Joe Budden is a magician. Not the typical Three-Card Monty dealer on the street either. The 22-year-old MC seemed to come out of nowhere when his hit single “Focus” commandeered the clubs in the fall of 2002. With no glamorous affiliations to buoy him the modern day Rumplestiltskin indeed made something valuable out of nothing. And you’d think it was mere luck of the draw if you didn’t know his story.
Joseph Budden, Jr. was born in Harlem, NY in 1980. After three years his mother moved them to St. Albans, Queens. Even with his father in and out of jail, Joseph’s mother managed to keep things together. “We were never really poor,” Budden reveals. “We never struggled like that.” A functional drug addict, Mrs. Budden held down a fulltime job at Citibank when they moved to their current home of Jersey City, NJ when Joe was 12.
As a New York kid adjusting to Jersey life, Joe took on various interests, but mostly kept to himself. “I didn’t travel much. I spent a lot of time in Lincoln Park on the basketball court,” he recalls. “I was writing poetry and that type of thing. The writing took a form of rapping when I was fourteen and I sang in Monumental Baptist Church.”
But while his life seemed normal enough on the outside, Joe began to struggle with drug addiction. “I started heavy on the marijuana. Seven blunts a day,” he confesses. “From there it went from smoking to drinking, to poppin’ pills, to doing Angel Dust. When it got to all of those at once it became a problem.”
Joe’s habits earned him short stretches in jail, but nothing he would glorify. The most significant time he spent was the year in rehab trying to get clean. “Between my mother and the therapy, the psychiatrists, and just me knowing I had a problem helped me realize that enough was enough.” While in rehab Joe wrote intensely. Getting his thoughts and feelings out on paper not only aided in his recovery, but also laid the foundation for his career as an MC.
At 18 years old Joe landed his first and only 9-to-5 job at a local Nobody Beats The Wiz Store. All of his coworkers knew that he wanted to MC and it was a challenge at times seeing all of the artists coming out every week. “It made it a lil’ harder, but it made me work harder,” says Joe. “It was definitely good to just be around nothin’ but music, the best thing I could’a been doin’ without being signed.” But that didn’t stop Joe from tipping the odds in his favor every now and then. “I was in the stockroom stealin’ everything.”
But in 2000 Joe got to put stock in himself instead of stocking shelves. His godbrother introduced him to DJ Cutmaster C and a guest freestyle led to appearances on tapes by DJ Clue and DJ Envy. Joe Budden, the MC formerly known as Mouse, was now making his own name in the ‘hood.
Building off of his mixtape buzz, Joe signed with his production company On Top Entertainment and continued working the streets. But with a baby on the way, Joe needed to step things up. That led to signing with Spit Records, an artist development arm of Def Jam. But it wasn’t long before Joe would be dealing directly with the legendary label. “At the time it wasn’t being presented like an artist development kind of thing. They were pitching it like it was a street subsidiary of Def Jam,” he explains. “When I put ‘Focus’ out on a Clue tape I was still on Spit. When that song did so well, that’s when Def Jam decided I really didn’t belong there.”
And after hearing “Focus” it’s easy to understand why. The infectious funk from his producer Dub B (aka White Boy) was meant to be a remix for another artist, but thankfully they past on it. Joe quickly laid his rhymes and released it to a DJ Clue tape without so much as a hook. “People would be dancing in the club next to me and not know it was my record. It let me know the significance of good music. From that point it was damn, we need the next record now!”
That next record was “Pump It Up” the Just Blaze produced banger that let the world know that Joe was no one hit wonder. Rocking a reworked version of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario (Remix)” Joe was officially on smash. The magic was real. “I knew that was a hit as soon as we finished it.”
Now Joe has the task of delivering his yet untitled debut and show that he still has some tricks up his sleeve. “I’m just so different from every rapper,” Joe says confidently.
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