The Essential Joe Budden Listening Guide: 15 Songs You Should Know
Joe Budden is not your average Joe. Sure, young millennials know him as the elder curmudgeon who dukes it out with DJ Akademiks (and guests) as a host on the daily web series Everyday Struggle, but the New Jersey lyricist has been a hip-hop trailblazer for more than a decade. He's built a cult following after becoming an early adopter of social media, video streaming platforms and reality TV.
Still, it's his seemingly bitter views on today's crop of hip-hop artists that tends to stand out. And that's led to clashes, most recently with Migos, with whom he was famously involved in a verbal confrontation that nearly got physical at the BET Awards in June. Quavo reheated the beef on "Ice Tray," a track from Quality Control's new compilation project, Quality Control: Control the Streets Volume 1, which features Lil Yachty (another artist who's clashed with Joe). "If a nigga hatin', call him Joe Budden," Quavo raps.
Joe is more than a post-rap hater—his stellar catalog speaks for itself. Budden is no slouch on the mic; he's one of the most respected lyricists of his generation. So XXL decided to take a deep dive into Joe Budden's discography and compile a list of his essential tracks that could serve as a starter kit. Get focused, man!
In 2002, during his rise to becoming one of the hottest unsigned artists on the mixtape circuit, Joe Budden released the single "Focus," a headknocker that found the New Jersey prospect getting his floss on. Peaking at No. 73 on Billboard's R&B chart, "Focus" would help Joe secure a record deal with Def Jam—it's one of the more memorable New York rap cuts from that era.
Joe Budden released his self-titled debut LP in 2003 led by the single "Pump It Up," for which producer Just Blaze turned a sample of A Tribe Called Quest's "Scenario (Remix)" into one of the year's hottest instrumentals. Budden tailored his flow to craft a modest mainstream hit, albeit one that served as an easy target for Joe's rivals over the years. JAY-Z jacked the beat for his own freestyle in which he subliminally dissed Joe Budden, leading to a response from Budden himself, which set off years of tension and passive aggression.
Listeners who gave Budden's self-titled debut a spin quickly found out that the rapper can go much deeper than "Pump it Up." He proves as much on "10 Minutes," a vent session unpacked in the amount of time that it takes to smoke a cig. The Lofey-produced track is key to understanding the man behind the music—an introduction to the TMI rhymes that made his later Mood Music mixtapes classic.
Joe Budden investigates the murder of hip-hop on "Who Killed It," a play on the Nas-pushed idea that the culture had "died" and was in need of a revival amidst the snap rap and Auto-Tune eras of 10 years ago. Offering a list of possible scenarios of where rap went left, Joey turned in one of the more inventive rhyme displays of his career, tracking down the culprit bar-by-bar.
This Mood Muzik 3 cut is steeped in melancholy. Singer Emanny provides guest vocals while Joe Budden recounts trying moments in the lives of others—as well as his own—on one of his most quintessential songs.
Lyrical onslaughts have been a recurring theme throughout Joe Budden's career, with the rapper routinely dropping lengthy freestyles that trend upwards of six minutes. On Mood Muzik 2's "Dumb Out," the Jersey City rhyme God settles old scores with the likes of Lloyd Banks while turning in a dominant performance that proved him to be one of rap's nicest on the mic.
Mood Muzik 1: The Worst of Joe Budden may have jump-started the series, but it was the beloved series' second installment that reintroduced the major label castaway as a mixtape titan. "Three Sides to a Story," one of the premier songs on the project, showcases Budden's skills as a storyteller as he weaves a tale from three different perspectives, a testament to the strength of his pen and conceptual brilliance.
One of hip-hop's most competitive figures, Joe Budden has been a part of countless posse cuts. The Mood Muzik 3 battle royal "Family Reunion," featuring Fabolous, Ransom and Hitchcock, is a lyrical shootout in which the four rappers showed no mercy, each gunning for the top spot.
Even the most suave playboys can have issues when it comes to matters of the heart. Joe is no exception. He opens up about his relationships with Tahiry Jose and Esther Baxter on his "Ordinary Love Shit" series, which has become one of his signature rap contributions.
In fall 2008, Joe Budden released Halfway House, his first retail-mixtape with Amalgam Digital and a project that capped off a landmark year for the veteran spitter. The project's Rodney Hazard-produced song "Sidetracked" finds the rapper at perhaps his most neurotic, fixated on the conflicting thoughts bouncing through his head.
"Exxes" is a promotional release from Joe's 2009 album Padded Room that finds Budden spinning a tale of a sex-crazed lover with a checkered past.
Joe Budden pens an open letter to Eminem on "Slaughtermouse," a track from the New Jersey rep's fifth studio album, All Love Lost. Produced by AraabMuzik, the song includes grievances and moments of adulation on the part of Budden, who lays everything on the table in regards to his label boss and contemporary.
Joe Budden gives listeners a dose of inspiration with "Star Inside of Me," a Mood Muzik 3 standout that remains one of his most optimistic numbers. Yes, optimistic!
Built around a sparse piano and percussion-laden soundbed, "Broke" finds Joe Budden speaking out to a former lover with whom he has yet to find closure.
In summer 2016, after ruffling feathers with Drake by giving a public critique of the OVO boss' VIEWS, Joe Budden unleashed his fury on the rapper with the scathing diss track "Making a Murderer." Levying a barrage of insults and bringing lesser moments from his opponents past to light, Joe paints Drake as a confused fan and reminds rap fans of his ability to spar with rap's top guns.