It would be fairly convenient to undermine the sheer genius it takes to be a professional cynic, but the qualifying attribute is generally embedded into the individual’s persona like it was a strand in their DNA. When it comes to Joe Budden, the pathological gloom displayed in his music seemingly comes off as a natural process opposed to those who “fake the funk.” As a master of the melancholy, Budden’s been able to maintain a thriving fanbase even between record label drama as he’s able to relate to listeners through vehement emotion while remaining emotionless all the same. His latest effort, Halfway House, prescribes that beautifully bleak JB sound while expectantly offering little in remedial progress.
Embodying the scenic visuals of a shrink’s sofa, medication vials of multi-colored pills, and a small trace of cigarette smoke, Budden’s lyrics not only give Halfway House it’s life force, the album’s score plays an invaluable role in illustrating the mood of the psychiatric ward. As he highlights his procrastination habits on “Sidetracked,” the spiraling organs and ghostly background vocals cut the wounds of sincerity open to lethal proportions. Producer Cardiak lays the groundwork with an upbeat parade of horns and pulsating drum patterns on “The Soul” as Joe backtracks down memory lane when nothing mattered but the value of character and times were much simpler.
Listening to Joe consistently fume about the world around him can be a humdrum experience, exasperating at times (“Just To Be Different,”) but the remarkable irony of a Joe Budden sermon is while his ventilation methods act as his own personal rehab session, they can be therapeutic to the listener, should they so happen to be parallel in temperament. The meditative sentiments heard on “Better Me” couldn’t make the track any more deserving of the title “bonus track,” for it contains some well placed jewels as Joe ponders “Is it really wrong if a nigga gotta reason/In times I had to take though,/nigga did whatever for a peso/being from the hood’ll be my scapegoat…”
Much of the remainder follows suite, such as the strive for acceptance “Check Me Out” and the bare-bones “Slaughterhouse” where Joey convinces a few of his equally adept (and frustrated) peers in rap to overdose on punchlines in healthy verbal competition. And while the frenzied “Touch & Go” is proof Joey can still be sociable when need be, it merely acts as a relapse as it’s the lone spark of fire in an igloo of vexation.
Much to Budden’s credit, Halfway House serves as one his more focused offerings, allowing more room for song structure opposed to the long-winded diatribes he’s made his forte. Still with yet another album completed stuffed with mood music, and one named Padded Room looming on the horizon, the prognosis for the removal of the straitjacket that allows him to be Joe Budden while simultaneously restraining his artistic growth, is still to be determined.