Joe Budden is at peace and having fun.
Known for spewing raps about the ins and outs of his spiraling relationships, the Jersey MC takes a different route for Rage & The Machine.
The album — produced entirely by araabMUZIK — is Budden’s first-ever independent effort. He’s free to do as he pleases and it shows in his music. Mixtape-era fans will see the Joe from 15 years ago, while new fans will finally understand why he’s deemed one of hip-hop’s best kept secrets.
The Urban Daily got Joe on the phone ahead of Rage & The Machine to talk about its inspirations, his newfound relationship with his son, and more.
Rage & The Machine is out now on Mood Muzik Entertainment/Empire with a nationwide tour tentatively beginning in October.
This albums sounds way different from a lot of your previous work. It sounds like you’re happy.
So many people have said that to me as they’ve heard the album. I was really happy in the process of making it and we had a lot of fun. We changed up our routine a bit. We did a lot more recording on Fridays; one of the days that people like to go out and have fun we decided to go to the studio. I think that played a part, too. The music seems to merit that. It was a good time.
Can you explain what the cover symbolizes?
The cover is so multi-layered. I’m such a spiritual man. I think that displayed in the music throughout the course of my career. But then there’s also been this other side that’s rather rebellious to the standard format I was introduced to. So the middle finger is that we’re finally where we wanted to be. We did it the way we wanted to do it. The alternate route may be a longer one but you ultimately end up in the same exact spot. So the middle finger is sorta a reflection of that. It’s a “fuck you” to anybody I need to say it to. But don’t mistake that and think that’s all there is. I’m very in tune to the spiritual side of me.
Does that have anything to do with why you decided to call yourself Rage?
More of the same symbolism that the middle finger represented on the album cover. Though the music was fun and we were free of all restraint and [I was able to] do things on my own accord and move to the beat of my own drum, it was still a bumpy road to get there. And when you break down rage at its core, love and rage are the same thing. I’m so full of love, but again, there’s always two sides to a coin.
As someone who has openly dealt with depression, how did it feel to see Kid Cudi get all that support a few weeks ago?
I will always support that. I will alway support anybody being vocal about their mental illness, how they’re dealing with it, and how it affects them. And I’ll always support people waking up and paying attention to that.
Was it always the plan to do a full album with araabMUZIK after All Love Lost?
No, that was never the plan. Actually, after All Love Lost I was so drained creatively that I didn’t have any clue where I wanted to go. So I just started from scratch. I’ve worked with araab on who knows how many projects. But he’s been on the Slaughter House projects, my mixtapes, and my albums. So I knew him and I had a chemistry. But I’d be lying if I said I knew he was as capable as he’s been and how he’s shown himself to be able to carry a full length project. I remember I called araab one day and was like “let’s get it.” As the music was developing, araab and myself shared a lot of the same sentiments about the music industry and it made all the sense in the universe.
How was the recording process of making an entire album with one producer? Did you two live together?
For the most part, yeah, we did live together. Araab was back and forth between New Jersey and Rhode Island but he’d come and stay with me for weeks at a time. So we basically lived together for about two and a half months.
I know you’re a huge R&B head. Did you choose any of the records araab sampled? I noticed the Tevin Campbell “Tomorrow” sample on “Idols.”
You know, araab is so young and so hip-hop. And I’m so R&B that in us just spending time together he would just hear songs that I’d just be naturally playing and it would inspire him to create something incredible. He did that quite a few times.
Between the podcast and “Idols,” you speak a lot about how much the culture of music labels is shifting, especially with the presence of streaming. Where do you see music labels being in 10 years?
In 10 years there should be Apple Records, Google Records, Samsung Records — even Spotify Records. Streaming is just a microcosm of technology that the industry holds. But I said that 10 years ago. 10 years ago I said, “Hey, we’re ignoring technology” to the music industry. And that’s where the world is headed and we’re just going to have to keep on manifesting.
You’re on your own label now, Mood Music Entertainment. What was it like to create your own your own label?
If anything, I had to learn how to acquiesce to the new format in music and how people listen to their music. Outside of that, I’ve always marched to the beat of my own drum — sort of a one man band. But now I’ve got some good people in place to take care of everything [who] have really good input and are really savvy and know what they’re doing. But again, this is where we’ve always wanted to be. We’ve always wanted to strip the middle man between the consumer and myself.
Last week you tweeted “The music industry really is the best and worst thing that ever happened to me.” Can you expound on that a bit?
It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me because I’m able to live out my dreams. I’m able to provide for myself and my family. It’s something I love and something that I’m extremely passionate about and I don’t take that for granted at all. But to ignore everything I’ve learned throughout trials and tribulations that the music industry has afforded me, it has jaded me a bit. But I’m a firm believer in the Yin Yang theory. It’s all about equal balance [laughs]. You have to pick your poisons. Or sometimes you’re fortunate and your poisons pick you.
