The New Classics

March 11, 2009

Album Review: Joe Budden, Padded Room



The initial island-sounding melody of the opening track ‘Now I Lay’ is misleading. But in the first few lines, Budden shows his cards by reciting the opening bar from his 2003 breakout song ‘Pump It Up’. But Joe isn’t trying to recreate the party atmosphere from that record, which he makes clear right off the bat: (That’s how it all got started / back then I wasn’t so cold-hearted).

Joe Budden is an entirely different artist than he was back in ’03. His success back then was all off of this song, which you probably still hear in clubs and bars, at least here in NY. But Budden was written off as a one-hit wonder by many who didn’t see the artistry in the rest of his songs. The songs that weren’t radio-ready party songs. His label at the time, Def Jam, didn’t do much to support him either, and eventually Joey disappeared from the mainstream. His sophomore album The Growth was pushed back over and over, and eventually went unreleased as he cut ties with Def Jam back in 2007. But Budden kept his name out in the streets and hip hop blogosphere with a series of mixtapes called Mood Muzik, where his subject matter become more introspective and dark, and which actually cemented him as one of the most underrated MCs of the decade. The mainstream didn’t know what they were missing.

This leads us to Padded Room. Last year, Budden signed with upstart label Amalgam Digital and basically gained entire creative control of his own material, at least from what I can tell. This is a great thing, because much like the three Mood Muzik mixtapes, and 2008’s Halfway House mixtape, this album is his own voice, with no distractions or attempts to please any label figureheads getting in his way. The rest of the album opener, ‘Now I Lay’ suffers only from a lazy chorus (Now I lay me down to sleep… etc. – I’m sure you already know the rest), but everything else about it is pretty good, and serves as a high energy starter track.

Arguably the only attempt at a commercial song is ‘The Future’, ironically co-starring his former enemy, The Game. Obviously they’ve put their differences behind them, and collaborate here on one of the strongest party songs of the year in my opinion. Game even brings up their past:

Once enemies, my nemesis and I,
were stuck in a genesis, free world of side reply.
Let bygones be bygones,
I’m gone.
Let all your pain be champagne and patron.

Its heavy on synths and a sing-songy R&B hook, but the Budden and Game both bring their best party lyrics to the mic. And the commercial appeal ends there. From here on out, Padded Room fires off one lyrical bullet after the other. Joe Budden is a rare rap artist who doesn’t waste a line, and makes sure that every punchline is a gem. His style is one that can be returned to time after time, and still find an interesting rhyme in every song. I have absolutely no problem calling Joey one of the best in the game today. His weakness, however, lies in his beats.

‘If I Gotta Go’ is a bland midtempo violin-based track by The Klasix. On ‘Do Tell’, Blastah Beatz brings a weak, slow, repetitive beat to Budden’s almost breathless rhyming. ‘Angel in My Life’, also by Blastah Beatz, sounds like it belongs on a mixtape of a lesser-caliber artist. This one weakness, I believe, is what has held Joe Budden back from being considered great by the masses. Instead of working with barely-known producers, he should be pumping out jams with some more qualified beatmakers. Statik Selektah, Focus, Khrysis, 9th Wonder… imagine Budden on a DJ Premier track? Any one of those guys, or many more could have brought credibility and great material to this album.

Before you think I’m down on Padded Room, though, let me clarify: I still think this album is dope. The good outweighs the bad. On ‘I Couldn’t Help It, The Klasix give Joe a reflective beat for him to get deep and pour his heart out, where he wonders how he could ever want to have his son aborted at one point, and admits his guilt from sleeping with a wife of a friend of his. ‘Exxxes’ is a slow and sexy track with a plucky spanish guitar about his girl’s bedroom habits. But I’m a sucker for plucky spanish guitars, and I’m pretty sure that they make even the worst rapper sound good. ‘Blood On the Wall’ is a seriously heavy venom-spitting track, opening with the chorus from 2Pac’s ‘Lastonesleft’, and moving into an all-out assault on Mobb Deep member/current jailbird Prodigy. He completely rips Prodigy’s image apart:

Not a murderer, a gangsta, robber,
washed up 90’s nigga, now a gangsta blogger
Me that, underground flow strike like the pound blow
Your sound’s old, not even worth a download

A song that works surprisingly well is ‘Pray for Me’, a concept song where Budden has a conversation with God, trying to convince him that he’s a good person, while the God character reminds Joe of everything wrong that he’s ever done. You can really tell that this was a huge catharsis for Joe to write, and in the hands of a lesser artist, this concept would be corny. But check some of the lyrics:

Look i’m far from a Christian, not big on religion .
But I ain’t done too much wrong my entire time livin’
Never killed, never tried to, though I been lied to.
Was once suicidal, never read the Bible

I kind of gave it to Blastah Beatz earlier in this review, but in this song, he brings a haunting tone that really sets the atmosphere perfectly for this type of song.; One of the best of the album, which ends off on a lighter note, the cool street-cypher feel of Family Reunion (Remix), featuring Budden’s former Street Family rhyming partners, Ransom, Hitchcock and Fabolous.

Padded Room is the outcome of a struggling artist finally finding his home, and getting out the anger and frustration of the past six years of his career. At it’s best, the album shows strokes of some of the greatest rappers of all time. At it’s worst, poorly-thought-out choruses and weak beats. But most of the LP lays somewhere in the middle, while Budden puts his heart into everything he spits. Six years is too long to wait for another Budden album, and if he continues growing as an artist, it won’t be long before he’s mentioned in the same breath as the greats.

Album: Padded Room
Artist: Joe Budden
Release Date: February 24, 2009
Label: Amalgam Digital
Featured Artists: The Game, Emanny, Dominic, Drew Hudson, Junkyard Gang
Featured Producers: The Klasix, Moss, Shatek, Blastah Beatz, Qwan, Versatile & Dilemma, Fyr-chur, Dub B
Highlights: ‘The Future’, ‘Don’t Make Me’, ‘Exxxes’, ‘Adrenaline’, ‘Pray for Me’
Rating: 7.5

Not released on an album or mixtape, the following track is a fine display of why Budden is one of the best. For 15 straight minutes he discusses the state of hip hop today, why it is the way it is, and theorizes who is responsible for everything wrong with it as an artform (or what’s left of it). Download it here, or just check out the song split in two below.



  1. Love this site man.

    Comment by Col — March 12, 2009 @ 9:55 am

  2. Much appreciated!

    Comment by gM — March 12, 2009 @ 12:03 pm

  3. […] In My Sleep Artist: Joe Budden Album: Padded Room Label: Amalgam Digital Producer: The Klasix Notes: 2nd single from LP Analysis: Director Rik […]

    Pingback by Music Video: Joe Budden, In My Sleep « The New Classics — March 15, 2009 @ 8:08 pm

  4. […] Exxxes Artist: Joe Budden Album: Padded Room Label: Amalgam Digital Producer: The Klasix Notes: 3rd single from LP Analysis: Joey’s latest […]

    Pingback by Music Video: Joe Budden, Exxxes « The New Classics — April 15, 2009 @ 9:59 pm

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