The Struggle Is Real: Joe Budden Is Not A Hater, He Just Hates Bullsh*t
"I laugh at the whole mad and bitter tag because I love where music is"
For years, hip hop has been in need of a daily broadcast in the vein of ESPN’s First Take, where actual experts opine with varied and substantial perspective on the people and moments in and of the current culture. In 2017, Complex filled that void with Everyday Struggle, led by anchor Nadeska Alexis, but powered by the juxtaposition of young social media savant Akademiks and the ever-loquacious veteran MC Joe Budden. The show became an instant hit, thanks in large to the antagonizing interview Budden issued to initial guest, Lil Yachty (apparently EDS producers love painting with oil and water). Budden screamed queries at the leader of teenage emotions like, “What do you want from hip hop?!” The millennial rap populace took offense. The episode stands today at 2.6 million views.
Everyday Struggle’s first season would climax the following month during BET Awards weekend in Atlanta. Guests Migos gave, in Budden’s opinion, a very dispirited interview. Irritated further by Akademiks appeasement of the Atlanta trio, Joe dropped the mic mid-interview and walked off set (pun unintended). The trio postured as if a brawl was set to ensue. Now a sort of vegan beef between Joe and Migos brews somewhere in hip hop—most likely, on the internet.
Joe Budden is unfazed by any of the negatives. In fact, according to the Mood Muzik author, the so-called negative has wrought more positive this year than he’s ever received. The New Jersey native says he’s living his best life. He has finally manifested his Plan A (becoming a media voice), while Plan B (rapping) is no longer a necessity for the former Def Jam Rookie of the Year. He is at peace with his identity in hip hop. For the battle-tested MC turned pundit who walks into 2018 viewed by Complex’s Gen Z base as a bitter old underground rapper, the skies above have never smiled on him sunnier. He’s even big enough be a Cardi B fan.
Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted before Budden tweeted that his contract with Complex is up and he would be leaving Everyday Struggle to start a new podcast, and before he became a father for a second time.
What’s up Joe?!
Is this the Bonsu?
C’mon, bro. Do you know another?
I don’t know another one. Just got to make sure. It is good to hear from you. [To his manager, Ian] Bonsu has been here the whole way. This is hilarious.
This is true. And you know I’m always paying attention. So I need to know, where did this “millennial rap hater” rep come from?
I think it was just the Yachty interview going wrong, the narrative people took from it, especially with it being my first interview. I mismanaged and totally fucked it up. My heart was in the right place, it just didn’t come across.
What were your intentions, and specifically what went wrong?
The intent was to let him know you have to always have eyes on the eyes. You have to plan for the future. Some knowledge from my experience because I too, when I was at that age, looked at the old guys like, Fuck y’all niggas. I respected the history a little more, but I was very brash and arrogant like most young niggas are. But if we’re blessed enough and fortunate enough to grow old in this game then we have to learn from the old niggas, like the old niggas should learn from the young niggas. But you always want to have eyes on the eyes in case it doesn’t stay sunny outside. How it came out was me being so passionate about hip hop it made me look like a hater to young people.
You’ve always been a pretty calculated guy who moved with forethought. Now you’re the bad guy. Planned?
Throughout my career, I was negligent to how I was perceived and I think ultimately my reputation paid the price. Had I been a little more cognizant of how I was coming off… And in my younger years, plenty of OGs tried to tell me (the Method Mans, I mean countless legends), “If you stay out of your own way you could go down as one of the greatest ever.” But I couldn’t hear it at a young age.
At this age, how much have you mastered getting out of your own way?
About 80%. Depending on where I am. Ian takes on about 15%, and then there’s that 5% that’s always present
Do you feel your contributions this year warrant you being considered one of the most important people of 2017?
I don’t think I’ve ever stopped to have that conversation with myself. I don’t know, but I will say, I told Ian the other day it seems like this is the first time in my career people are working through the holidays. Normally the holidays completely shut down. This year, people seem to be trying to get a few things done. I attribute that to my hard work. Maybe this is the first time I’ve worked hard enough to receive phone calls during the holidays regarding work.
Did you see Everyday Struggle being as successful as it’s been?
Yes. This was a baby of mine that we worked really hard at growing. That was a process. I told anyone with ears that this was a hit before we started. I told Complex. I told my friends. I was very confident with how this would turn out.
Why exactly were you so confident?
Sometimes you have to go with a feeling. I remember the feeling I had when I made “Pump It Up.” I remember the feeling I got when Tank sent me back the hook on “She Gonna Put It Down.” I know the feeling I got when Slaughterhouse was birthed. It was that same feeling. [Everyday Struggle] was a necessary chess move in the journey of Joe Budden.
What did you feel was missing from the landscape?
Honest commentary and analysis from people with experience. Because of hip hop, we MCs respect the craft and our peers so much we wouldn’t offer criticism. So it was very different from sports [media] where athletes easily make the jump, some even while they’re still playing. Hats off to Ryan Clark. He’s one of the guys I watch and listen to often. So I thought hip hop had the audience for it. Often people make the mistake of thinking that hip hop isn’t a large enough platform. But we are. We birthed so many things. So why not? And we had a great rookie year.
Which new artists grabbed your attention this year?
