Album Review: Joe Budden, ‘All Love Lost’

Written by Angelo Gingerelli

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Joe Budden is a Hip-Hop anomaly, since releasing his major label (Def Jam) debut in 2003 this “Regular Joe” has always seemed to come out of the proverbial left field.  A fact that kind of makes sense for this Jersey City native considering his home city’s geographic location in relation to the center of the music business in NYC.

In the early 2000’s Budden had a huge hit with “Pump It Up” (still a crowd favorite), but instead of releasing a debut album full of attempts to recreate the sound/vibe of the single he instead released an album full of moody, personal and introspective songs that didn’t really find a place in a commercial landscape dominated by East Coast Gangstas (G-Unit, Dipset) and Dirty South “Crunk” records (Lil’ Jon, Ying Yang Twins). Following his critically acclaimed, but commercially disappointing self-titled debut album, Budden continued to remain relevant and keep his loyal fans satisfied with the Mood Muzik series of mixtapes that shunned the typical freestyles and disposable collaborations of most mixtapes and provided several albums worth of intensely personal content dealing with Joe’s place in the music industry, drug use, love life and various mental struggles.  These releases are still regarded as some of the best mixtapes ever released and set the foundation for the formation of the lyrical supergroup Slaughterhouse (Budden, Joell Ortiz, Crooked I and Royce The 5’ 9”) that would eventually generate enough buzz to sign with Eminem’s Shady Records imprint.

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Arguably, Joe Budden’s biggest contribution to the game has been his early adoption of technology and his reliance on the internet and “Black Twitter” to not only promote and distribute his music but also to fuel it’s content.  In the mid-2000’s Budden started using social media to document his industry struggles, love life (his dating history reads like a list of King Magazine’s ‘Back Shot of the Month’) and personal issues and then rhyming about them almost immediately after they were posted online.  This created a kind of Hip-Hop “Truman Show” that predated reality television’s embrace of urban celebrities (Love & Hip-Hop, Couple’s Therapy) by at least a half-decade.

“All Love Lost” is an intensely personal record that sees Joe Budden continue to rap about subjects still somewhat taboo in Hip-Hop (drug abuse, long term relationships, depression, etc.) while displaying his undeniable skill as a wholly unique MC.  At first glance the album seems oddly short at only 12 tracks but during the first listen it becomes clear that this is not really the case as almost all of the songs are over 5 minutes long and several hover around the 7-8 minute mark.  There are points where this song length really works to tell a complete story, like on “Where Do We Go?” which basically ends completely and then Joe comes back for another verse to tell parts of the narrative he left out of the earlier verses. However, there are cuts where this extended length is simply unnecessary like the title track that ends with a seemingly endless guitar solo.

Regardless of the length of each song, the project contains some of the most personal lyrics of any rap album released in recent memory and covers topics that are rarely addressed in this detail in Hip-Hop.  Many of the songs deal with romantic relationships and the complex feelings experienced by both men & women, standouts include Broke, Playing Our Part and Love, I’m Good while others deal with lost loved ones (Make It Through The Night), Joe’s ongoing issues with depression and drug use (Only Human) and his realization that some of his struggles are self-inflicted (Unnecessary Pain).  The production on the project is incredibly cohesive and while the album clearly does not have a single for radio or clubs, the songs all contain a kind of somber, melancholy vibe that really allows Budden to bare his soul to listeners.  Many of the tracks feature up-and-coming R&B singers that help set the tone for Joe’s verses and with only one guest rapper (Jadakiss on Make It Through The Night) this is clearly a  focused attempt by Budden to share his innermost thoughts as opposed to pandering to radio or DJ’s.

The clear standout of the album is “Slaughtermouse” (a play on Joe’s nickname “Mouse”), that leaked to the internet and was incorrectly labeled as an Eminem diss.  In fact, the song is an ode to how much Slim Shady meant to Budden as an artist, the state of the Slaughterhouse/Shady Records relationship and where Joe fits in the supergroup.  The Arab Muzak produced cut contains the kind of insecurity rarely seen in Hip-Hop as Joe explains his feelings on being co-signed by one of the biggest stars in the world, his place in the group (“I s**k at all that syllable s**t / I rather make the pen bleed to see the feeling you get”) and his similarities to Em (“My whole life I fought drama like you / Had ups and downs with my baby mama like you / I had my fair share of transgressions like you / Had a bad temper once and fought aggression like you / Did drugs, popped pills to fight depression like you”).  This might be the best song about another rapper since Kanye detailed how he felt about Jay-Z on Big Brother nearly a decade ago.

All Love Lost is an impressive album on all fronts and while it probably won’t find an audience with fans of what’s currently on the radio it is an incredibly mature record that will appeal to longtime Budden fans and Hip-Hop heads looking for moody, personal, skillfully produced music.

Best Songs: Slaughtermouse, Broke, Only Human

Perfect For: Listening to after a personal or professional set back and realizing you are not the only on struggling.

Rating: 8 out of 10