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Hip-Hop Fridays: Exclusive Q & A With Joe Budden

For well over a year, the "streets" have been awaiting Joe Budden's debut album, Walk With Me. And following a circuitous route, the Island Def Jam artist will deliver in just a few days - June 10th to be exact. As if record label delays and "new artist" pressures weren't enough to concern the Jersey-City representative, and his loyal fans, there came the shocking news that arguably the hottest artist on the mixtape circuit - since 50 Cent - has a polyp on his vocal cord (of all places) that has affected some of his recent show performances. Fortunately, the news hasn't worsened, the problem doesn't require surgery and Joe Budden is still on the road promoting his chart-rising single, "Pump It Up", produced by Just Blaze, while on the Def Jam Vendetta Tour (along with Keith Murray, CNN, Method Man, and Cadillac Tah). As of yesterday, Joe Budden and Def Jam have no plans to alter the June 10th release date for the highly-anticipated debut album.

Joe Budden spoke with Publisher, Cedric Muhammad, about his rise, music industry politics, 50 Cent, Jay-Z, what influences him as an artist and exactly what makes him "Regular Joe".

Joe Budden: Salutations Cedric!

Cedric Muhammad: Peace Brother. How are you?

Joe Budden:Good man.

Cedric Muhammad: On a personal note, this discussion was supposed to happen a year ago when Def Jam told me that your album had been placed ahead of N.O.R.E. in the release schedule. And then all of sudden things changed and we didn't hear anything again. So, what happened? Why are we building with you in May 2003, instead of June 2002

Joe Budden: Well, you know what? That was a pretty weird situation. What happened was...there is a lot of traffic up here and that 2002 date was just a tentative date. But, it didn't go down that way. And I don't know why. You'll have to ask the powers that be. But everything happens for a reason. I am so glad that it didn't happen last year...

Cedric Muhammad: Really?

Joe Budden: Yeah because I make music and I think of things and get better everyday. So the more time they give me - look - they are going to mess around up here and find that I am on my third album by the time this first one comes out. So it gave me more time to pick and choose and make and remove songs. I think it was a blessing in disguise.

Cedric Muhammad: Well, you are definitely not bashful about representing New Jersey and of course with my time spent there I appreciate it. But you are born in Harlem and could have chosen to highlight that. How important is it to you to represent New Jersey and carry the torch held by artists like Redman and Naughty By Nature?

Joe Budden: That is extremely important! I think Jersey is pretty much the over-looked state. I don't think that Jersey - even though everybody lives there - gets any type of attention at all. So I always said to myself that I wanted to be the guy, aside from Redman in Newark, to bring some recognition to my part of town. So I don't hesitate at all to scream, 'Jersey!'. And hopefully there will be people to follow behind.

Cedric Muhammad: Going back to what happened last year with the delay in your release, my take on it was that you blew up so fast on the streets and underground that it was almost like Def Jam didn't want to leave money on the table but they really didn't put a lot of thought into how they wanted to bring you out and...

Joe Budden: Hey, and you said that.

Cedric Muhammad: Yeah.

Joe Budden:You said that, right? I want to make that clear...

Cedric Muhammad: No doubt, that's me.

Joe Budden: I agree with that though...

Cedric Muhammad: Well, because of my background with Wu-Tang, and what I have seen and know I am hardly shy about disagreeing with the direction of the music industry or moves that executives make...

Joe Budden: Man I know, you know how it really goes down...

Cedric Muhammad: Yeah, so when I look at you I see a lot. And I see that time frame in which you didn't come out - you can't get that back. Now, you say that with the extra time you have had in that year, that you can make better music; and I think a case can be made, that in fact you are making better music now, then back then. But, with 50 blowing up the way he did, the mixtape game, not being what it was, even a year ago - it is so saturated now, how do you think this affects your marketing - because we are in a new environment in 2003 than in 2002?

