It’s official: Joe Budden is off Def Jam. Find out what really happened from the man himself.

The ongoing saga of Joe Budden is one that has spawned endless speculation and debate amongst his fans and critics both on and offline. A versatile MC who has proven he can move clubgoers and mixtape aficionados alike, the Jersey City native seemed poised for mainstream success. After entering the game as a virtual unknown, Jumpoff Joe made a name for himself through a string of notable appearances on mixtapes by popular New York DJ’s like Kay Slay and DJ Clue. He eventually caught the attention of then Def Jam executives Kevin Liles and Lyor Cohen, who signed him to the storied label. His first single, the infectious Just Blaze produced “Pump It Up,” caught on like wildfire and even earned him a Grammy nod, but ultimately revealed little of the multi-faceted MC behind it.

On the strength of “Pump It Up,” Joe’s self titled 2003 debut album scanned a respectable 500,000 units. But rather than capitalizing off his momentum, Def Jam seemed to be pushing the young artist onto the backburner. His sophomore effort, The Growth, never materialized and fans began to speculate that internal politics were to blame. When longtime Def Jam breadwinner and soon-to-be label president Jay-Z jumped on the “Pump It Up” instrumental with a fiery verse that some felt was aimed at Budden himself, it only fueled the conspiracies. Jay has categorically denied that he is responsible for blackballing Joey at Def Jam, but the rumors persist. As he languished in limbo for years on the label’s crowded roster, Budden kept his name in the streets with two critically acclaimed mixtapes with DJ On Point, Mood Muzik Vol. 1and 2. Hailed as one of the best mixtapes of 2005, Mood Muzik 2 left fans even more eager than ever for another Joe Budden LP.

Finally, Joe Budden has been released from his Def Jam contract and plans on dropping the third installment in the Mood Muzik series this December (the mixtape can be pre-ordered here). Weighing in at 18 tracks and featuring production by little known New Jersey duo The Classics, Regular Joe promises that the release will set off the new year with a bang. While he’s understandably tight-lipped about what label he expects to land at next, he says he has several deals on the table and he expects to have something finalized by the first quarter of 2008. recently spoke to Budden about what went wrong at Def Jam and why we’ve heard so little new music over the past couple of years.

How did you finally secure your release from Def Jam?
It was mostly a mutual thing. My only concern was being let go without any contingencies. I didn’t want to have to sign somewhere else and owe Def Jam money or have them get a portion of all proceeds or all profits. I didn’t want to be in the red. I wanted to be able to keep the material that I recorded while I was there, which is one reason I never handed them any of my music—I always just held onto it. So yeah, I’m off of Def Jam, I don’t owe them any money and it was a mutual thing. I don’t harbor any bad feelings towards them at all.

So you own all of the music you recorded while under contract with them?
Yes, I have it. It’s in my possession. My hands. But most of it they haven’t even heard. I stopped letting Def Jam hear music a long time ago. They didn’t believe; they didn’t have any faith. And that’s not a knock against them, but it always befuddled me how somebody could put an album out and sell 500,000 records and win awards, and receive all these accolades and be nominated for a Grammy and just never see the light of day ever again.

Why do you think you weren’t a priority over there despite the relative success of your first project?
I mean, it’s always a different reason with them. At one point I was running around talking reckless about Def Jam. So, niggas might of felt some type of way about that. But I apologized and I made amends to everybody I needed to and from that point on I stopped talking that way about Def Jam. And then it was the music. And the music was great. I swear if I let you hear these records that were being looked over, you wouldn’t be able to understand it either. So I can’t really pinpoint what it was. Maybe somebody just personally didn’t like Joe Budden. But the important part is, the people that signed me to Def Jam and believed in me and had faith in me, those aren’t the same people that are there working there now. Kevin [Liles] and Lyor [Cohen] signed me. Kevin and Lyor ain’t there. So who’s to say that Jay and L.A. would’ve signed me in the first place? I was kind of the leftovers. I was part of the leftover crew, and you see how they do the leftovers. Red and Meth, no Freeway album, what they did to Bleek, what they did to the Young Gunz. Even how they tried to do Nas. I mean, it didn’t really work, but they tried to shove him under the rug and not really pay him too much attention. But the name Nas garners attention and he had a great record. But they didn’t really exhaust their energy on his project. So I mean, maybe I was too opinionated. I refuse to let that happen to me again.

