That’s the way Joe Budden described the irony surrounding the current state of his career. Way back in 2003, the 36-year-old struck platinum with “Pump It Up,” released a successful, self-titled, debut album and seemed to be on top of the world. From there he began working on a follow up, The Growth, that would never see the light of day. Label strife caused him to split from Def Jam but also pushed him to the free mixtapes that cemented his legacy. “I’m not a rapper, I’m a prophet,” he rapped on “Dumb Out,” one of the standouts from his revered 2005 mixtape Mood Muzik 2. Maybe he’s right because over 10 years later, Mouse is finally experiencing that growth he foresaw all those years ago.
Last week Joe released Rage & The Machine, a joyful album, painted in hues that Budden fans may have forgotten even existed on his palette. He begins the second verse of the opening track “Three” with a callback to his Mood Muzik days. “Few years, weights up, still sleep, wake up,” he says, mimicking the opening bars from Mood Muzik 3‘s own opening track “Hiatus.” The similarities to his more emo, mixtape series end almost immediately.
“I think a lot of people have grown accustomed to a certain style of music from me,” Budden said during a phone conversation over the weekend, reflecting on the shocked reactions to what is technically his sixth studio album, and the first on his own independent imprint Mood Muzik Entertainment. “I’ve been around for so long that whatever the notion was, it’s written in stone. Whether you think Joe Budden can’t pick beats, Joe Budden raps too fast, he’s too sad, he’s too emotional. So whatever you thought, we’ve never got an album like this from me.”
He’s right, people aren’t used to this Joe, but with a drastic shift in what he called his “space” in life due to a reconciliation with his 15-year-old son and freeing himself from the label woes that have haunted him most of his career. Fans should probably get used to a sunnier, smiling, laughing Joe Budden.
The ability to create enjoyable music while enjoying his place in the universe represents that growth he teased over a decade ago for Joe. His fans, affectionately known as his “Internet soldiers,” heckle him often on Twitter, waiting for him to go through the break ups and depression that have fueled the New Jersey MC to pour himself into the introspective music that’s become his trademark. The running joke was that was the only time Joe could make good music, a dangerous proposition for a man who has dealt with plenty of substance abuse and depression issues in the past.
“A lot of them were wrong,” he said, aware of the notion. “I have seen maybe three Joe Budden fans say ‘This ain’t emo, so nah, I’m cool.’ Aside from that, this album was about trying to grow, so hopefully listeners are in a space in their life where they want to do so too, or they’re receptive to me wanting to do so.”