Joe Budden: Well, the mixtapes are definitely saturated, but, I think that certain artists just stick out - like 50 stick out on the mixtapes that he was on, and like maybe I stuck out, on the mixtapes I was on. I don't think the saturation will be too much of a problem, when you are so consistent at it. When you are on the mixtapes for a certain amount of time, you develop your own following and you get people that buy the mixtape just to skip all the way down to the Joe Budden track or the 50 Cent track. So, I think that being consistent on the mixtapes is real big. And unfortunately, like you said earlier, Def Jam wasn't ready for that hype. And I wasn't ready for that hype. It was unexpected and all new. So for us to hit the mixtapes so hard and get such heavy feedback that quick? Whew! It kind of caught everybody off-guard. It was crazy.

Cedric Muhammad: Definitely, and the reason I am saying this is because everybody who was in the business - especially retail - will tell you that at that time it was only Cam'ron out, and there was just a quick word that Eminem was coming and that was it. And then there you were bubbling up, and of course 50, but it really wasn't at that time, for him, anything like how it got late last year. So...

Joe Budden: Yeah, you know the music business is fickle, real fickle.

Cedric Muhammad: Well, you know, you are sitting on your punches right now so you are poised to win but...

Joe Budden: We certainly will find out come June 10th!

Cedric Muhammad: Certainly. Well, listen, there was this interesting line I saw in this interview you gave to The Source magazine, where you made a distinction between freestyling and making a song. And, looking at your evolution, I thought it would be interesting to hear you explain the transition from freestyling and making a song. Was it difficult? What were some of the things you had to learn quickly?

Joe Budden: You know, I had to adjust to making a freestyle. That's what I had to adjust to. Because I am a songwriter...

Cedric Muhammad: So you went backwards with it?

Joe Budden: Yeah, I had to go backwards. I have always written. I started out writing in school - homework - and I was good at that. Then that went to having a daily journal. Then that went to having to write in therapy; then that went to poetry; and that went to spoken word; then that went to battle raps; and that went to songs. I always skipped the freestyles. I wasn't too knowledgeable about the mixtape game and about how big freestyles were until I started getting on them. So I had to learn what the f--- to say. I was real good about talking about me and spreading my own feelings and being real introspective on a song but I had to learn how to get people's attention. So, I realized that I had always been real good at metaphors and punch lines from back in my battle rap days. So I tried to do that and the people definitely liked it. So I stayed in that but I didn't want to get caught in the "Canibus syndrome" whereas, as you know, a few years ago, Canibus killed every mixtape but when he put the album out people found out he can't make a song - which was the truth. So, I threw out songs early on when I thought the people were listening, from the popularity of the freestyles.

Cedric Muhammad: So, in essence, where are you right now? Do you think that you are back in your element with making songs for your album?

Joe Budden: Yeah, definitely back in my element. But I mean don't get me wrong. I love doing the freestyles. I love it because it just gives me the chance to just run off at the mouth about whatever I want but with the songs I can get real personal, so while making an album, I definitely feel back in my element.

Cedric Muhammad: Any ghostwriting goin' on Joe?

Joe Budden: Never, never, never.

Cedric Muhammad: No I mean for you...

Joe Budden: For me?

Cedric Muhammad: For you.

Joe Budden: Oh. Ok yeah, I am not going to front, it was a few people, but no one known, though. It was a couple of girls I wrote for, a couple of guys I wrote for. And there were a couple of offers...

Cedric Muhammad: Are you looking to get into that as a business?

Joe Budden: Yeah, a couple of people, believe it or not, have approached me

Cedric Muhammad: I believe it.

Joe Budden: I have been approached on some, 'Joe, I may need you to write for this person...' Yeah, and I am all for it. A check is a check.

Cedric Muhammad: Look, I am going to tell you a funny story. When I was with the Clan, I will never forget the day, I was taking Meth (Method Man) and Deck (Inspectah Deck) to the airport and they had just gotten a call and the BBD (Bell Biv Devoe) members had wanted them to ghostwrite for them and we discussed it, honestly, right at the security counter. I saw it as a business opportunity back then and not so much in terms of 'keepin' it real' - whatever that means. So, hey, it happens. And I am all for it.

