All Love Lost

Barbershop debates about the greatest rapper alive can last an eternity, but even the Lord knows that Joe Budden is unrivaled in the “pulling all your skeletons out of the closet like Halloween decorations” modern era, as Drake first coined on Take Care. Although never coming even within earshot of the Billboard success he obtained with 2003’s “Pump It Up,” Budden has remained an enduring fixture for 12 years. He publicly beefed with Jay Z, The Game and Mobb Deep, was sucker punched by Consequence on television and forced Raekwon to convince him that the Wu-Tang Clan is still nothing to fuck with. He has unabashedly aired out all the details of his relationships, whether taping himself hiding under ex-girlfriend’s beds, joining the cast of VH1’s Couple’s Therapy, or tweeting his strip club whereabouts during the NYPD’s manhunt to detain him after stealing another ex-girlfriend’s cellphone.

Incredibly, this is just a concise snapshot of the screwball antics Budden has pulled over the years, and yet it still reads like a Kevin Hart movie. However, in spite of the shenanigans, Budden has one of the most devoted fanbases in the game and has consistently released absorbing material in the underground circuits. Budden’s four-part mixtape installment, Mood Muzik, is repeatedly referenced in G.O.A.T. mixtape polls. As the phrase “mood music” suggests, Budden has always been 100 percent unfiltered about his life in his raps, but with his new album All Love Lost, he has arguably released his most engrossing project of his career.

Whereas some MCs litter their rhymes with infinite fabrications, Budden is shockingly forthright, as if his entire career was inspired by the memorable scene in 8 Mile where B-Rabbit crushes his opponent with self-deprecation. Not surprisingly, Budden pays tribute to Eminem on the album’s capstone moment, “Slaughtermouse.” Budden cites the legendary Detroit MC as being both a major artistic influence since 1999’s Slim Shady LP and also an executive overseeing Budden’s Slaughterhouse supergroup: “And the way you saved my life back then is how I'm savin' them/Plaques and charted tracks won't take me away from them/So I hope you understand/Fuck this record deal, you inspired me as a man/I'll cut it short, before I start feelin' like a Stan.”

Pursuing an even further degree of “mood music” than past releases, Budden wholly envelops himself in impassioned revelations throughout the album—such as on “Man Down” and “Broke”—and the somber and candid essence underlying his lyrics on All Love Lost mimic the bluntness that first propelled Eminem into stardom. Never one to mince words, Budden reimagines Common’s “I Used to Love H.E.R.” for a 2015 rendition, mixing both his feelings about contemporary hip-hop (“Or did my wordplay confuse H.E.R?/Now I see H.E.R. with Young Thug and Future/Like what did these niggas to do H.E.R?”) as well as his relationship with the mother of his son Trey: “I can't explain to your so young brain/Since our first exchange you've been kept from me/Used against as weaponry/And as much as I hate her/I'd never downplay your mother like that/For you to judge her like that/Just a lesson later on that you'll discover like that.”

Moreso than on previous efforts Some Love Lost and No Love Lost, Budden never deviates from the notion of “love” in all its manifold meanings and the album is predominantly a thoroughly-executed, fascinating concept album. One becomes so engrossed in Budden’s hypnotic confession-as-art lyrical display of repeated drug relapses, depression and relationship drama that the music both forgives and transcends his past digressions, as on his spirited performance on “Unnecessary Pain.” Leaving absolutely no stone unturned, Budden even addresses the criticism spouted against 2013’s No Love Lost and it’s myriad features on “(Intro) All Love Lost”: “Said my last shit was trash and they dig when it’s deeper/They ain’t see what I see, I guess my vision was weaker/Or they buy me to hear, so we can skip all the features.”

Heeding his fans' wise advice, on All Love Lost Budden chiefly remains the maestro of his own narrative this time around; vocalists like Marsha Ambrosius and Eric Bellinger enhance the melancholic ambience with hook duty, but Jadakiss’ appearance on “Make It Through The Night” slightly disrupts the cohesion. There is rarely a time when a guest appearance from the LOX MC doesn’t enhance a track—and here he effortlessly rifles off a sweet 16—but on such a gravelly personal Budden album, non-Budden bars, however sweet, temporarily diminish the aura. But nitpicking critiques aside, in the midst of uproarious laughter about whatever future Budden PR highjinks lay on the horizon, All Love Lost will be debated in barbershops as Budden’s best work to date. —Kellan Miller