Joyner Lucas currently has my attention. I don’t see too many making videos and writing stories like he has. I like what Cardi is doing, just because she’s a woman from New York. I like too many for different reasons. But I don’t have a favorite.
Your favorite triumph in 2017?
The acceleration of this broadcast career of mine. We put an album out not too long ago, Bonsu. 2017 was my 2020 plan, so I’m just grateful and obsessed with work.
You’re finding more success now as a personality, yet still known more as a rapper. Do you ever feel that the more established you become as a media personality, the more you eclipse your MC career? Or can they co-exist?
Well, in my mind I’m retired professionally, so any music anyone hears from me will be in its purest form because it won’t be out of necessity. But as far as one eclipsing the other, I don’t see it that way. I am an MC. That is Joe Budden in retirement and in my grave. Because of my travels as an MC, it enables me to broadcast from a better perspective than some other people.
You seriously have no desire to make money off of rap music?
Zero. I was never in it for money.
So there’s no craving to one day finally have a bigger record than “Pump It Up”?
None at all. Once I got to Def Jam and learned how the industry works that was no longer a goal of mine. See, people have been ridiculing my music for years, but I paid it no mind because I never wanted this to end with music. I always saw it as a great opportunity to do some things and learn and grow up. I felt I was behind as a 37-year-old rapper from where I truly wanted to be and I didn’t want to feel that way in my forties. So when you talk about me being the bad guy as a critic, I don’t give a fuck. You kidding me? As a rapper, I would talk way worse about niggas. People know this is me true to form.
Joe Budden doesn’t even miss the rap battles?
No. Hip hop is totally different now, Bonsu. The greatest spades players still have to plan within the context of the game. The hip hop that I competed in is not the hip hop of today. It almost feels as if it was the golden era. I don’t need to compete because what I was competing for I’ve already accomplished. I’m better than everyone in my brain. Honestly, when I was listening to the Mase freestyle recently I thought it was great. I was amazed that he was able to be so nice after so long. I heard that and I thought, “That boy Joe is not for play.” Everyone who I have high on my MC list also has me high on theirs. That’s what I signed my deal for. I never signed to get rich or have the biggest record. I’ve been a low-key nigga my whole career. Honestly, I’ve been trying to figure out how to be low-key and do what I love while rapping—if you wanna keep it a buck.
When you first started at Hot 97 last decade, were you aware that you had media potential or were you just seizing an opportunity?
I was asked to do a favor for a friend of mine over there, Tracy Clarity. She’s a genius and saw something in me way before I could see it in myself. She heard it and fought for me. So even through my adolescence of sleeping under the mixing board or coming in late from a commercial breaker or coming in late from the club last night, she was still able to keep me there and hone my talent. And you can only connect the dots looking back. At the time, radio was paying me more than music. I only left radio because I was told that I could not do radio and rap and if I wanted to keep my record deal I should leave radio because why would someone want to buy my album if they had that much access to me. This is Kevin Liles himself. Kevin Liles, who today won’t sit across from me for an interview because he’s too scared of what I might ask him. That was against my better judgment, though. I fought that internally, but I was too young.
Speaking of young, you now have SoundCloud rappers responding to you with your name in song titles. Flattering, annoying or just funny?
It doesn’t do anything for me. This morning we had one of these SoundCloud rappers try to break into the building. He got tackled to the ground and arrested by security. I was just coming downstairs to get some coffee and he was screaming his SoundCloud and Instagram name and my name. He was trying to get inside to get an interview. I don’t ever want anyone to get arrested or go to jail for their craft. So it’s flattering within boundaries.
Does Akademiks annoy you? It seems like his fandom gets under your skin.
That does annoy me, but I don’t blame that on him. We were just raised by different hip hop. When I got my deal I idolized JAY-Z. The first time I saw JAY-Z in the building I gave him a head nod, shook his hand and kept it moving. This is competition my nigga. You a man, I’m a man, but it’s on now. Ak was raised by the YouTube generation. For a kid that was raised on YouTube to meet these people in person is mind-blowing. But it’s not his fault. I’m just easily annoyed by shit like that.
2017 was a huge year for hip hop music—Drake, Future and Ross dropped, then Kendrick. Jay took another summer. Who is your artist of the year?
Everybody. That’s why this is probably my favorite year in music as an adult. Every week it felt like there was something that came out that was mind-blowing. Kendrick was mind-blowing. Ross dropped and was mind-blowing. Tyler was mind-blowing. 2 Chainz, Rapsody, CyHi, JAY-Z 4:44, all mind-blowing. That’s why I laugh at the whole mad and bitter tag because I love where music is! It’s in a better place than it’s ever been. I mean, I think we’ve got a long way to go…
And that’s the misconception with you. People actually think you don’t understand why Migos is hot.
No, I just know who I am in real life. I don’t fake and I don’t front. There’s no reason for me to interview them because it’s not going to end well. I don’t want to interview them but I understand why they’re dominant. I totally get it.
So you rock with Cardi, but not her fiancée…
Hey Bonsu, nobody has had more rap beef than me. I’ll put that on whatever. Whomever you name has not had more rap beef than me. But I don’t have any issues with anybody. Not Migos, not anybody. They may have issues with me, but that’s different. I’m in the best place of my life. Shit, I’m just waiting on my newborn.