Joe Budden: Wow. Hmmm, yeah...

Cedric Muhammad: I mean, personally, Hip-Hop needs to get over that hang up, with ghostwriting. You look at R&B and other genres and songwriting for other people is an art. I mean - it is something to behold, in my opinion, to actually put yourself inside of another person, get up into their spirit and "become them". Only a few artists really get it - in terms of business and art. I know, in particular, that Jay-Z understands how financially lucrative and artistically powerful it is. I would encourage you to do it.

Joe Budden: Oh naw, I am not opposed to it at all. I love it.

Cedric Muhammad: Back to the subject of your material. You have come all out of with it! Your life's trials and tribulations. And judging from your lyrics and interviews, I am sure that if you have read the book of Psalms, you can relate to it - because David's problems, fears and inner thoughts are all out in the open.

Joe Budden: Uh huh.

Cedric Muhammad: And I read one article where you went into coming up, and how dealing with the psychologists and therapists for different problems, has made you advanced, in many ways. What did you mean by that?

Joe Budden: It means that I am kind of wise beyond my years. It means that I have a really good understanding of a lot of things and I am very, very secure with me. I mean, the psychiatrists and the therapists and all of that - the whole self-help thing - in my teenage years kind of made me to be the best person I can possibly be today. And I try to pass on those things that I may have learned to other people. I think that without going through those things, I wouldn't be the person I am today.

Cedric Muhammad: You mention self-help. What are some of the things that you have read or continue to read that build you up?

Joe Budden: Awe man. A lot of music helps. I listen to John P. Kee. He helps me a lot. I go to meetings every time I get a chance to hear people speak and that helps me a great deal. That is probably where I get the majority of my help from. And, you know what, me writing my personal shit down helps. That has always been a help - even before therapy. That has always been one of my biggest helps. For me to sit down, pick up a pen and paper and vent. I feel so much better when I do that.

Cedric Muhammad: Let me ask you this. There is a lot of praise and criticism for Eminem along the same lines of what you just said. Do you think that there is a certain point where you have to get concerned about the marketing? As you vent and open your heart up there is a marketplace for that. Naturally people are going to respond by buying your record or not buying. Are you conscious of a certain stage in your career that you might reach where maybe your life is just not that interesting to people?

Joe Budden: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.

Cedric Muhammad: Do you stop there (at that point) or do you evolve?

Joe Budden: Yeah, that is a big phobia of mine. But thank the Lord, fortunately, that is not all I can do. So it is like a double-edge word. It is a beautiful thing for artists that do that and there are not that many that can do that. But it can't be all that you are able to do. You have to be able to do something else. Like Eminem can make a song without bashing people or dragging their names through the mud, and still tell you how he is feeling. But, that is a big plus. He can get on a slow beat and still talk the shit that he talks. I definitely have that fear though. But hopefully, whatever type of music that I am making, the more people will be interested and the more people will want to know what is going on with me. But you know, you like an artist and you become a fan and you want to know about this artist that you are looking up to. So it is a real relationship. When I go on my website, a lot of people love and respect the fact that I get personal on a track. That is one of the things that they love so much about me. So I thank the Lord for that. But even if at the end of the day, people stop liking that or don't want to hear that? I still have to do that for me. It just may not be released. But I will always do that.

Cedric Muhammad: How is your team? Are you feeling comfortable with your management, your lawyer, your booking agent, Def Jam?

Joe Budden: My lawyer's cool. The label is cool. My management is cool. I think I have pretty much surrounded myself with some good people who are on top of their shit. And on top of my shit, and who genuinely care for me. Like even if I flop, I think I have put myself around some people that have love for me.

Cedric Muhammad: And your moms is involved right?

Joe Budden: Hell yeah!

Cedric Muhammad: What is her role?

