Joe the rapper

Joe Budden, Freeway, and the enduring authority of street rap
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  November 17, 2008

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BEAT AND POTATOES: Budden is proof that there’s an everlasting market for grounded raps about the goings on in Everyhood America.

Millenium thug: Rough, rugged, raw reality rap essentials from a redifining year. By Chris Faraone.
Some hip-hop acts are guaranteed to draw heads around here. Boston juggernauts like Slaine and Akrobatik pack substantial spots. The same goes for whatever fad-heavy phenomenon is atop the game, whether it's Virginia blow rappers Clipse or the decadently clad Cool Kids. Throwback legends like Slick Rick and KRS-1 have enough devotees to lure crowds; so do indie staples Slug and Aesop Rock, both of whom are known to sell out in advance.

But through every trend — from hipster-hop and conscious rap to crunk and bling-bap — lyrically cunning, insightful street rap prevails. This is an easy point to prove: despite the frequent departures into materialistic territory, beneath every kingpin's style is a hardcore edge. Jay-Z first emerged as that guy who "stayed in beef and slept with a tech"; Nas was "the type of nigga who be pissin' in your elevator." Even the Game, who has no doubt marketed himself through a number of beef and ego-driven gimmicks, brings timeless ghetto rhymes that could pass for Golden Era material.

Although few Jay and Nas contemporaries have reached the proverbial penthouse, the top dogs are not the only ones who bank off hood tales and tribulations. This weekend two distinct but similarly veined urban griots will likely swell Boston's largest independent venues. At the Middle East on Friday, New Jersey blacktop legend Joe Budden headlines his Halfway House release party. The next night, at Harpers Ferry, Philly crime rapper Freeway will bring esteemed gutter-riffic game. Much like AZ and Cormega in recent sets, both Freeway and Budden are expected to draw a colorful cross-section, city cats who relate to them and respectfully voyeuristic suburbanites.

"Hip-hop that dictates reality will always be around," says Boston rap promoter Edu Leedz. "It might not always be as popular as the current commercial trends, but it will have more stability in the long run because the fans live and die by it." DJ Statik Selektah, who frequently collaborates with Freeway and a host of other exalted roughnecks including Jadakiss and M.O.P., adds: "Guys like Freeway and Joe Budden don't need radio or television because what they do represents real life. It's past being a trend — it's like listening to a sermon in church. It's more than rap music. It's a lifestyle."

Budden is proof that there's an everlasting market for grounded raps about the goings on in Everyhood America. Once a Def Jam golden child, he's endured the kind of setbacks that spotlight MCs often bump into. His homonymous debut dropped in 2003, and it went gold thanks to the tough-minded, Grammy-nominated club banger "Pump It Up." But when Jay-Z took control of Def Jam the next year and pushed funds into cheese-pop territory with the likes of Ne-Yo and Rihanna, Budden slipped through the budget and landed on the shelf. Still, he retained fans through mixtapes and performances.

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