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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Joe Budden: The Album Before the Album Review

For Joe Budden, the only way to keep his name buzzing in the streets is by keeping a presence on the mixtape circuit. Budden has only had one studio album, his self-titled debut, which came out about four years ago. It’s now 2007 and you’re still liable to hear Budden’s name mentioned in a conversation about rappers who could possibly inherit the rap game. Why, you ask; he’s just that good. He’s one of the few emcees who have no limits as far as subject content, lyricism that’s matched by few and flow that can change at the drop of a hat. His potential knows no bounds but while his follow-up to his debut, the Growth, remains in limbo over there at Def Jam all we can do is settle for the mixtapes. With The Album Before The Album, let’s hope its Budden’s final prelude to his upcoming sophomore effort.

Budden is one of the few cats that can give you that soul; the creativity on a concept track; take you to the streets; then, back to the club all in one swoop. On the The Album Before The Album he does just that. “Cold World” featuring Muziq Soulchild is that heartfelt soul (no pun intended) I’m alluding to. In verse one, he makes allusions to other rapper’s album titles to describe the despair he felt growing up in the slum. Joe rhymes:

See I was always looking for an out/knew what I didn’t want to be about/didn’t want to fall victim to the crowds/(Street Dream)ed like Fab/but not dreams like that/cause his are better than the dreams I’ve had/you are where you from, maybe to some/but I won’t let a nigga label me slum and make me succumb/if I’m a grown ass man with no job and no money that would make me a bum/that’s not okay with me none/that’s what they called me, I hated that y’all/wasn’t a College Dropout at least Kanye made it that far.

He uses the rest of the track to explore how quickly black youth—especially black women—are growing up, the rapid increase of gun violence and shady politics. And towards the end he does something most rappers are afraid to do because they fear losing their street cred; he dispels endorsing being hood saying it prevents the production of leaders and claims it’s a defeatist mentality.

On “Three Sides to a Story” Joe Budden narrates a multi-perspective tale of tragedy. The tale begins with an ex-convict older brother who’s just released from prison attempting to get back on his feet but ends up back in jail because society fails to give him another chance. Then it transitions to his sister who is coping with a step-father that is constantly molesting her. Later we find out that she’s pregnant with the step-father’s seed. In the final verse, we find out the step-father is a nemesis of the older brother and the story concludes with the two having a shoot-out where the sister ends up getting hit with a stray shot. Although there are some lapses in the story’s plot, it’s stunning how vivid this tale is. Budden’s details allow the listener to feel as if they’re witnessing the story first-hand or being navigated through the story by a street corner narrator.

“I’m Back” is a bit less somber and more light-hearted. The track plays off of the Jay-Z snippet where he “claims there’s someone sitting at a table eating a bowl of Applejacks, desiring his spot and between eating the cereal he’s writing some shit,” an apt snippet given Joe’s circumstances. Joe uses this bouncy track to proclaim his return to the game. There’s also some tough guy gun-talk, a few punchlines about getting neck but nothing too substantial on this effort. If anything Budden is attempting to show his versatility keeping up with the increased speed of the track and finding a decent pocket to flow in between the congo drums and synths. On “Pop Off” fellow NJ native, Just Blaze, and Budden collaborate again to make another high tempo club-oriented track; sounds real similar to “Pump It Up.” The track is a bunch of recycled Just Blaze tracks combined into one but such is expected for a mixtape. Budden dumbs down the content on this one to make it easily consumable for the club crowds and spends a lot of time using his lines to flirt with the opposite sex. I, personally, tend not to like these types of efforts but without these types of tracks it’s difficult to reach the radio airwaves.

On The Album Before The Album manages to do what most artists neglect to do on their real albums; show that they have more then one dimension. He explores his self on tracks like “Stained,” “Outcast” and “Is This My Life.” He explores his surrounding environ, the rap climate and the silliness of the ongoing beef. He does his share of story-telling and he even has some tracks you can dance to, although these seem to be the weakest of the aforementioned tracks. As with most mixtapes there are some tracks that are simply clutter on this tape but the quality tracks skew heavily over the poor ones. On this mixtape, Budden shows he’s as gifted as his core audience fables him to be and he manages to give cats another reason to anticipate his next studio album, the Growth.

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