How did a one-hit wonder avoid fading into obscurity to become arguably the most important voice in hip-hop media today? We examine Joe Budden’s transition from rapper to mogul – and why his unexpected ascent is a victory for creators everywhere.
The Joe Budden Podcast
When my Lyft driver pulled up to the Regent Theater in downtown Los Angeles, the line for a live show of “The Joe Budden Podcast” wrapped around the block. I hadn’t missed an episode for the past year, so I was well aware of the numbers they were bringing in on a weekly basis — but there was something substantially different about seeing it. After scanning the crowd and making my way to the back, I found myself increasingly amazed at how many people had come out on a Wednesday evening to watch Joe talk shit with his co-hosts on a faux stage-turned-living-room set. Having watched the Joe Budden Podcast exclusively on a TV screen from my couch, this snaking line of Los Angelenos bridged the inherent disconnect between the amount of views on a YouTube video and seeing those numbers come to life.
About two spots ahead of me, there was a gentleman in a tattered Lakers shirt and some faded navy Dickies shorts that hung halfway down his shins (a staple of LA attire) who turned around before lighting a joint. “Yo. We’re all here to see Joe Buddens. That’s crazy.” He repeated himself for added emphasis, making sure to add the nonexistent ‘s’ at the end of Budden again. “Joe Buddens. In 2018. And he ain’t even rapping. How crazy is that?” I acknowledged him with a smile, as he echoed the same sentiment lingering in my mind just minutes before. He was absolutely right. We were all here to see Joe Budden.
An Island of Substance in a Sea of Ignorance
Hip-hop in the social media era is plagued by a stifling lack of substance — airwaves diluted with cookie-cutter music, journalists capitalizing on click-bait headlines, mainstream gatekeepers operating on payola, and loyalty to industry relationships and endorsements over integrity.
Consequently, we’ve been consuming content for a long time from creators who aren’t necessarily creatives. We give voices to people who aren’t cut from the cloth of our culture, who sit at their desks all day for a paycheck and are cautious not to step on any toes before they clock out. But comfort in complacency has never belonged at the core of hip-hop — whether it’s the politically charged music of Public Enemy, the controversy of NWA’s inner-city anthems, or the militancy of Tupac Shakur, we move forward as a culture by finding the beauty in dissonance. Amongst the rubble, we have always embraced the rose that grew from concrete.
And this is where Joe Budden comes in.
After being blackballed by the industry and dismissed by the public, he is now arguably the most indispensable voice in hip-hop media. His road to redemption transcends simply a rebranding of Joe Budden — it’s a victory for creators who understand the importance of artistry and integrity in today’s climate. And it’s crucial to understand exactly how he got to that point.
Joe Budden, Grammy-Nominated
The New Jersey rapper was a high school dropout who spent his adolescence in a haze of angel dust and Newports, and he willingly checked into rehab a month before his 17th birthday. However, his skills as a wordsmith landed him a deal with Def Jam Records, and Joe Budden released his debut album in 2003. His Grammy-nominated single, “Pump It Up,” was featured in the movies 2 Fast 2 Furious and You Got Served (RIP Lil Saint) – but while this could have been beginning of a promising career in mainstream hip-hop, Joe left the label over creative differences for the direction of his second album.
Despite the setback, Joe continued using music as a personal outlet and released an incredible series of Mood Muzik mixtapes that garnered him a cult following for his honesty and vulnerability. While machismo and bravado have always been staples of hip-hop, Joe Budden embraced his flaws and bared his soul, diving deep into his struggles with mental health, substance abuse, and relationship woes. In late 2008, he joined rap supergroup Slaughterhouse with fellow lyricists Royce da 5’9″, Joel Ortiz & Crooked I.
Unfortunately, the negative publicity constantly surrounding his name seemed to eclipse his accolades and abilities as a rapper, and Joe Budden precariously tiptoed the line between irrelevance and visibility, often teetering towards the latter for the wrong reasons.
- Involved in domestic violence cases
- Walked out of interviews on multiple occasions (Hot97 & Taxstone)
- Caught hiding under the bed of one of his ex’s
- Chased some teenagers down his block in a worn-out wifebeater with rocks in his hand
- Proposed in the middle of Times Square and was rejected on national television
- Participated in gimmicky reality shows like “Love and Hip-Hop” and “Couple’s Therapy”
And of course, one of his most infamous moments: live streaming with an ice pack on his face after getting jumped by Raekwon and his goons.
