Joe Budden Performs 'Final' Show in New York, Assures He's Not 'Ending Anything'

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Joe Budden performs at BB King on June 13, 2016 in New York City.  

When Joe Budden performed what he called his final solo show in New York City on Monday, the rapper/reality star/podcaster shared a specific memory about his come-up with the B.B. King Blues Club crowd. “My first time doing this venue, [the promoter at the time] was shocked that we sold this place out all those years ago,” he said. ”Here we are, all these years later -- still sold out.”

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Despite making headlines in recent weeks for his criticism of Drake’s latest album Views on I’ll Name This Podcast Later (Budden believes Drake dissed him on the recent “4PM in Calabasas"), the New Jersey native celebrated his success onstage. In May, Budden tweeted that his next six shows would be his final solo performances. “To whom it may concern, those are the last Budden shows ever…," he wrote. "Thx to all of you that helped me live out my dreams."

While the announcement seemed sudden, Budden said he had been deliberating the decision for about a year. He’s intentionally vague about the specific reasons for leaving behind solo performances but says that if he were to stop recording solo albums, it would warrant another announcement. Still, he speaks candidly about finally having freedom after years of bad label contracts.

“I can’t speak out against record labels my entire career, against streaming and artists not getting paid," he tells Billboard before his show. "I can’t fight for the things I fought for without behaving a certain way. You always want to make sure your words and your actions match.” 

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After signing to Def Jam at 21 and finding success with the hit single "Pump It Up," he says his supporters at the label left, leaving a new crew of employees and execs who weren’t as excited about his music. Budden, 35, says that he didn’t get out of his contract until 2008. He later signed to Amalgam Digital, which was particularly innovative at the time since digital platforms were still in their infancy, he points out. The situation wasn't favorable and E1 Records released Budden’s music after buying his catalog from Amalgam. He then began plotting an exit strategy from live performances, which he says stemmed from a confidential conversation with his son. 

"Now I’m doing whatever the f--k Joe wants to do," Budden said. "Before I announced that these were my last Joe Budden shows, I had to sit firm in that decision. I had to make sure that this was where we were, and there would be no reneging on that." He adds, "This is a time to be overjoyed and anxious about what tomorrow has in store. A lot of fans are coming up to me crying, [saying] ‘You’re retiring,' 'You’re quitting.’ Just chill, we got this."

At Budden's last New York hurrah, he simply gave fans what he has been delivering since the  2000s: a lyricist who flaunts both his vulnerabilities and skills on the mic. His surprise guests were singer Emanny and producer AraabMuzik while performing a band-free set with his DJ, Parks. Three brief intermissions showed footage of Budden from TV shows and personal videos, including appearances on 106 & Park and Rap City to his stint on the reality show Love & Hip Hop. The final clip featured a younger, clean-shaven, baby-faced Drake referring to Budden as "one of the best."

His set list was comprehensive, opening with highlights from his cult classic Mood Muzik mixtape series like “Are You In That Mood Yet?,” “5th Gear” and “Hiatus.” He also threw it back to “Focus,” the single that picked up steam right before his self-titled Def Jam debut dropped in June 2003 while delivering songs as recent as "Love, I’m Good," a tribute to music and family from his 2015 album All Love Lost. He also pulled out other early 2000-era goodies including his hit single "Pump It Up," the Marques Houston collaboration “Clubbin," "10 Minutes" and "Calm Down."

“The show on-stage is where you actually feel it all," he offered backstage. "You feel what you felt when you wrote it. You feel the impact it has on other people so you want to take a moment to take that energy in. That’s what I do on stage. In the booth, I can lay the most personal thing in the world and walk out like nothing occurred. Here, it can’t happen like that.”

After Budden wrapped his solo set, AraabMuzik previewed some new beats from his upcoming joint album with Budden. Budden returned to rap along, including a standout tune that sampled Jay Z’s “Hard Knock Life.” Despite his final bow, the farewell tour won't be the last of Budden, he assures.

“When I say, this is my last Joe Budden show in New York, nothing about that has implications of going out or ending anything,” he said. “[Even] if I never perform a day as Joe Budden, I’m still Joe Budden.”