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Honesty, Lyrics & Drama: The Joe Budden Method to Relevancy

Posted by Dharmic X on 01/23/13 | Filed under Opinion, Joe Budden


On Monday night, VH1 aired the third episode in television’s most popular train wreck (at least when it comes to the urban community), "Love & Hip Hop New York". One of this season’s stars is Jersey rapper Joe Budden, a man who has run the rap internets since before Kendrick Lamar was rapping over the “A Millie” beat and a man who has had a penchant for generating enough controversy from time to time to keep his name buzzing in the mainstream media circles. His storyline revolves around his ex-girlfriend, Tahiry, his current girlfriend, Kaylin Garcia, and his former close friend Raqi Thunda.

This is yet another rung on the ladder for one of hip-hop’s most bizarre success stories, an artist with only one radio single that came and went by 2004 who has managed to remain relevant in hip-hop in ways that no artist has done before.

And it is a testament to the success an emcee can garner through being brutally in-depth and personal with the music.

The Mood Muzik mixtape series is the signature moment of intimacy when it comes to Joe’s music. From its inception, Joe used the series as an opportunity to ruminate on his past crises while exposing the present strife. The Jersey City native was able to use these mixtapes as a way to put out records that were too long or lacked a hook, essentially dropping quality projicts despite being shelved from Def Jam, eventually leaving the label without ever dropping a follow-up album (tentatively titled "The Growth").

Unable to leverage his product using the traditional industry model, Budden jumped ahead of the curve when it came to marketing his brand on the internet. He started shooting video blogs to update fans on his progression, creating what became known as Joe Budden TV. He created an online forum on his website, joebuddentv.com. He embraced the social networks, becoming one of the biggest users of Twitter even before it became ubiquitous in the entertainment industry.

There was a method amidst all of the madness, even if it wasn’t apparent all of those years ago. And the key to it all was to remove the filters that prohibit a transparency which had not only been shunned in the industry, but is also rarely seen even amongst close friends in the society that we live in today.

As a rapper, Joe not only used the "Mood Muzik" series as personal therapy, but created deep ties to his fans who connected with him on an emotional level. The mixtape series sold out Irving Plaza in New York City for two days in a row in 2012--a venue not all major label rappers can sell out--with tickets sold at nearly $100 each because there were fans willing to come all the way from the UK for both nights. Young men (mainly) and women who had used "Mood Muzik" to help them cope with depression, overcome addiction, or battle through heartbreak. I connected to Mood Muzik 4 when it came out in 2010 for reasons that I will eventually get into in The Immersion.

Who else would be willing to make a song in which he talks about getting arrested for allegedly attacking (“restraining”) his video vixen girlfriend at the time, in the process causing her to miscarriage, while name-dropping a football player that he figured she was sleeping with? More importantly, who else could make that type of record conjure up emotion amongst men who had never seen a video vixen in-person in their life?

If the music was Joe’s canvas to paint his life’s portrait in macro form while serving as a soundtrack for those going through adversity, Joe Budden TV was a perfect counterpoint. Budden took high-profile settings with major label, superstar artists and introduced an element of everyday wit to make them lighthearted and relatable. We saw the day-by-day progression of Joe as he started and ended his beefs with Ransom and Raekwon on Youtube. But more importantly, we glimpsed the seemingly insignificant moments of life, such as getting dragged to eat by his girlfriend. Fans of Joe Budden believed that they were invested in the full picture of who Joe is as a human being. Along the way, Joe made sure that fans became invested in the recurring characters in his life, such as Frequency and of course, the lovely Tahiry, a mainstay throughout the series as his girlfriend for over five years.

Take the creation of a fanbase invested in little things like dinner time, the openness to make records that lend themselves to coverage on Bossip and Worldstar--not because of how dope they are, but because of the people being referred to and the manner in which they are referred to--and the thick skin to deal with vicious and direct personal attacks via Youtube, forums, and Twitter, hand you have someone who was built to be a star on "Love & Hip-Hop" perhaps even before the television series was ever imagined.

To be clear, "Love & Hip-Hop" is not an extension of Joe Budden TV, or even the slightly wilder uStream sessions, which Joe pioneered and that many other indie rappers are starting to use frequently. The innocence is lost, replaced with wild poolside fights and flamboyant leather vests. But the raw emotion Joe goes through as he reflects upon his vices while talking to his mother: that’s vintage Joe. And anyone who’s listened to "A Loose Quarter" has heard a more intelligent, refined synopsis of the season’s storyline, absent of the mind-numbing drama and gossip that VH1 cherishes as a commodity.

It would be foolish to pretend that any underground emcee who gets extremely detail-oriented about their personal life or serves as a “regular Joe” (Brother Ali or Jean Grae, for example) could work his or her way towards the trending national television star that the Slaughterhouse member has become. It goes without saying that Joe has been leveraging several unique traits (his past radio and major label success with “Pump it Up,” Tahiry’s ass, etc.) to live a lifestyle that is capable of attracting a wider audience than many other in the underground could muster. But at the end of the day, Joe Budden remains relevant in mainstream hip-hop culture because of how honest and relatable his lyrics have always been, without sacrificing his talent or lusting after a rebound major label deal that likely would have never come.

Rappers on the “come-up” trying to portray a luxurious, club-hopping persona while living a struggle reality of being dirt broke while working a regular job should use this as an opportunity to reevaluate their steez.

See Also: Joe Budden Releases The More Enjoyable, Weezy-Free “She Don’t Put It Down Like You (Remix)” (Listen)

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