No Ordinary Joe

Rating 12 out of 17 (71%)

By Toshi Kondo

Being the newest lead artist for one of hip-hop’s biggest labels (Def Jam) generates huge expectations.  Add to that popular singles that have been constants on the radio the past six months and expectations are reaching into Lebron James’s stratosphere.  So does Jersey City native Joe Budden’s self-titled debut live up to the hype despite him attempting the equivalent of going from high school straight to the pros?  Or does he end up being another youngster thrust into a position he could not handle adding to the dilution of the overall talent in the hip-hop game?  Let’s just say his album is a lot closer to Amare Stoudemire than Kwame Brown.   

Making any judgments or assumptions based on Joe Budden’s radio singles would be a huge mistake.  Okay, so “Focus” and “Pump It Up” display a young, cocky, and witty rhyme spitter who seemed a little one-dimensional.  His album shows an artist who has the ability to discuss a diverse palate of subjects and allow the listener to understand his pain without blatantly seeking sympathy.  Besides his revelations regarding his well-documented drug addictions, there is nothing new covered topically.  However, this album is compelling because it is so honest and revealing that you feel that you are witnessing a catharsis of his demons in front of you. 

Scoring this purging is White Boy, a relatively unknown (not for long) producer who generates a majority of the album’s beats.  Allowing one producer to supply such a large portion of the album’s beats gives a very cohesive musical forum for Budden. His struggles are demonstrated through tracks such as “Calm Down” where he talks about overcoming drug addiction and the circumstances, such as his parents being addicts, he used to condone his destructive behavior.  Budden gives another musical confession on the appropriately titled “10 Mins”, where he yearns for a little time to himself and acknowledges the anguish he feels at his father’s current incarceration over a very peaceful acoustics and strings influenced beat.

Showing range beyond melancholy subject matter, Budden conveys annoyance at wannabe thugs who crave notoriety and tries to reason with a girl who gives up the ass too easily on “U Ain’t Gotta Go Home”.  This slow, turbulent, and orchestrated backdrop with synthesized horns, cymbals, and a continuous “go” chant in background brings out Budden’s animated delivery, even delivering comic relief with DJ Clue proclaiming disbelief about White Boy’s race at the end of the track.

Budden also displays an unexpected maturity and the perspective of a seasoned veteran on several tracks.  On the Busta Rhymes collaboration “Fire” produced by Just Blaze, Budden speaks on some of the problems plaguing hip-hop with a humble but confident tone.  He says, “All y’all songs is the same they cheesy/ You wonder why people don’t go and spend their change or their weekly…/ Now one hot song won’t fly in rap, if the rest of what you provide is wack/ I see creativity dying fast/ I’m glad producers charge so high for their tracks/ Now they do it all, you just applying a rap/ honestly now, it’s not the economy’s down/ Now rap dudes suck their own pee-hole/ The wackier the music, the bigger the ego”.  He drops more gems on the ironic “Pusha Man”, where he rhymes, “Cats hustled to feed their kin/ now every cornball with a package’ll try to pitch for some sneakers and timbs/ sh!t, Back in the day, niggas looked at jail like school/ Now new jacks is spittin about jail like it’s cool/ That ain’t gangsta.”  It’s interesting to hear this perspective from someone who belongs to the same generation that has brought in this disturbing trend of glorifying incarceration.

            Budden does hit the rookie wall at times though.  “Walk With Me” satisfies the “I blew up and now everyone from the hood is hating on me” quota that every new rapper seems to have to fill when initially blowing up.  While “Porno Star” is an unnecessarily misogynistic bonus track where an outdated flow of using the same word to rhyme in practically every bar of a verse is employed.

            These miscues happen with such low frequency that it would be impossible to not declare Budden’s debut a success.  At a time when many are saying hip-hop is dying, there is a necessity for new blood that can reach today’s younger fans while simultaneously providing material that a more mature audience can appreciate.  Joe Budden seems ready and willing to take on that responsibility.

Buy Joe Budden NOW!

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