Joe Budden: Moms? Shit, she wears many hats. She pretty much does it all - from the little things to the big things. She is aware of my financial situation. She pretty much does everything.

Cedric Muhammad: Is there a business model for Joe Budden? Are you looking at record label, clothing line, we already talked about ghostwriting...

Joe Budden: I am open to all of that. I think that this rap shit is just a door to me. I think I would be a great actor. I think I got a pretty good ear for talent. I am open to doing the label thing. I am open to ghostwriting. I am open to a production team. I am just open-minded. Whatever situation presents itself, if I feel it is a good one, I am going to go with it.

Cedric Muhammad: Now, as serious a writer as you are do you classify artists in certain categories? The most famous ones are of course 'the lyricist', 'the freestyler', 'the story-teller'. Do you follow those groupings?

Joe Budden: Yup.

Cedric Muhammad: Who do you like in each one? Give me one.

Joe Budden: I like Jay (Jay-Z) in all of them - in every last one of them. He is just the best dude! And I am not going to lie - I think Eminem...I go to Eminem for my wordplay. That is where I go for that. I go to Nas for my educational and all of that - when I feel like getting real, real deep into stuff and all of that. But I go to Jay for everything...

Cedric Muhammad: You think he is the most balanced, best all-around rapper ever?

Joe Budden: Hell yeah. Without a doubt! Without a doubt.

Cedric Muhammad: You are not alone.

Joe Budden: That man is phenomenal.

Cedric Muhammad: What do you think of the whole 50 Cent phenomenon? You are coming out in the wake of it. You were here before it and during it. Because you do know, people do say you are the hottest thing since him on the mixtape circuit and that whole path that he blazed. Well, I won't say that he blazed it but rather he put his imprint on it.

Joe Budden: Yeah, he definitely made his mark.

Cedric Muhammad: Yeah, and seriously, people think that if you look around the block, the only thing to even come close is Joe Budden...

Joe Budden: Yeah I know and you know what? I used to get that a lot when me and him were kind of doing the exact same thing. Like, it was nothing but mixtapes for us. So I got that a lot back then. But as his hype got bigger and bigger, I started to get tired of the whole f------ Joe Budden-50 Cent comparison because his album came out and he did these numbers and I was on my website and I know that people say that the two people to lead Hip-Hop into the next generation are Joe Budden and 50 Cent. People say that a lot. So, for me to hear, 'I hope Joe does these numbers, 50 is selling this', I am like 'Oh my God! 50 Cent is selling more than every artist. Don't just categorize me with him. He is selling more than everyone.' But you know what? I think it is great for Hip-Hop. Because we had that fourth quarter where some household names came out and didn't do the numbers they expected to do. So everybody was in a frenzy saying, 'Oh my god, rap is coming to an end, people ain't buying records anymore'. But I am like 'Get the f--- out of here', if this man (50 Cent) can come out and sell damn near a million units in less than a week, and maintain consistent numbers on a weekly basis, people are coming into the music stores. I feel damn good about what he did for music. And it helps that he came from the mixtapes. So it kind of gives me a positive feeling about when I come out.

Cedric Muhammad: What will success entail, for "Walk With Me"? Is it going to be a bunch of hot reviews and critical acclaim? Will it be going gold or platinum? Two hot radio singles?

Joe Budden: No way.

Cedric Muhammad: Its already a success?

Joe Budden: Yeah, on the album I put my best foot forward so it is like if it doesn't do well, which I doubt, I can walk away and say that I tried my best and gave it my all. If I go gold - which I won't be satisfied with - that will at least give me another chance. Jay just didn't sell a million units the first album that he put out. It can take time. I try to take things one day at a time. Time will tell what holds for Walk With Me. But I definitely hope that it is a success. I will definitely find out when I grab that soundscan the week after it comes out.

Cedric Muhammad: I wish you the best and look forward to seeing you soon.

Joe Budden: Oh yeah, that would be cool and thank you.

Friday, May 30, 2003

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