Artist reveals maturity, growth in series of four mixtapes

Miriam Arghandiwal

The ink he wears on the back of his neck spells out the phrase, “I’m doing better than I’m feeling,” a position he often finds himself in. While other rappers work hard to portray themselves as being invincible by hiding their vices, Joe Budden has become an undeniable force by exposing his. Nobody can hurt him with truth when he beats them to the punch.

Nov. 9 marked the release date of Budden’s “Mood Muzik 4,” the fourth installment in his mixtape series. Fans are introduced to a mature, comfortable and less angry Budden this time around.

Budden uses the series as a place he runs to, to release anything that crosses his mind. In turn, it has become a platform that showcases the best of his lyrical abilities.

The series began after Budden decided a career under his former label, Def Jam, was not for him. The success of his Grammy-nominated, self-titled debut album, which included his hit single, “Pump it Up,” in 2003, was not enough to keep Budden bounded.

“I didn’t really fit the mold of what I saw was taking place there,” he said. “I wanted to be more involved, more in control of my own destiny and I felt the best way to do that was to be independent.”

In his own words, he traded recognition for a greater vision.

Budden demonstrates that vision with his “Mood Muzik,” series, where he has been able to provide his fans an unapologetic and honest look into his psyche. The “Mood Muzik” series does not suffer from normal label restraints or censorship. With complete creative control no topic is off limits for Budden. From depression to addiction to insanity to being self-destructive, “Mood Muzik” has served as a ring in which Budden could battle his demons through song.

He does so in songs like “Sober Up,” where he raps, “I broke down a while ago, finally picking up the pieces, memoirs I had are undefeated I feel depleted, I don’t talk to God as a matter of fact I plead with, At times I hate my reflection and others I’m conceited, half the time I’m arrogant other times I’m vengeful at times it’s to convince me, at times it’s to convince you.”

Budden said his music is very personable and relatable to his audience because it deals with very common-man, everyday issues. This has helped him build a deep connection with listeners.

Everything from his word play to the emotions heard in his voice, lets Budden bring chilling scenarios to life. The unrest and chaos he raps of is something that lives in everyone. For most that unrest is feared and denied. They bury it to the point where it may become foreign or forgotten. Budden does the opposite – he keeps that unrest in plain sight where he has become very familiar and complacent with it. Rather than looking at as a weakness he uses it as strength.

Budden’s raps cater to that neglected area as reveals that at times the greatest calamity is the one we give ourselves, or that our biggest obstacles can be our own vices. He offers not so much complaints, as he does an understanding of hardships, as he cleverly translates his own emotions into lyrics for those who mirror the same insecurities. These images he puts forth make listeners take a minute to stop and pay attention, for the words hit close to home.

Budden is often times criticized for wearing his emotions on his sleeve, but he said hip hop is starved right now when it comes to honesty.

“It’s just a matter of being comfortable in your own skin and not being so self-conscious and (concerned with) what everyone has to think of you, and I’m extremely comfortable in that aspect, so I am able to treat the booth as a place to just go in and vent and say whatever is on (my) mind,” he said. “I think that’s one of the things that hip-hop was built up on originally and is lacking right now.”

The genre of hip-hop is currently dominated by artists that choose recollections of street life, flashy and designer material possessions, and misogyny as their subject matter. For a genre that once had such a powerful message it even served as a tool for social change, hip-hop has become somewhat of a sleeping giant with a few moving limbs every now and then.

Budden is one of a limited number of artists who serve hip hop’s original demands of requiring credibility from its artists. Only for Budden, it is as though the nature of his stubborn persona gives him no other choice.

“Been medicated, meditated, Sedated, hated, Character assassinated, all these years I masqueraded, Hard headed, if it was on my mind I had to say it, Tongue on the devil’s pitchfork to see how disaster tasted, Rap is fabricated, rappers are so exaggerated, Wouldn’t be scared of the truth if they weren’t castrated,” he raps in “Black Cloud.”

To deliver the rawest of feelings, Budden said he writes about life as it occurs, capturing his feelings before they escape him.

“I write about everything immediately as soon as I’m inspired I try to get a pen and pad and jot something down because you never know when it can leave, when it can come again,” he said. “You want to take advantage of being inspired as soon as possible.”

Even though expressing himself comes easy for him, Budden said he still goes out of his way with every project to challenge himself creatively, conceptually and lyrically. “Mood Muzik 4” was a step in challenging himself in all three of those areas, he said.

“Everything is different – the mood is different, the sound is different, the lyrics are different, it’s a lot less angry,” he said. “I’d like to think all Mood Muzik’s are pretty motivational and point taken but this one even more so, when fans pick it up they’ll have an idea of what I’m talking about.”

His words hold truth for in many “Mood Muzik” songs Budden is left sounding exhausted by the end of the track. Listeners can feel that he just had a much-needed conversation with whatever voices haunted him.

In “Black Cloud,” he says “Normally it’s just me in my lonely mind,” in his voice you can hear the strain in his vocal cords, the pleading he does with the track.

While in the early installments of the “Mood Muzik” series the vibe is given that the song is over but he has not let go of that anger, by the end of each song on “Mood Muzik 4” it sounds as though Budden has made peace with the topic and filed it away. It is over, the pain is somehow released.

This growth and maturity shows in songs like “Inseparable,” where he raps about his ex-girlfriend of five years, with whom he went through a nasty and public breakup. Despite the burns of the breakup, he peacefully reflects upon the relationship in song.

“Better off without each other, I’d have been depriving us. At times you see people in ways you shouldn’t portray ’em. Cause they ain’t living up to a title you shouldn’t of gave ’em.”

By the end of “Mood Muzik 4,” Budden celebrates his progression with the track, “Stuck in the Moment.” The track feels as though he does not want the moment to end. There is a notion that he is complacent with where he stands.

Budden said in a trailer for “Mood Muzik 4” that he is a firm believer that one should not give people a problem without giving them a solution, and that “Mood Muzik 4” is the beginning of getting to the solution.

“Information is pointless if not applied to something, and that’s what this (Mood Muzik 4) is doing,” he said.

In nearly eight years, Budden has done something few rappers have done before by moving backwards with his career, only to move forward again in a different, more natural light. He has built one of the most loyal fan bases in hip hop that sell out his shows at venues faster than fans of mainstream artists such as Drake and B.o.B can. And most importantly he has created a steady catalog of music that has inspired many.

Nevertheless, Budden still remains standing as hip hop’s hidden jewel, an underdog even in the underground scene.

“The challenge for me every day is to try and find new innovative ways for other fans and new listeners to be open minded towards what I have to offer and I’m open to that,” he said. “It is a struggle daily but it is one that I am well prepared for.”

Budden said all his accomplishments including Mood Muzik 4, serve as a step toward being recognized as one of the best by his peers.

“I would like to think that my peers recognize my talents, they certainly tell me they do every time they see me,” he said. “I think my small group of fans recognize me as well.”

Budden said he knew from the start that receiving due credit would take patience and hard work. For now, he is grateful for being able to influence and built the relationship he has with his fans. It is not something many rappers have, and he does not take it for granted, he said.

For Budden, it really is hard to come up short when his work is priceless.

“You’ll never progress if you never try, All I ask, let every word I birth, never die, My wings spread, but when I’m at the sky, Weather didn’t change like I thought and had me petrified,” he raps in “Black Cloud.”

Miriam Arghandiwal can be reached at [email protected]