Joe Budden at the Middle East Downstairs, March 6, 2008
Spotlights are for flashy rappers. Joe Budden prefers to spit in the dark. At least he did during the final 10 minutes of his set at the Middle East downstairs last Thursday. Sans lighting, the underrated, underground Jersey City rapper lit into “All of Me,” a lengthy, introspective track that proved to be the night’s best. Prior to that, he seemed to be in various stages of elsewhereness, arriving on stage 45 minutes late to a worn-out crowd, overshadowed by an overzealous hype man, apparently half-invested in the show. His booming baritone was effective at conveying words but not always emotion.
IN THE MOOD: Budden doesn’t flash the bling, but he didn’t show much of himself either.
The performance was a CD-release party for Budden’s latest, Mood Muzik 3: The Album, on the Boston-based indie outfit Amalgam Digital. Not that you would have guessed his local-label affiliation from the empty spaces in the venue. Then again, Budden doesn’t seem too concerned with mass appeal. He may have commercial success in his rear-view mirror, but he maintains a no-nonsense underground ethos devoid of bling, buffoonery, and the typical gimmicks of the game. Desperate wanna-bes shuck and jive for record sales; Budden gets dropped by Def Jam and makes remarkable mixtapes.
So though he’s more likely to hit you with a reality check than a radio hit, he did offer up his Grammy-nominated single, “Pump It Up,” and the club-ready “Fire” in between Mood Muzik cuts that included “Dear Diary,” “5th Gear,” and the lighter-ready “Family Reunion.” The hard-hitting “Dumb Out” was a crowd favorite, and you could see why — the song flips more lines than average rappers squeeze onto a whole CD. But even then, Budden appeared to be lurking in his hype man’s shadow. Maybe he just likes being in the dark — which is fine if it helps him get in the mood.
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