“Just get the abortion and I’ll give you the 250.”
It’s been seven years since the first time I heard Mood Muzik 2. I remember the feeling of being frozen in disbelief when Joe Budden said the line above in the intro. Frozen by the despair in his voice, frozen by the rawness of his request, frozen by a rapper that said to a microphone what most wouldn’t dare whisper to a friend. It was an intense opening, my attention was grabbed, and before the song could end I was already engulfed in the mood he was setting. That’s what Joe does best, he’s able to pull you into the lunacy of his world, share his feelings without a filter, forcing you to confront your own. The very bleak and intimate mood that his music exudes is one of the reasons people have followed his career from major label divorce to underground prominence.
If you stand naked wearing your scars and sins like garments of a king, an audience will come and stare. With no fear of judgment, I saw Joe as the wordsmith with nothing to hide and an emcee with skills to stand amongst the most heralded giants. He has changed since the first time I pressed play on “Are You In The Mood Yet” but throughout the years that feeling of being frozen continues to occur.
“Pump It Up,” the hit club record that broke Joey into the world just happens to be the kind of record he would never recreate. That’s what’s interesting about his rise, fall, and rise again, the aftermath of his dealings with Def Jam allowed him to embrace the artist he wanted to be. The kind of artist that appeared in glimpses on his self-titled debut album, the kind of artist that has nothing to offer radio but plenty for those seeking something much deeper. I found Budden to be at his best when he broke free from structure, when he blacks out in a stream of overflowing words with no end in sight. Jay will let the beat breathe, Joey wants to suffocate it under the weight of his onslaught. There are songs in his catalog that go well beyond five minutes and every line is more compelling than the last. Those are the tracks you revisit again and again, plunging into an ocean of emotions, the magnetism of a train wreck. “All Of Me” is the perfect example, one of the best portraits of his soul-bearing in audio form. Even when his voice slowly trails off fading into nothingness your ears are still attached trying to grasp the final word. Joe is writer who is able to ignite pen and pads with his punchlines and personal narratives. He’ll deliver a barrage of bars that will hit ears harder than an unsuspecting Tyson bite. Joe Budden turned his life into music.
The music was enough for me, what I never really cared for was JoeBuddenTV – his direct-to-fan vlog. It was an early form of reality television during a time when Joseline Hernandez was still on the pole. He treated the camera like the microphone, nothing was off limits. Joe broke the barriers of separation between himself and a growing following. I vaguely recall other rappers using Ustream to connect with fans but no one did it quite like Joe. It felt like he had a camera that was rolling at all times, he became hip-hop’s Truman Show. Unlike VH1, this was reality—unfiltered and unscripted—with Joe filming right before and after the altercation with Raekwon. He was filming during a chance encounter with Drake in 2009 when the two crossed paths one night in Manhattan. He also filmed Tahiry, JBTV documented their relationship like a couple on Real World. With the blunt, strongly opinionated personality of a man you love to hate and a calm charisma that wouldn’t be phased by a zombie apocalypse, people couldn’t get enough.
Even when I didn’t agree with the man, the music always spoke to me. The music carried a passion that didn’t translate through the camera lens. When you hear the final verse on “Downfall,” the way he speaks on Tahiry is more impactful than a thousand interviews on their relationship. When you hear a song with the transparency of “Black Cloud” it shows you a Joe that no camera has ever captured. The rapper is far more intriguing than the reality star but with each passing day I find myself wondering if selling his story to the masses overshadowed the music. When ratings and Twitter followers outnumber album sales, how will Joe Budden be remembered? Will the domestic violence allegations and battle rap blemish eclipse the fact he is still wreaking microphones? The core fans that have been here for years will praise his name until the end of eternity but what about the world that he continues to make headlines in for things not relevant to music.
The new album that recently hit shelves didn’t move mountains commercially but Budden hasn’t had a history of moving records, he moves people. All Love Lost doesn’t sound like the kind of album that would make a big splash in the mainstream, one look at the length of these songs will tell you Budden made this for the fans that are ready to be immersed in the mood. It's one long introspective journey through one of hip-hop’s most complex minds. Love has always been a theme Budden has explored, not only does the album touch on the women that have privately and publicly impacted his life but various other loves that he is struggling with. “Slaughtermouse” is an early favorite, a candid open letter to Eminem that feels like a conversation he’s been wanting to have for years. It shows how far away people can be even when they’re standing so close. “Love, I’m Good” is eight minutes of Joe conversing with loved ones. The first is hip-hop, he juxtaposes the past to the present, and while I’m sick of the comparisons I love how Budden contrasted the two. The second verse is aimed at Tahiry, he speaks to his ex with no regret or remorse, it’s an interesting perspective knowing their history. The final verse is to his son, he appears on Budden albums how Hailey is on Em’s. The tough love of a father.
By far this is one of the best produced Budden albums. Every song has dynamic instrumentation, the keys, the drums, the guitars, every sound mirrors the emotion that Joe is glowing with. The mood is consistent throughout, the only sore thumb is “Fuck Em All,” a bonus song that shouldn’t exist. Another problem I have with the album are the hooks, while they work, they aren’t spectacular. It’s a small issue, the verses are where Joey shines. One of those shining moments is at the very end of “Where Do We Go.” The song is fading out to some gorgeous strings until Joe asks Parks, his engineer, for one more and the song springs back to life. He speaks to his grandfather that recently passed, a passionate performance. “Only Human” appeared on his previous project but it fits very well with the mood of ALL. It’s a necessary record, one that really pulls out all the skeletons and examines them. Joe confronts his issues with drugs and suicide, reminding listeners that he’s only human. Only human, something that doesn’t have to be said but is easily forgotten when celebrities are involved.
While it’s too soon to place ALL as the best of Budden, it’s truly an album that highlights the naked poet who after all these years has yet to find any clothes to wear. The microphone is still his confidant, spilling his soul in the name of mood music. That’s how I want to remember him, as the artist that punched you right in the feelings, with a cigarette lit and a sarcastic smirk. All the albums, mixtapes, and songs that he has delivered are all testaments to a man that bled from the heart on paper. That’s what made him Joe Budden the artist, what happens outside of the music should not taint that truth.
“Scribble down your nakedness. Be prepared to stand naked because most often it is this nakedness of the soul that the reader finds most interesting.” – Allen Ginsburg
By Yoh, aka Yoh Buttons aka @Yoh31.
Photo Credit: Instagram