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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Padded Room

    Times have changed since 2003. Digital music distribution slowly but surely became the norm. Auto-Tune and Lil Wayne together took over the industry. And Guns ‘N Roses released their first album since the early ’90s, “Chinese Democracy,” to much praise but without having most of the musicians that were actually Guns ‘N Roses. Six years is a long time, and you can tell Joe Budden knows this. Since the release of his self-titled debut album, Budden had been hard at work on his sophomore album, “The Growth.” Considering he was celebrated at the time as one of the most lyrically formidable rappers to come out of New Jersey, we had no reason to expect anything other than the same punch-line-laden bravado and thoughtful introspection that made him famous that summer.

    The bad news is “The Growth” would never become more than a seed buried in a development hell that actually recalls “Chinese Democracy” in the drama and conflict that accompanied it’s ill-fated recording.

    Instead, a more cold-hearted Joey B went underground, and the fans that still listened were treated to the Mood Muzik series, mixtapes that had the scope, soul, and tone of full-fledged albums. Those would-be-albums would actually comprise some of his best work. And instead of punchlines, we got stories and the promise of a new and better album for the masses.

    Now, six long years later and freed from major label strife, that album is “Padded Room.”

    Does it live up to that promise? The answer is almost. Almost because, while the album does shine in more than a few spots, in others it falters and for varying reasons, marring an otherwise impressive and stark portrait of a troubled genius.

    Taking a look at the cover art, the intention behind his imagery is clear. Budden on this album likens himself to a Hannibal Lecter-esque caged monster, battling very real demons and unafraid to unleash said demons on his listeners. It makes for some very heavy stuff, and, as a whole, you’d be hard-pressed to listen to the work in one sitting.

    Accompanying him on this mental and often spiritual journey are a slew of unknown producers whose work can be described as hit-or-miss. The miss tracks, such as “If I Gotta Go” and “Happy Holidays” are largely throwaways. However, let it be said that when they hit, as in the case of “Now I Lay” and “Exxxes,” Blastah Beats and The Klasix, respectively, showcase that they can provide the kind of sonic background that light the way into the dark recesses of Joe Budden’s mind.

    Lyrically, Joe delivers each story with such vivid, often harrowing honesty that, although he doesn’t mine the darkest of his themes at all times, when he digs deep, he finds real shadows. So much so that the one mainstream guest appearance featured on the album, The Game on the obligatory club track “The Future,” finds himself out of his depth. Exploring such themes as infidelity, abortion, suicidal ideation, and faith Budden is unafraid and unashamed to look within and without, even in the face of what he sees as an uncaring creator in the chilling “Pray For Me.”

    And yet even he falters. The Prodigy diss track “Blood on the Wall” comes across as irrelevant and late on the ears of the one he’s attacking, dulling the edge of his words.

    Taken together, this album could have been named Mood Muzik vol. 4. In the same ways as its predecessors, it’s powerful, moving, and proves that Joe Budden is one of the more underrated rappers of our time. In those same ways, it proves that Joe Budden’s gift for raw honesty is also his curse. The man is the opposite of mainstream. Finally, with a crop of unknown producers and hit-or-miss tracks, we are given a good album that falls just short of greatness. It can’t be long, though, before that great album comes.

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