“I’m an addict, so [I did] drugs, period,” rapper Joe Budden said a couple of weeks ago in New York, breaking down what kinds of drugs he used to indulge in. “I never did coke, never did heroin, but I did [do] angel dust, weed and pills. Anything you say, I did it.”
Before Joe was lyrically wounding cats on mixtape tracks — as he’s been doing for the past two-and-a-half years — he was a Jersey City, New Jersey, rapper who was throwing his life away, succumbing to the allure of narcotics.
The abbreviated story of Budden’s life before the music reads like this: Joe was born in Harlem, moved to Queens, New York, a few years later and then to New Jersey. His father went to jail when he was 14. Joe dropped out of high school, got his GED soon after, tried college for a while and eventually gave up. The 22-year-old said that while he and school were never friends, he and drugs definitely rolled tight.
“I’ve been clean [for] going on six years,” Joe said.
Now his is a name you have to mention when you talk about the most consistent mixtape marauders of the past couple of years, which include such rappers such as 50 Cent, the LOX, Freeway and his good friend, Fabolous. “It took my teenage years to overcome it. My whole teenage years were spent in rehab and psychiatric institutions. I had [hit] my rock bottom where enough was enough.”
Joe said his healing these days comes from making music, and he’s ready to end his lengthy stay on Def Jam’s bench. After company honchos learned how much of a formidable presence he was, Budden had to be patient and build up his buzz. He just released his first official single, “Pump It Up,” a few weeks ago (see “Mixtapes: The Other Music Industry”).
In 2002 Joe thought the label would back another one of his tunes, “Focus,” which became big in the clubs last fall, but Budden said Def Jam didn’t decide to start pushing it until the following year when “Focus” was starting to die out. “Putting a video out for a song I did almost a year ago was something I wasn’t down with,” he scoffed.
“Finally it feels like Def Jam is behind me and they’re ready,” Joe said with a smile. He shot the video for “Pump It Up” two weeks ago in Miami. “I’ve had the songs, I’ve had the attitude — I’ve been ready. A lot of people thought after “Focus” I wouldn’t be able to come back with another one. A hit record is hard to make — for some people. I came back, regardless of what the nonbelievers thought.”
All Budden needed was a little help from one of music’s most versatile track gurus.
“Just Blaze is amazing,” Joe said about the beatmaker, who produced “Pump It Up.” “I went to him like, ‘Son, [Def Jam] f—ed up ‘Focus.’ I don’t know what to do.’ Me and him just vibed. ['Pump It Up'] is so high energy. That dude right there is a wonder. You go in there, leave him alone. Come back and you’ve got a hit.”
Listening to Joe talk, he’ll tell you that he has a few other hits on his debut, The Jump Off, due this summer. He just released “Dear Angela” to the streets. There he talks about the heartache of being in a stormy relationship with the mother of his son.
Elsewhere on the record, Joe speaks favorably about another woman in his life.
“I have a song called ‘Calm Down,’ [and] it’s to my mother,” Joe explained. “It talks about my fight with drug addiction and how I wouldn’t have made it without her. My favorite song in the last couple of years actually is ‘Walk With Me,’ ” he said. “It’s basically touching on the difference I’m seeing in treatment, before and after my deal. I’m seeing people’s [ulterior] motives.”
As a recovering addict, the music business doesn’t always seem like the ideal profession to be in, but Joe says he has faith in God that he’ll be OK.
“I got a program,” he said. “I’ve got certain things I do to make sure I’m all right. As long as I do that, I will be all right in this game. I don’t have any reservations at all about getting high — it’s not something I want to do. It was kinda hard first, but I don’t have any problems.”