then again in 2009, around the time where the Mood Muzik 3 and Escape Route albums were released–and then, I was thankful that such relationships are among Budden’s biggest inspirations when he writes songs.
Joe Budden is a real dude, with at times money problems, at times girl problems and at times, no problems. He isn’t afraid to voice his views and opinions even though they usually are unpopular. This, above all, is what makes his music so easy to relate to–the listener always feels like he’s getting a message that is messy maybe, but that is and rings true.
I will concede that Budden’s music is quite depressive and sad at times–listen, for example, to ‘Just to be Different‘ or ‘Good Enough.’ But to me, this is what makes it so great–because a good drama will always trump a good comedy. The Wire will always be better than Arrested Development, if you will. Happy endings are cute, of course, but we’ve all seen that movie. And it sucks.