In quality, record sales, and image, hip-hop has taken a savage beating in the past half-decade. But New Jersey street-rap honcho Joe Budden — a Def Jam refugee (now on Boston indie Amalgam Digital) whose new Padded Room just debuted at #42 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart — refused to walk away without a brawl.
The Middle East was sold out by 11 pm for Budden's disc-release party; this dude has serious reach — my guess would be that petty crime rates plummeted from Roxbury to Revere last Thursday evening. Ten years ago such a turnout would be no big deal, but severe rap fractionalization has since yielded hundreds of touring acts with miniscule niche fan bases.
You bet your nuts some local artists rode the tidal wave. Suburban newcomer Geeko opened, with Stucat's posse chasing, and North Shore animal M-Dot earning his middle-of-the-bill spot. The latter should be cautious about bringing too many cats on stage though; fans seemed familiar with M-Dot's bigger bangers, but they're not yet ready to entertain his co-defendants, despite their above-par performance chops.
Following a joint cameo by Juice Crew legend Craig G and Boston rap king Edo G — and a pair of cuts from Special Teamz rhyme razor Jaysaun — DJ On&On pumped kids up for the main event. It's a good thing dude can rock a party; if not there would have been a brawl while heads waited for prima donna Joe to grab the mic.
Beantown hip-hoppers didn't appreciate Budden's opening remarks: "All them niggas in the back [of the stage] who got nothing to do with Joe Budden need to exit to the left." He followed with a joke about how his rival Saigon's people might be creeping, but the damage was done, particularly when tough guy challenged anyone who had a problem to throw down.
Still, the show went on, with Budden flipping joints from across his abyss of a catalogue. But though the fans licked up singles like "If I Gotta Go," Joe seemed agitated to be wasting time at such a small venue. He delivered anyway (except for on the few cuts he rhymed over the recordings of), but homeboy really needs to get the fuck over himself.
The sad truth is that part of Joe Budden's lasting success can be attributed to his knack for keeping beef on the grill. Through his Def Jam tribulations and failed Roc-A-Fella deal, he sparked feuds with everyone from Jay-Z to Prodigy to his ex-ally Ransom to his latest adversary, Saigon.
Not that I have serious problems with hip-hop wars in and of themselves, but such nonsense takes a serious toll on fans. The scene outside the venue looked like the beach at Normandy, with stupid drunken whiteboys leaving one another's DNA all over the sidewalk.
But for those of us who stuck around to watch Budden bring it from the club to the corner and back a few dozen times, there's no denying that it was the type of quasi-commercial rap experience that up until a few years ago was only available at the arena level. Budden might not like that reality, but for the rest of us it's quite exhilarating.