Throughout history, depression has often allowed artists to create their most inspired work. From Billie Holiday and Johnny Cash to Kurt Cobain and Tupac Shakur, life’s agonizing moments have given birth to great creativity. Such is the case for one of this year’s most talked about acts because Joe Budden [click to read] seems to feed off the negativity that surrounds his life. On his celebrated Mood Muzik series, for instance, he gave us a Regular Joe trying to find his way while last year’s Halfway House and this year’s Padded Room [click to read] gave us an even deeper glimpse into the mind of Joe Budden. Now, as “the world keeps spinning,” Joey has decided to take off the straight jacket and restraint mask to release Escape Route.

Navigating through this effort, Joe picks up where Padded Room left off and continues to dissect his mental state. “If you couldn’t tell, I’m on my own time / A prisoner of my own mind / Problem is, I don’t mind.” Penning sixteens about drug abuse (“Intro”), anti-social characteristics (“Anti”), and other issues from his past (“Never Again”), Budden once again proves he’s one of the few soloists willing and able to put his misery into poetry with impressive results. Revealing that his problems go beyond what fans see on blogs and Twitter updates, he explains that he “could front as if everything’s fine / but my grandmother’s dying and she’s eighty nine.” Using “World Keeps Spinnin” as a stage to share emotional angst and a lesson learned through pain, he once again demonstrates the growth that Def Jam never allowed him to release. Later, “Forgive Me” unveils part of the Method Man conversation but also asks fans to understand that he will continue to make mistakes because he’s “only a human like y’all.” From there, we get “State of You” and “Good Enough,” where Budden pours more multi-syllable rhyme stanzas about life, failed sobriety and loss into soul beats like few others can, dropping emotive lines like “I appear to be arrogant, that’s what they instilled in me / Took it as a weakness, when I showed them humility / Insensitive, don’t waste time tryin’ to tell me what emotions is / I’m emotionless.” However, for all that is praised, this project is not without drawbacks. For some listeners, this may be seen as his least diverse project yet, an album that somehow lacks the usual punch line bravado he’s shown in the past. It may also come as a surprise that the Slaughterhouse-assisted “We Outta Here” [click to listen] fails to live up to what The Four Headed Monster has released thus far and “Connect 4” acts as a forgettable ending to an otherwise solid project.

To complement Budden’s dark tone, the instrumentation carries a similar sinister vibe. Jared F shoulders the production on most of the standout tracks, highlighting the emotional themes. This is exemplified by his guitar on “Never Again,” which enhances the atmosphere of the song while his sped up Soul samples and instrumentation strengthen “Forgive Me,”  “State of You” and “Good Enough.” Furthermore, the daring use of a Metallica sample on “Freight Train” gives Budden’s story an added layer of complexity with its Gothic piano playing throughout. Although some of the remaining tracks (“World Keeps Spinnin,” “No Comment” and “Anti”) are solid instrumentals, many are out shined by the rhymes or drowned out by bad mixing. Perhaps a drawback that may come with the independent Rap world, sure, but it’s unfortunate that the sonic quality parallels that of a mixtape and not an official release. With Budden, this is reminiscent of his Mood Muzik days, but the fact that this album isn’t as clean as it should be is a definite disappointment, especially considering that his rhymes are as poignant as ever.  

In the past, Budden has addressed skeptics of what has been dubbed Emo-Rap, saying “They call it complaining, I call it explaining.” On this effort, he once again battles perceptions and misconceptions, asking “How about he’s just misunderstood to us?” Perhaps that’s true but fortunately that has not kept him from explaining. Though somewhat restrained by its weak spots, Escape Route is another sample of what Joe Budden can offer. Gaining creativity from the dark clouds, he remains introspective and polished as a writer, demonstrating lyricism that’s miles ahead of many in the genre. Acknowledging the fact that this release comes with defects, it seems it wasn’t given the attention of an official album. In a press release, Budden noted that Escape Route is merely a precursor to “what may very well be the best Joe Budden album ever.” That may or may not prove true but it does sound like this release wasn’t a priority. It still delivers the goods for any fan of poetry on wax but the overall sound quality simply isn’t up to par, making this nothing more or less than another solid effort.