'I've tried to eliminate as many of the middlemen as possible, so the fans are dealing with me and the music.' - Joe Budden
When it comes to his solo career, Joe Budden is his own conductor. The Jersey City, N.J., native, who released his self-titled debut in 2003, tasted mainstream success with his Grammy Award-nominated breakout single, “Pump It Up,” which peaked at No. 38 on the Billboard Hot 100. But after parting ways with Def Jam, the rapper took an independent approach powered by touring, social media and reality TV that’s paid off. On Feb. 5, Budden returns with his third solo retail release, "No Love Lost" (E1/Mood Muzik Entertainment), a testament to his approach to longevity.
“I’ve tried to eliminate as many of the middlemen as possible in my career, so the fans are dealing with me and the music,” Budden says of the LP, which features guest appearances from such names as Lil Wayne and Wiz Khalifa. “I wasn’t relying on the label to keep me relevant. It was about the relationship between me and the fans. That’s been a good model for me for success.”
Since the release of his 2009 retail sophomore album, "Padded Room" (Amalgam Digital), the 32-year-old has released acclaimed digital-only solo sets, mixtapes and a pair of albums with Slaughterhouse, a supergroup also consisting of Royce Da 5’9”, Crooked I and Joell Ortiz signed to Eminem’s Shady Records. Their latest, "Welcome To: Our House," bowed at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and has sold 104,000 copies to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
For Budden, interacting with listeners has been paramount to staying relevant. He’s given them plenty of free music, most recently the November 2012 mixtape A Loose Quarter, which has been downloaded 265,000 times on DatPiff.com. Last year, he completed North American and European tours with Slaughterhouse and embarked on the Second First Impression solo tour in late 2012. And he uses social media much like his music, sharing intimate moments to create a bond with his audience. He’s amassed more than 638,000 followers on Twitter (@JoeBudden) and 408,000 on Instagram, where he posts lascivious pictures of his girlfriend and screenshots of text-message conversations.
Budden has parlayed his prominent online presence into lucrative opportunities. Earlier this month, VH1 debuted the third season of reality show “Love and Hip Hop,” which sees Budden opening up about substance abuse and personal relationships. According to Corey Newton, who co-manages Budden with Billy Jones, the show not only generated Budden revenue outside of music, it also served as a marketing tool for "No Love Lost."
“With the album coming out, we thought we could capitalize,” he says. “It just made sense to be on multiple platforms at one time where people could get a look at him in a way that they haven’t [before]."
Some have criticized Budden’s willingness to discuss his personal life as oversharing. Roger Greene, who oversaw A&R on No Love Lost, disagrees. “People still want to see him perform and on television, because he became a lifestyle more than just a rapper,” he says. "A lot of these rappers just give you their three verses, but Joe gives a glimpse into his life. You understand him, because he invites you in, from his romantic side to his battle with addiction. Everyone has a Joe in their family.”
The connection with fans is paying off. His T-Minus-produced single, “She Don’t Put It Down,” which features Lil Wayne and Tank, reached No. 44 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, marking his first solo track to crack the top 50 since 2005. With three to four singles planned from No Love Lost, Budden will tour through the rest of the year and venture into acting, all while keeping an eye on what’s next.
“My No. 1 thing is always trying to stay ahead of whatever’s current,” Budden says. “In 2013, if I could figure out what everyone will be doing next, I’ll jump right on that.”