Joe Budden at Complex
At this point, Joe Budden was a name measured more so by his memeability rather than his talent, and having spent the first half of the 2000s doped up on prescription pills and mollies, he provided plenty of ammunition for tabloids to continue pushing that narrative. But in April of 2017, Complex Media announced that it would be premiering a daily morning show called “Everyday Struggle,” featuring Joe Budden and DJ Akademiks going back-and-forth about a bevy of hip-hop topics (similar to “First Take” on ESPN). Two of the most polarizing hip-hop personalities on a talk show? If nothing else, the concept was intriguing.
The first few weeks were a bit messy.
On one hand, we had a squirrelly-faced and overly animated internet personality who seemed to be a clear victim of arrested development, but built an extremely lucrative online presence by focusing on a TMZ style of coverage for hip-hop, catering to modern-day millennials and “mumble rap” aficionados. On the other side, we had a gravelly-voiced MC and “bitter old head” with nearly two decades of experience in the music industry, who was abrasive, patronizing, but knowledgable. And, presumably for the sake of stimulating debate, most of the show consisted of DJ Akademiks spouting surface-level takes about a culture that he didn’t seem to truly appreciate or understand, and Joe Budden relentlessly ethering him for his naiveté and lack of insight – the dynamic was extremely jarring.
As the weeks rolled on, the “Everyday Struggle” crew gradually hit a stride, and it was incredible to watch it play out on camera.
Fist bumps and daps became far more frequent, Akademiks acclimated himself in the art of the clap back, and the bulging vein on Joe’s forehead took a backseat to his contagious, sputtering laugh. Joe Budden became more receptive to the glaring generational gaps that often put their perspectives at odds, and he found a healthy balance between screaming bloody murder to the style of a stern sit-down, embracing his role as a hip-hop sage and veteran. There was a method to his madness, and if you listened long enough, you discovered the glimmering gems of truth hidden beneath the guise of his reckless abandon.
Whether Budden was going off on Akademiks about XXXTENTACION, addressing mental health with a single tear streaming down his face, playfully calling out Chance for his squeaky clean image and holier-than-thou attitude, or labeling LA Reid a sexual predator, Joe consistently operated with a level of transparency that was admirable and refreshing, while his counterparts tiptoed around industry relationships and political correctness. Given his extensive experience with both major and independent labels, the mixtape circuit, and media, Joe has a plethora of insider knowledge that he’s more than willing to share with us — there are no meddling middle men that buffer his thoughts before they reach our ears. And before anything, he’s a fan of music.
Viral moments like the Migos interview on the red carpet or Joe screaming at Lil Yachty quickly thrust the show into notoriety, and the visual of Akademiks nervously fidgeting in his seat on the receiving end of a Joe Budden tirade became a staple of the show.
While its viewership (and their chemistry) continued to grow in leaps and bounds, Joe Budden abruptly announced that he was let go from the show at the end of 2017, citing “internal chaos” at the company. The news sent the internet into a frenzy as fans, media personalities, rappers, producers, singers (who knew John Mayer would be a fan) and even NBA columnists, all rallied on Twitter to express their collective disapproval.
The Joe Budden Podcast
Budden’s YouTube channel “JoeBuddenTV” has been in commission for longer than a decade, and he also dabbled with livestream platforms such as UStream and BlogTV during the early onset of social media. When it comes to connecting with fans on a more intimate level, Joe has quietly been a pioneer of the internet era. He uploaded a steady stream of content throughout the years: studio sessions, concert footage, miscellaneous vlogs, and even interviewed a baby-faced Drake in 2009 right after the release of his first mixtape So Far Gone — before his mini Jew-fro inverted to the signature beard of @champagnepapi.
Shortly after leaving “Everyday Struggle,” Joe followed up his cryptic tweets with a thorough explanation of his departure on “The Joe Budden Podcast,” which he started in 2015, and it was a seamless transition for Joe Budden fans.
In this snippet from episode 141 which currently has almost 1.2 million views, Joe candidly explains that creatives in a corporate atmosphere are in a compromising position, and you must navigate accordingly — if the executives can’t understand your worth, you leave and take that value with you. Complex is a massive media machine backed by Verizon, and when it was time to renegotiate contracts, they failed to accommodate the star of their flagship show. As a creator who constantly championed integrity, Joe proved that his words held weight — when push came to shove, he stood firm and held his ground, refusing to compromise for a corporate check. In hindsight, this move was almost poetic, both in terms of Joe Budden as a brand and human being, as well as his career trajectory moving forward. His greatest reassurance to disappointed fans was simply two words: creators create.
