[Editor's Note: This version of Padded Room was reviewed before it was announced the LP had been pushed back to 2009.]
Joe Budden’s 2003 self-titled Def Jam debut balanced high-powered hits (“Pump It Up”) with melancholy narratives (“10 Mins.”), but it wasn’t until after the label shelved his follow-up effort, The Growth, that the New Jersey native really hit his stride. With the success of his critically acclaimed Mood Muzik mixtape series, Joey opted to go indie and set the stage for his proper sophomore release, Padded Room.
Playing to his strengths, Joe laments his frustrations over The Klasixs’s whimsical wind-chime-like sounds on “If I Gotta Go.” Budden spits, “The problem is, I’m smarter than everybody, but I’m too proud to show it/They too dumb to know it.” He echoes that same sentiment on “Just to Be Different,” a dark and dramatic track where Budden bucks the status quo. He goes on to confront his personal demons on “In My Sleep,” detailing his nightmares, which range from having an unfaithful lover to being stuck in arrested development: “Bought a first-class ticket to nowhere/Everyone goes there, but no one stays a year/Me? I got 365 shows there.” Joe’s excellence of execution carries over to both the eerie “Angel in My Life” and the apocalyptic “Pray for Me.” The former is a dramatic trip into an insane asylum, while the latter finds Budden stuck at heaven’s gates, calling God’s bluff (“You make mistakes like me, as far as I can see/I think it’s a mockery when rich niggas win the lottery”).
Lyrically, Joe crafts a masterpiece, opening the door to the mind of a disturbed yet misunderstood soul. Sadly, the album’s beat selections, at times, don’t match. There are no throwaways to speak of, but tracks like the ’80s-rock-inspired “Don’t Make Me” and the retro pop “My Life” just aren’t as innovative as the lyrics atop them. Whatever the case, Padded Room proves that, when it comes to heartfelt hip-hop, it’s good to be crazy. —DAMIEN SCOTT