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24 June, 2003@12:00 am

Being Def Jam’s newest lead artist with popular singles that have been on the radio constantly for the past six months generates expectations in Lebron James’s stratosphere.  So does Jersey City native Joe Budden’s self-titled debut live up to the hype despite him attempting to go from high school (mixtapes) straight to the pros?  Or does he end up being another MC diluting the overall level of talent in the hip-hop game?  Let’s just say his album is a lot closer to Amare Stoudemire than Kwame Brown.   

Assuming that Joe Budden’s is just another cocky and one-dimensional rhyme spitter from his radio singles, “Focus” and “Pump It Up”, would be a mistake.  He demonstrates the ability to discuss a diverse palate of subjects and divulge his pain without blatantly seeking sympathy.  This album is compelling because it’s so honest and revealing that you feel like 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.  Budden’s struggles are communicated through tracks such as “Calm Down” where he talks about overcoming drug addiction and circumstances that led to 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 his father’s current incarceration brings over a 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 brings out Budden’s animated delivery and provides comic relief with DJ Clue expressing disbelief about White Boy’s race.

Budden also displays an unexpected maturity and a seasoned veteran’s perspective on several tracks.  On the Busta Rhymes collaboration “Fire”, produced by Just Blaze, Budden gives a compendious and insightful hypothesis explaining slumping record sales.  He excoriates his peers for relying too heavily on producers and hit singles while urging them to put their egos aside to focus on giving fans a quality product.  He drops more gems on the ironic “Pusha Man”, where he rhymes, “Shit, Back in the day, niggas looked at jail like school/ Now new jacks is spittin about jail like it’s cool.”  It’s interesting to hear this perspective from a member of the same generation (not to mention a recovering drug addict) that brought in this disturbing trend of glorifying incarceration.

Budden does hit the rookie wall at times though.  “Walk With Me” satisfies the “everyone is hating on me now that I’m successful” concept that every new jack with a buzz generates and “Porno Star” is an unnecessarily misogynistic bonus track where an outdated flow of using the same word to rhyme in practically every bar of the verse is employed.

These miscues are infrequent enough that it would be impossible to not declare Budden’s debut a success.  At a time when many say hip-hop is dying, there’s 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.

  Mixtape D.L.
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