Since striking out on his own, media mogul Joe has been in full effect:
- Organized and hosted multiple events where up-and-coming singers, rappers, musicians, comedians, and even dancers showcase their talent backed by a live band
- Weekly animated cartoons of classic podcast moments
- Sold out tour of the live podcast
- “State of the Culture” show coming with Revolt TV
- Curated eight episodes so far of the “Pull Up” series, featuring roundtable discussions with a colorful cast and 1-on-1 conversations with Styles P, Vince Staples, T-Pain & Michael Rapaport
“The Joe Budden Podcast” has become an integral part of his resurgence, and the fans that migrated from “Everyday Struggle” learned that Joe was in a different pocket with his co-hosts Mal and Rory (and the faceless Parks), all of whom have experience with the music industry in some capacity.
Kitanya Harrison said it best:
The first thing you need to know about Joe Budden is that there are multiple versions of him, and they’re constantly doing battle. There is a persistent stream of roiling emotions just below his surface. He’ll be laughing maniacally one minute, shrugging off a serious social issue the next, and ready to fight to the death over semantics a few seconds later (he’ll go so far as to demand someone produce and consult a dictionary). He’s passionate and messy, but he’s also incredibly self-aware. He readily acknowledges his flaws, sometimes right in the moment as he’s indulging them shamelessly. The result is chaotic absurdity. You can’t look away from it once it hooks you.
Behind the Joe Budden Podcast
While Joe’s charisma is the anchor of the podcast, credit also has to be given to his cohorts.
Rory “Irish McNasty” Farrell is the youngest at 27 years old, but he has an intriguing resume that lends to his unique perspective: he was an all-state track runner in high school, joined a black fraternity in college and nearly got expelled three times, interned for Def Jam Records when Kanye West released “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” worked under Sha Money XL (music executive for various major labels and president of G-Unit records during the height of their historic run) and is now the marketing manager at Sony Music. He is also the general manager for DussePalooza (formerly HennyPalooza) where they host debauchery-filled events all over the country. Rory has dry, witty humor that often flies under the radar, and a wide breadth of knowledge when it comes to music and life in general.
It’s a running joke on the podcast that nobody really knows what exactly Mal does. He grew up in the Bronx, one of his best friends is former NBA player Brandon Jennings, he’s been spotted on “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” proposing a toast at Khloe’s baby shower, inexplicably has ties to the OVO camp, and his older brother is Kareem ‘Biggs’ Burke, who co-founded Roc-A-Fella records with Jay-Z and Dame Dash. He has impeccable comedic timing and regularly roasts his co-hosts to a burnt crisp, and for lack of a better term, brings a “street” perspective to the show.
Parks is pictured on the left, and he’s an audio engineer that works with Slaughterhouse and PRhyme (DJ Premier & Royce da 5’9″). They record the podcast in his living room, and he chimes in occasionally from outside of the camera.
The Importance of The Joe Budden Podcast
The appeal of the podcast goes beyond music. It’s years of friendship, stories, and experiences that culminate into a certain level of camaraderie, and this spills over seamlessly into their reckless barbershop talk. It often gets loud and ignorant, much in the same way conversations with our own loved ones do. No pre-production meetings, no agendas, and no sponsors. Just real perspectives that come from a real place.
They know how to dish it and take it (pause) without being sensitive or spiteful, and when it’s time to get serious — whether for a deep dive into an album or to address the untimely death of a controversial rap star — they have a collective ability to engage in meaningful discourse rooted in knowledge and integrity.
Joe Budden: Authenticity through Creativity
Joe Budden operates from a deep love and respect for a culture that both embraced him at his best and demonized him at his worst, and he provides a unique perspective that aims to redefine the way we experience and internalize music. While most prominent voices in mainstream hip-hop media are undercut with ulterior motives and personal agendas, Budden’s resurgence is a powerful reminder that authenticity is becoming a valuable premium as the social media landscape continues to mature. The same unfiltered combativeness that got him blackballed from the industry has now propelled him to unforeseen heights, and people are beginning to pay attention.
As far as content, Joe kept his promise and shows no signs of slowing down. I find myself constantly coming back to those two words, and even as I write this piece, they resonate now more than ever: creators create.