Joe Budden Had The Biggest Come Up In A Year He Was Supposed To Struggle

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It was one year ago this week that Joe Budden exited the show Everyday Struggle. On December 18, 2017, DJ Whoo Kid unceremoniously took Budden’s seat on the Complex weekday talk series alongside co-hosts Nadeska Alexis and DJ Akademiks. The guest known best as a G-Unit DJ and radio personality told viewers that Joe was tending to a newborn baby, which was certainly true. However, the rapper never returned to his chair to the program he had given several “fire in the stadium” moments throughout that year. Highlights included exchanges with Migos, Lil Yachty, and and some controversial words about previous collaborator and onetime employer, Eminem. The narratives and storylines pulled Everyday Struggle from YouTube and put them on gossip shows, aggregated it across the web, and suddenly awakened the mainstream to a new show on the block.

As re-negotiations reportedly reached a stalemate, the retired MC-turned-media man marked his exit by unpacking the laundry on his Joe Budden Podcast. Joe said he wanted a long-term contract, a significant raise, or Complex equity for the show he had piloted in its debut season. This was after receiving what he called “pennies and biscuits” for compensation. The parties failed to reach an agreement. Joe walked, but not quietly. Beyond press releases or tweets, Joe laid out his reasoning and put boardroom business in public. His fans listened in as Budden walked. Although, where exactly he was going was unclear.

Since 2016, Joe had become a media comet. In May of that year, Budden’s then-titled I’ll Name This Podcast Later pulled no punches in critiquing Drake’s Views album. Joe called the rapper/singer “uninspired” and accused him of “hopping on waves.” A month later, one of the biggest stars in music responded to Budden in the form of “4PM In Calabasas.” Joe’s words had bubbled up from Soundcloud and irritated Drake, who is especially gifted at using social media as a strategic device, enough to cock-back.

Drake’s diss prompted a True Detective Season 1-style shootout of bars in the days since between both MCs. Nearly two months later, some apparent Drake fans were trespassing in Joe’s New Jersey driveway. Confronted, the rapper chased them, before showing up on one’s doorstep in a made-for-Internet news cycle. He appeared on HOT 97’s Ebro In The Morning to promote his Rage & The Machine album, only to end up addressing his loyalty and character in one of the first (and most authentic) interview walkouts of an era where such things trend. Wherever Joe went, his brand of gruff commentary, thoughtful analysis, and colorful entertainment industry experience popped. It’s what made his podcast one of the most successful of its kind, a step apart from N.O.R.E. & DJ EFN’s Drink Champs, and more exciting than the typical Hip-Hop commentary fan fodder. One of the first Rap artists to make daily videos, via Joe Budden TV, long before Vh1 deals, Joe seemed to be the most interesting person in the culture. If it wasn’t what he was saying, it’s what he was doing. In a much different way than Kanye West, Joe Budden could make a 24-7 media cycle manifest its destiny. He was something like Pump Up The Volume-meets-Truman Show.

No longer with Complex, Joe focused on his weekly podcast, alongside his team of cohosts, Rory and Mal, engineer Parks, and others in the room. From the beginning of the year, Joe was a target. As Complex replaced Budden with former syndicated radio host-turned Troi “Star” Torain, Eminem, Drake, and Vic Mensa were among those who seemingly sent shots in the retired rapper’s direction. Even Joe’s 18-year-old son, Tre, joined the fold, making a song about his father’s shortcomings (which Joe shared online). If there was a time to get back at Joe Budden, it was when he was retired and relegated to just a podcast, right?

Budden seemingly basked in all of it, ready to react and create new content. This was an artist who took a mid-2000s dispute and co-founded Slaughterhouse. He and The Game took verbal shots at each other in the era of the mixtape. He and Ransom dissed one another relentlessly in the era of the blog. He tensely stepped to Consequence in the era of Rap reality TV. In the era of “content is king,” Joe used his personal platform to react, respond, and analyze a story-line that always seemed to involve him in most weeks. On top of topical relevance, the show is entertaining, funny, and a companion to many in commute, at the gym, or simply seeking engaging conversation. With a community of content aggregators around him, Joe funneled the narratives through his show and gained more and more fans. They came to hear Joe’s response to Eminem, his latest thoughts on Drake’s new video, his response to D12’s Bizarre, but they seemed to stay for much more.

For much of his career, Joe Budden always seemed to be the underdog. It is part of his brand. Since his days spitting introspective verses on Cutmaster C and DJ Clue Desert Storm mixtapes, he plays the role on anything that he has been part of. It’s why Joe was often painted as the coffee-swilling, cigarette-smoking Rap curmudgeon from Jersey City. After early 2000s success, the rapper spent too much time on Def Jam waiting for a sophomore release date. During this period, he dabbled as a media personality, working at HOT 97. He went independent when major label deals were a status symbol. His lyrics showed vulnerability and admitted depression and addiction at a time of brute machismo. Vh1 viewers will recall Budden stuck on bended-knee trying to win back his scorned love Internet-lightyears before Offset’s recent antics. On his podcast, Budden will share with listeners that the bags for his concerts in recent years were far from big, and he will accept pot-shots from co-hosts and peers about fashion choices, ambitious Rap purist concepts, and time spent on the C-list of rappers. In 2018, the narrative that Joe Budden is an underdog changed, even if he refused to change with it.

