All Photographs by Loni Schick
RESPECT.‘s Peter Marrack caught up with Joe Budden during a recent show at The Opera House in downtown Toronto.
Read what transpired after the jump.
“You enjoying Toronto?” I asked, stepping over Joe’s shiny black Air Force Ones to have a seat on a second sofa. Besides Joe and Loni, there were only two other people in the dressing room, Joe’s video guru and what appeared to be the guru’s girlfriend. Joe rubbed his hands against his face, responding to my greeting with an unenthusiastic, “Yeah, as much as I can.” Then he mumbled something about keeping the fans waiting, when the room went silent. