Like fellow DJ Clue disciple Fabolous, who released the stellar Soul Tape 2 last week, Joe Budden has endured in the rap game because he found his lane and stuck with it. The emotionally volatile Jersey MC floated through industry purgatory, haunted by poor label politics and a one-hit-wonder status (2003’s “Pump It Up”) for much of the 2000s, but the new decade has proven kinder. Becoming a member of the highly respected lyrical quartet known as Slaughterhouse has helped him take control of his image. And his Internet antics, documenting his constant cycle of video vixen girlfriends, have emerged as a compelling new dimension to hip hop’s strange star. On his new tape, A Loose Quarter, he combines it all — sharp wordplay, drama-filled storytelling and raw emotional expression — to create the most complete solo project of his career.
Within the first four bars of the tape, Joey mentions an aborted baby — shocking if you know about his ugly saga with former vixen girlfriend Esther Baxter, predictable if you’re familiar with Joey’s penchant for sensationalism. But "Words of a Chameleon" is the perfect intro for a mixtape that so wonderfully mixes all of Joey’s unique talents and quirks. The distorted guitars, pulsing kick drum and synthesized whines that paint the Aaraab Muzik track immediately let us know we’re in for some of the "Mood Muzik" that Joey ushered into hip hop via his stellar mixtape series from the mid-2000s. After evoking his personal life, industry woes and a legend from hip hop’s past (this time 2Pac) he tops things off with the requisite sports-related punchline (wondering how Juwan Howard got a championship ring). Mixing his many dimensions will surely satisfy diehard fans, but will it be enough to finally hold the masses’ attention?
With a VH1 reality show in the works — he plugs it multiple times on the tape — mainstream listeners are about to find out what the Internet has known for years (thanks to message boards, blogs and now social media): Joe Budden is a star. But while his erratic antics and larger-than-life personality are nothing new, music that communicated his true self in a way that casual fans could grasp always seemed just out of his artistic reach. There’s no arguing that his Mood Muzik series laid the groundwork for the emo rap that Kanye West perfected and Drake, Kid Cudi and others are currently living off of. But creating the genre didn’t make him a master of it, until now.
From the Ab-Soul-assisted "Cut From a Different Cloth" to the gripping "Pain Won’t Stop," Budden proves with A Loose Quarter that he has finally mastered his craft. By balancing his Moody Mouse side with light tracks like "So Hard," which features R&B protégé Emanny, Budden proves that he's got everything figured out. Now the only question is where he will take things from here.
Whether he’s airing out his family’s dirty laundry or waxing poetic about his new girlfriend Kaylin Garcia, at this point we can recognize and accept the real Joey when we hear him. But is that what we want? On "What Y’all Want?" he answers his own question. "It's n----s with more money and less respect," he spits. "To me that tomfoolery's dead/bottom line real n----s know what's more important and dollars ain't in attendance when that eulogy said." Real rap.
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(Photo: Mood Muzik Entertainment)