Your name came up last week at a listening session for Jay’s new album. He was asked if you were ever going to put out another album…
They asked Jay and he said absolutely nothing.

Well what he said was…
He said absolutely nothing. I walked away from [reading] that, and even as a fan or just reading that, I didn’t get anything from that. What he said was, “We can do this and then you’ll be mad.” And he said he put out Juelz and Beanie has a record with R.Kelly, “I’m not blocking anybody.” He may not be blocking anybody, but he certainly isn’t helping anybody. But who says he has to? He’s Jay-Z, he’s close to being a billionaire, regarded as one of the best lyricists in the game. Who’s to say those are his concerns, or [they] have to be? When you’re the president of the label, I would assume that they would be. I would assume that you should be behind the desk trying to figure out how to get your label to pop like Kevin Liles used to do, instead of being on the Summer Jam stage, instead of being on tour or at Madison Square Garden or instead of promoting your own album. There’s a conflict of interest there.

I hear what you’re saying.
Or jumping on every Rihanna record. What the fuck?

Jay told XXL in 2006 that the reason Def Jam hasn’t released your new album is because you never handed in a completed project.
That’s an empty answer also. That doesn’t say anything. That doesn’t give the people anything. I’ve been recording for ages. You’ve never asked for a Joe Budden album. Nobody at Def Jam has ever asked for a Joe Budden album. I was without a recording budget for two years. Two and a half, three years I’d say. I was without an A&R for two years. Everybody keeps talking about what they don’t have, like, “We don’t have the album, we’re not blocking it.” Nobody’s talking about what happened and what’s happening. Let’s deal with facts and let’s deal with reality. I put “Gangster Party” out, it got spins, ya’ll left it for dead. I said, “Put me in with Timbaland,” I came back with a hit record and ya’ll never did nothing with it, and then ya’ll left me to sit there. And then I said, “okay, three years later, maybe they’re right, maybe I don’t have the records. Let me go get in with Just Blaze.” And then I tell Just Blaze’s manager to call up there and pay for the session and they don’t wanna pay for the session, so I paid for it out of pocket. Again. Everything I did at Def Jam was out of pocket. So I really have just all this time been waiting for this day to come.

Didn’t you ever approach anybody at Def Jam and ask why you didn’t have a recording budget?
I’ve been in conversations with Jay and L.A. [Reid, chairman of Island Def Jam] but, L.A. is not really hip-hop. That’s what he hired Jay-Z to do. I left my conversation with Jay empty again, with no answers and no responses. I set my mind up quite some time ago that I wanted to be released from Def Jam. Which is why I’ve been quiet and dormant for two years. They were thinking about dropping me when I put Mood Muzik 2 out. Then I put Mood Muzik 2 out and they decided to keep me. So I wasn’t going to have that happen this time. Mood Muzik 3 has been done for quite some time. Put it out for what? So my record label who does absolutely nothing with me can decide to keep me just because I can generate some type of interest on the street? I refuse to do that.

So you’ve been intentionally holding Mood Muzik 3?
I intentionally did not release any music for two years. It’s not because I’m lazy, it’s not because I can’t record, it’s not because I didn’t have anything to say. It’s not because I didn’t want to rap. But it would be pointless. I’d be doing it in vein. Why, so the fans can get mad at me again and say what the fuck is up with Joe Budden? He sparks the match and doesn’t do anything? Nope. Enough of that.

Was that a tough decision on your part?
Working and not releasing anything, it killed me, ’cause I get an adrenaline rush off people hearing what I’m doing. But it had to be done. So hopefully we’ll have a new home by January/February. I’m not signing anywhere that’s not excited to have me. I’m not signing anywhere to anybody who doesn’t plan on putting a Joe Budden album out as soon as I get there.