It is rare that rap artists get better with age. Yet, Jersey City's Joe Budden has released his strongest and most cohesive album to date with Rage & The Machine, at the tender age of 36.
Rage & The Machine showcases two great talents: the bars of Joe Budden and the beats of MPC virtuoso AraabMuzik. Additionally, features from Joell Ortiz, Jazzy, Tory Lanez, Fabolous, Emanny, and Stacy Barthe flesh out the record with equal parts grit and soul.
Handling production duties on the entire album, AraabMuzik displays a dazzling range of genres from aggressive hip hop to electronic and R&B. Joe spoke about AraabMuzik's role in the album making process in a video interview with Complex: "It almost sounds like an entirely different genre of music. Araab was just so talented. I really let his template guide the way... I was blown away by how different it was."
Lyrically, Joe is at the top of his game. He wastes little time in making a statement with the triumphant opener, "Three," which introduces the main theme of the album: Rage. The song addresses some of his issues within the hip hop culture while synths dance in the background that sound like they could be taken from a horror film.
Touching on the subject of the album, Joe spoke on the meaning of Rage in a the same video interview with Complex:
I'm not angry. Rage more so was like a culmination of everything that I had endured and experienced and felt and learned from point A in my career up until now. It's not always such a gratifying feeling, so that's where rage comes from.
"Uncle Joe" is a reflection on his age and his personal stance within the ever-changing landscape. "Serious" plays like a visceral diss track. Close friend and Slaughterhouse cohort Joell Ortiz verse blends effortlessly with Joe's and creates a dynamic call-and-response effect over a booming, haunting beat.
The highlights of the album are the more personal tracks. "Forget," which features crashing cymbals amid a beautiful sample of "Your Love's Too Good To Be Forgotten" by The Stylistics, is a concise track that has Joe delivering ferocious bars about fuzzy memories of his hood and encounters with industry people he has met and forgotten.
Featuring Stacy Barthe on the hook and sampling "Wish That You Were Mine" by The Manhattans, "I Wanna Know" is a reflection on the trials and tribulations in his tumultuous love life. Here, Joe is at his most impassioned when discussing his current lover as well as the newfound responsibility in being a father.
Album closer "Idols" is a six minute epic that sums up the theme of the record. Joe utilizes the first verse to spread praise to all the hip hop legends that paved the way. His second verse sounds and reads as if it would be an open letter to Jay Z addressing the state of hip hop. Capping the song and the album, Joe expends a final verse that describes his present state of mind: the construction of this album, questionable life and business decisions, and thoughts on his legacy.
There is some difficulty in defining Joe Budden's legacy. Even after a big hit early in his career with "Pump It Up," the MC has spent years toiling in relative obscurity within the underground circuit. He has only recently etched a path toward mainstream success with his effortless storytelling ability on his solo albums and his membership in the supergroup Slaughterhouse.
Most hip hop artists fade with age as the aggression and passion diminish with their skill. For Joe, age allows for more experience and stories for him to put on wax.
Rage & The Machine is now available for purchase on Amazon. Stream it above for free, courtesy of Spotify.
For more music, news, and tour dates, check out Joe Budden's Zumic artist page.