Very few emcees wear their hearts on their sleeve like New
Jersey’s Joe Budden. While many casual
Hip Hop fans can only mouth the words to Joe’s
radio smash Pump it Up, those who
followed Jumpoff Joe from the mixtapes to his self-titled Def Jam debut to his Mood Muzik series know there’s more to the wordsmith than catchy
club bangers.

Unfortunately, Budden’s
downfall appeared to be a lack of marketability, Def Jam–or Joe himself,
depending on who you talk to–failed to capitalize on the success of Pump it Up and his sophomore album was
stuck in Def Jam purgatory. In
situations like this, most artists would’ve lapsed into obscurity, but Joe
regrouped, going for self on the Mood
mixtapes that sounded better than many of the major label releases.
The second installment found Joey at his best, collaborating with Jay Millz and the late Stack Bundles on Six Minutes of Death and showing off his story telling skills on Three Sides to a Story.

Now a free agent, Budden
returns with the long awaited Mood Muzik
, showing the game that despite the lack of a major label, he hasn’t lost
a step.

The album’s intro, Hiatus
finds Budden going through his cell
phone voicemail and if the listener doesn’t skip through the too long journey
into the artist’s personal life, find him attacking the mid tempo beat,
reminding those that forgot why he goes hard in the booth that “music is just what feelings sound like/ so
even though I do it its flame/, for a while felt like I was making music in
vein/ we don’t’ view it the same, I use it for change/ y’all do it for change,
I use it for pain.” 

Mood Muzik’s
collaborations are kept to a minimum, with Joe
opting to go for self on the majority of the album, but Warfare finds Budden
going back in forth with fellow mixtape heavy hitter, Joell Ortiz. The result is friendly competition between the two and
an exercise in wordplay and lyricism. Analyzing his current status in the game
on Invisible Man, Budden spits “the lifestyles of the rich and shameless/ I pick anonymity over being
famous/ from the start, even if they don’t see it I play a par/ rather than
sell a record, rather do it from the heart/…so I stand behind mics not even
worried about the limelight, that’ll manifest when the time’s right.”

The soulful soundtracks, supplied by talented, but largely
unknown producers like WMS Sultan
and The Klasix allow Budden to pour
his heart and soul into every track. The
produced Dear Diary covers
friendship, loyalty and loss, while The
supply the backdrop for the life and death opus, Send Him Our Love. While the “pour out a
little liquor” track appears on 95% of Hip Hop album’s, the sincerity in Budden’s voice makes Love seem more like a conversation
between friends than a rap song and is one of the album’s standout tracks.

Family Reunion may
be the last time we hear Budden, Fabolous, Hitchcock and Ransom–who
Budden had a very public and
personal falling out with several months ago–on the same track. Budden has never been one to run from
beef, but the song proves that some rifts should be mended for the sake of the
music. The album’s skits find the hilarious return of Killa BH who spits a ridiculously stupid verse that’s so bad, it’s
good and towards the end of the album he steps in the booth for a parody of Kanye West’s Big Brother record, titled Folgers
. The breaks provide a welcome contrast from Budden’s often serious nature.

To be sure, Mood Muzik
plays better than the lion’s share of albums released in 2007, and it’s only a mixtape. It’s a solid offering from Joe
and can only be described as “Real World” rap: what happens when
artists stop being polite, and start getting real.