In May of this year, Diddy and Revolt seemingly made Joe an offer he couldn’t refuse. State Of The Culture premiered in September. Joe became an Executive Producer too. This time, Joe’s panel included another artist in the midst of a re-branding comeback, Remy Ma, fellow Complex alum Brandon “Jinx” Jenkins, and fellow former HOT 97 personality Scottie Beam. The move showed that Budden had value, and that trusting his instincts to renegotiate affirmed the process. State Of The Culture is a different kind of show, aimed at some different audience demographics than Everyday Struggle, which has carried on with third co-host, Wayno. It brought profile to Revolt, and a place for Budden and company to have honest—often bold discussion on TV and web.

September proved to be an intersection for Joe. As S.O.T.C debuted, Joe also launched a podcast partnership with Spotify. His hobby discussion with some of his “nearest and dearest” had landed Joe a position with the streaming giant, Creative Content Director. It adjusted the podcast format to twice per week, and as he and his cohorts regularly tease one another, presumably padded their pockets. Meanwhile, the deal kept the show free, just a few days after subscribers could get it. The tone, format, and rawness of the show had not shifted, even if the ensemble regularly jokes about pending battles over content, music drops, and upsetting the set-up. As if on cue with this move to Spotify, the content stars lined up.

Eminem released Kamikaze at the end of August, with no warning. If January’s “Chloraseptic (Remix)” caused a difference of opinion between D12’s Bizarre and Joe over if Eminem was rapping to him, “Fall” left no doubt. A day later, Joe went off the rails on his podcast. Incensed, he shouted that he’s been a better rapper than Marshall Mathers since 2008, and vented his frustrations as a former Shady Records artist. Joe chided for a proper battle if Eminem wanted to take it there, reminding his former employer that he was “backed now” and accusing Mathers of not knowing Joe’s history. Coupled with MGK also being the butt of Em’s disses, the media cycle awakened fans to consume the content and pick sides. Some Slaughterhouse members reacted. The pot was stirred as everything was coming to a boil.

As if to compete with Joe’s advantages in having a media platform, Em produced video interviews that gave him a platform to vent his side of the problem with Joe and Slaughterhouse’s hiatus, along with MGK, Tyler, The Creator, and others. Just like his 2016 dealings with Drake, Joe Budden proved the power in his words and audience. He could ruffle superstar feathers with words, not lyrics. Once thought to be a convenient escape from a music career, Joe’s media endeavors showed that they had scaled. At a time when Spotify was eager to see Joe Budden’s reach, it made him a three-ring media circus master with all ears (and eyes) on him. One week he was ready to return to rapping if Eminem was up for the challenge. The next week Joe was being challenged to make a half-a-mil bet with CyHi The Prynce (who also reacted to critical podcast commentary in verse). Expanding to guests, Joe’s podcast hosted the most revealing interview with Pusha-T in 2018, especially as it pertained to Drake beef. Joe and another superstar he’d criticized, Chance The Rapper, had a spirited podcast debate about what independent music looks like in 2018. While Joe joked about it for much of the year, it started to seem plausible that Drizzy Drake could be a guest on the show after all.

In the midst of this late ’18 media blitz, Budden returned to Love & Hip Hop New York with partner, Cyn Santana. This time, Joe and his baby’s mother were in the starring roles, not supporting. They join Remy there. While Joe’s podcast colleagues regularly roast him about the show and plot-points, it broadcasts his character and a dynamic of his life apart from music and Rap culture to a completely different audience than the other vehicles. Additionally, those vehicles get cross-promoted on an established, hit reality series. Joe also has an E.P. credit thanks to the return after half a decade away. In an era when positions of power are sought-out by creatives, Joe Budden has one of the best resumes in the game. It is a far cry from late December of 2017.

Joe Budden is still the underdog, but only in his attitude. As an artist, his music career was compromised by waiting for others, seemingly punished for speaking out against the powers that be, and black-balled for challenging the establishment. Meanwhile, his media career is booming for doing the very same thing. At a time when “trusting the process” can sound good on paper, Joe Budden’s place in the game shows what that really looks like. This month Spotify confirmed that The Joe Budden Podcast is their second-most-streamed exclusive in the category (and the podcast is only exclusive for 2 days).  Those rankings come three months after the deal. Remy Ma is someone who has taken careful note. “[Joe Budden] has made a lot of power moves this year. I really feel like it needs to be acknowledged. I remember when [State Of The Culture was announced], people were like, ‘Another show with Joe? Again? He has the podcast.’ But you have managed to finesse every last one of them. I love when I drive through Times Square and see your light-skinned light-bulb-shaped head up on the billboards. It just warms my heart. I’m proud of you and I’m very happy for you,” she said on a recent episode of S.O.T.C. (21:30).

Reacting to Rem’s compliment, Joe says he never thought about it in that way. He also described what makes him happy about his ’18. “The fact that I take pride [in] is that I can employ some people; I can provide some opportunities to some other people who may not have gotten them without me being in this spot…as a rapper I never put stock in it, maybe ’cause I was never able to do it. Or you just don’t think about those things. But you feel really good helping people.”

Even as an underdog, Joe Budden’s 2018 teaches so many to know their value—whatever it is, in whatever you do. If you have patience, persistence, and are willing to take the harder road at times, the right things can happen in the way you envision. He also shows that it is never too late to apply the things that make you who you are to a different place, and conquer.