Half a decade later, he refuses to dwell on vogues that once threatened to edge him off the rap atlas, or on critics who predicted his demise. "If I ever felt like it was over, that was so long ago that I don't even remember," he says on the phone from Jersey City. "When you make the type of music that I do — music that's about your real life — you'll always have an audience no matter what. People also always want to hear something that's more lyrical, and I'm fortunate to be able to appeal to that audience."
Budden was released from his Def Jam contract in October 2007 after four years without an official album. Within months he signed to East Boston indie imprint Amalgam Digital, and early this year he dropped Mood Muzik 3: The Album to outrageous acclaim. With the major-label monkey off his back, he soared to the heights that fans and critics had long expected him to reach at Def Jam. Despite his independent status, the Source ran a feature, and praise rang from the Village Voice to Vibe. Spin critic Chris Ryan called him "one of hip-hop's most vulnerable and sensitive MCs, a prodigiously talented rapper capable of detailed, arresting moments of honest self-reflection and observation." More important, urbanites who typically ignore everyone except commercial hacks reacknowledged Budden as one voice not to be fucked with in this vapid era of Wayne and Jeezy.
"Don't call it a comeback," he says. "I'd rather just continue to be looked at as the underdog and the guy who's always counted out. I have a lot of people who have stuck with me through the years, and I'm still picking people up along the way. Right now I'm in a great space musically, and I don't want to stop. One thing I've learned is that if you write about reality, you'll never run out of material."
There's no end to the conflict regarding this genre's intended fabric. Source senior editor Soren Baker defends the proliferation of club rap on the ground that hip-hop is a by-product of 1970s block parties. Across the divide, in a recent Phoenix interview, rebel rap icon Immortal Technique explained things differently: "In the '80s and '90s, it was music with a political message that carried much of the limelight. But now that party music dominates the market, people want to forget that hip-hop was born in that militant era."
Qualified as Baker and Technique are, an exhaustive sample of hip-hop fans past and present would likely register somewhere in between. Because though the Young MCs and Lil Jons of the world have always shifted attention away from the likes of Chuck D and Dead Prez, there's still space for average Joe Buddens who attack when duty calls and toast champagne when night falls.
"I just saw [blogger/rapper] Charles Hamilton talk about how any time the word hipster comes into anything it gets messed up, like it did with punk rock and even disco," says Statik Selektah. "But hipsters can't mess this up. They can try all they want, but they'll get stomped if they walk into the wrong club and disrespect real hip-hop."
JOE BUDDEN + JAYSAUN + JOE FAMILIAR + GEE.KO + HEDDSHOTS + FELIX BARONOK | Middle East downstairs, 480 Mass Ave, Cambridge | November 14 at 9 pm | $18-$22 | 617.864.3278 orwww.mideastclub.com | FREEWAY | Harpers Ferry, 158 Brighton Ave, Allston | November 15 at 9 pm | $25 | 617.254.9743 orwww.harpersferryboston.com
NOTE: Joe Budden has cancelled his show at the Middle East.