Joe Budden Wins Most-Improved Award

Feb. 24, 2009
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There's a great moment on Joe Budden's new album—actually, there are a lot of great moments on Joe Budden's new album, this one just struck me as particularly novel—where on the penultimate track Budden prays for understanding. You don't need to be a Ja Rule completist to know how these songs usually play out: The troubled rapper confesses and is granted implicit salvation, playing out the classic "thug with a heart" meme, one of the laziest in rap music.

But Budden's Padded Room isn't that kind of rap album. When Budden prays, the voice of God responds angrily, berating the rapper for his selfishness, rattling of a list of Budden's faults and refusing forgiveness. It's a fitting end to a cold, unsentimental album.

Save for its summer-hit "Pump it Up," Budden's 2003 debut was a mess of busy, tuneless beats and smug, scattered raps. Six years of humiliation and setbacks later though, Budden's perennially delayed follow-up is the work of a changed man. This Joe Budden is infinitely more interesting than the wise-cracking jackass of his debut, a broken, tormented man haunted by failed goals and failed relationships—and a rapper less in talking about his greatness than showing it.


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