You credit Fabolous a lot for staying relevant through several eras. I feel like you’ve done the same. How do you think you two have done that?
Fab and I are very interesting. We’re sort of the same because we came in somewhere around the same time and had similar introductions. I always play with him and tell him that he and I are today’s version of Cam’ron and Ma$e. Ma$e went the commercial route and had all the mainstream success, and that’s never been my pocket and my comfort zone. I alway tip my hat to him because I know how frustrating it is trying to appeal to his demographic, and that comes with its ups and its downs, and he’s managed to do it effortlessly. And he’s older than me! [Laughs]
On this album you rap a lot about the New York and New Jersey rap scenes. Is there a difference between the two?
I may catch some flack for this, but the Jersey style I feel is just very different from New York. When I hear a Jersey MC spit, I can just hear New Jersey in them. To where as NY, that style has been broadcasted so nationally that it’s just a natural sound in music. Like when I was taking club songs and rapping over them in the early 2000s, I was looked at as weird. We later saw “Truffle Butter” blow up. I can name a bunch of those style beats that legends have just rocked to in recent years and it’s been the jam. Certain places just have that culture built in, and Jersey is one.
On “Uncle Joe” you rap about being the proverbial old guy at the party. When did you realize you were Uncle Joe?
This go ‘round, man! [Laughs] This go round I’m spending so much time with my kid and he’s 15. I feel like I was just 15 recently. All of the changes that occurred in hip-hop, I’m realizing that I was there for them. On the radio when they play the throwback of the day, it’s normally my jam. And the younger people are musically setting the trends in a certain field of hip-hop. Looking around and everyone is 24-27 and because this is the microwave era and the information age. At 35, if you enjoy certain things, you appear to be the old guy.
But you’re being yourself.
And I’ve been myself constantly throughout this journey. When I was 21 and signed to Def Jam, I didn’t enjoy going to clubs, I didn’t enjoy sleeping with a whole lot of women, I didn’t enjoy drinking, I didn’t enjoy getting high, I didn’t enjoy crowds. All of those things still exist today, but because I’m that way, I’m Uncle Joe. Like I’m still halfway cool and they can’t call me wack. Some people even call me Yoda. Anything where you’re old and knowledgable they call me it. [Laughs]
Do you think having your son around now has affected your relationship with today’s music?
Having my son with me has changed me in every facet that it possibly can. It changed my perspective, and once you change your perspective, everything around you begins to change. He’s affected all my relationships: the music, romantically, in business and with my family. I mean, he’s really changed that much for me. Thank God. Just having him so close to me, and being such a bevy of information and being responsible for this young man’s well-being and his preparation into the universe. I feel like I don’t have time to play. My time is measured by the second.
We’ve heard you rap about him in the past, though a bit more contentious. It’s nice to hear more of a feel good verse.
It’s beautiful the way it’s played out for a lot of my fans. They’ve shared in that journey with me and have heard me rap about that turbulent relationship from before he was even born.
On “I Wanna Know” you rap about your 20s flying by. What’s the most important lesson you learned in your 20s?
Way too many lessons that you’ll need at different points in your life. But one of the most important is that you have to be comfortable with yourself all while trying to improve on a day-to-day basis.
One of my favorite songs on the album is “I Gotta Ask” which pays homage to Jay Z’s “Hard Knock Life.” How did that record come about?
Araab played a beat with a very unique bop. And I watched him build it up and break it down right before my very eyes and I haven’t heard that bop in a while. It brought me back to a nostalgic place that felt so good, and the last time I heard that bop was sometime around that “Hard Knock Life” era. It just has a slow, hard, but friendly beat. People used to put out songs with slow beats as singles like that and Black Moon’s “How Many MC’s,” which I also referenced in the last verse. So I wanted to pay homage to one of the greatest while trying to bring the listeners to a place that felt pretty good. I didn’t even realize how old that song was until I did the math myself.
On your single “By Law” you rap about being judged. Do you feel you were more misjudged in the beginning of your career or now?
Both. The entire time. [Laughs]
I’m easily misread without context.
Lastly, what would make this album a success?
How it’s received from the fans and how it performs, because it’s very different compared to my previous albums. And in terms of me making back what I spent to produce the product.
And your day-one fans, how do you think they’ll feel about it?
I think my Day One fans will love it. I reminded myself of my introduction to the mixtape scene in New York over a decade ago. If you’ve been around since day one you remember that. It’s the Day 2, 3, 4, 5 fans I’m not so sure about.
PHOTO CREDIT: MAC Media, Getty