Wow. Just had to get that out of the way at the beginning here, it’ll make more sense by the end. Anyway, most fans will remember at least two things for certain. The classic, four-part, Mood Muzik series that trademarked Budden’s style which was rooted in his tenacity to create soul-baring music that revealed more about life than most artists can experience by the time their ‘greatest hits’ lands on the shelves — and then there was the incredibly underwhelming No Love Lost in 2013. Occupying opposite sides of the quality spectrum, these projects seemed to represent two different artists. One, an honest, intelligent craftsman of the english vernacular and the other, a byproduct of a saturated industry built on expectations.
For awhile, I think most of us had thought that the Jersey City emcee had all but exhausted his emotionally riveting fuel. Just as I was starting to accept that sad reality, seven-rays of hope became visible in the form of tracks on Some Love Lost in 2014. Knowing that the purpose of the project was to be a prologue of sorts for his impending full-length project, my ears were Budden’s once again. Now, after what seems like a dozen tremendously entertaining, full-length, start to finish listen-through’s, I can confidently say, All Love Lost is Budden’s best work to date.
I am at a loss trying to describe the feeling this project is capable of evoking; the music definitely speaks for itself here. It is truly something to feel completely enveloped by the tellings and retellings of hip-hop’s biggest nihilist. Even the vague and familiar depictions of drug abuse, depression and failed romance on the album opener are crafted with such skill that they drip with originality and honesty. He addresses the negative reception of the lackluster and misplaced features on No Love Lost, while commenting on the fan’s appreciation of his pain, as it lends to his music better than his happiness.
“They’ll hate it before they hear it if they think its commercial and so they’re patiently waiting for my fortune’s reversal.”
Budden is consciously aware of the irony behind reaching a point of pop-culture success and positivity with No Love Lost and his fans yearning for him to revert to his ways of lyrical anguish. So here he is, back in his mental prison, delivering what turns out to be some of the most exhaustingly deep and descriptive narratives ever penned. Typically reaching beyond the five or six-minute mark, each track seems like an endurance test at first glance; as many artists have a hard time maintaining even three or four minutes of my attention. Here though, no single second feels unwarranted. Even the two and a half minute guitar solo on the title track justifyingly adds to Budden’s emotional pleas.
Musically, this is also Budden’s most mature production. From the ambient pianos on ‘Love, I’m Good’ to the sounds of a philharmonic orchestra on ‘Slaughtermouse’, the moods instrumentally induced, perfectly align with Budden’s lyrical context, forming vivid scenes rather than simple sentences. Here, simplicity is key, the production is extremely fine-tuned yet stripped down to only the essentials, making tight percussive pockets for Budden’s voice to slide into. It helps that Budden’s voice is unchallenged by overbearing artist collaborations this time around. The few instances where features do step into the light are purposeful and conducive to the project’s aim. Beautifully sung choruses by the likes of Eric Bellinger, Marsha Ambrosius and Emanny provide an equally emotional and musical element that Budden cannot. They offer a dynamic switch in tone through the use of the vocal vibrato and resonance heard in most modern-day R&B singers. The stark contrast between that and Budden’s rough, nasally voice is patterned perfectly from verse to chorus and back again.
Shameless of his past, yet aware of his faults, his words express a clarity that can only be possessed by someone who has accepted full responsibility of his wrong doings. His past is reflected through his botched view of what love is on, ‘Love I’m Good’. From the ever-changing scene of modern day hip-hop, to his obvious pain dealing with a past relationship and the inexpressible affection he feels for a son he can rarely see, the loves in Budden’s life easily cause him an equal amount of pain. Not often do we hear stories told in such a way that make living another day seem like more of a prison sentence than death. The way the fears in his daily life eclipse the thought of prison or death is uncompromising.
Rhythmically, each bar is delivered effortlessly, melding into conversational dialogues between Budden and his thoughts. Having never been known for a perplexing syllabic structure, he instead employs his incredible lyricism to mold stories littered with the lingerings of a man who writes as much for his fans as he does to cope. His stories have almost all been told in some form or another before, yet here, they are under a microscope of invigoration. The devil is in the details and Joe isn’t covering anything up. His soul is bare and his words have never felt more honest. By the end of it all a single question existed in my mind that I have yet to put into perspective. Did Joe Budden just release the best album of the year?