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Artist: Joe Budden

Album: No Love Lost

Label: E1 Music

Release Date: 2/5/2013

Like it or not, Joe Budden is one of hip-hop’s most recognizable figures in 2013.

Ten years ago, handing out such a label to the “Pump It Up” emcee would have been particularly blasphemous. While it’s still a difficult concept to swallow, the 32-year-old Jersey native’s metamorphosis from hip-hop irritant and the face of “emo rap” to urban socialite, tastemaker, and reality television mainstay has been nothing short of fascinating.

He can still rap a little bit too. No Love Lost, Budden’s latest LP, and first studio album since 2009’s Escape Route, sees the Slaughterhouse frontman experiment with big name producers and feature-heavy singles. The result is a surprisingly seamless and equally unlikely transition into mainstream swag rap.

A decade in the game, Joe Budden has finally evolved into a capable songwriter, without sacrificing his lyrical tenacity and artistic integrity. There is no better evidence of this than on “N.B.A. (Never Broke Again)” where against the landscape of a boisterous Boi-1da instrumental and sandwiched between hip-hop heavyweights Wiz Khalifa and French Montana, it’s Budden who shines the brightest.

Talkin’ money but walkin’ funny/Is it any reason why ya’ll starvin’/I smell bull and by spelling force/Do I really need to beg your pardon,” Joey asks while rapping with a fleeting flow, reminiscent of Drake on the summer’s smash “No Lie.” The swagger doesn’t stop there.

Another of the album’s standout cuts is yet another star-studded posse cut, “Last Day” which features guest verses from Juicy J and Lloyd Banks. Recent Banks collaborator A6 provides the dark, astronomical canvas for Budden to set the stage with a cogent opening verse and infectious hook in which Joey gives his own spin on the “YOLO” phenomenon.

In typical Budden fashion, the album also contains its fair share of relationship-inspired anthems. On “You And I”, perhaps an ode to Budden’s well-publicized better-half, Kaylin Garcia, Joe’s brutal honesty is on display once again. “I go to sleep with fear of losing you, don’t wanna blow it/And I wouldn’t be surprised if I did, that’s typical Joe sh*t.”

For the better part of a decade, Joe Budden has been the recluse of rap, a susceptible loner, unable to preserve his seat at hip-hop’s cool table. On No Love Lost, Budden admirably takes a giant leap outside his artistic comfort zone, blending his Mood Music imprint with up-beat, single-friendly tracks. The result is a project that is more exhilarating than esoteric.

Joe Budden isn’t trying to hang with the big dogs anymore. He’s not lashing out or sounding bitter towards females who have wronged him or artists who have accomplished more than him. Maybe for the first time in his career, Joe Budden is finally satisfied with being himself and the lifestyle he is living.

It shows in the music, as Budden sounds re-energized and more than comfortable rapping along side the likes of Lil Wayne, Juicy J, and Wiz Khalifa. Joe Budden’s not only finally made it with the cool kids, but he’s thriving alongside them.

While the album falls short in the area of cohesiveness and continuity, it paves the way for a more clear-cut, effective alley for Joe Budden in the modern rap game.

One thing is also clear; Joe Budden isn’t Joe Budden anymore. And maybe that’s for the best.

Purchase No Love Lost on iTunes Now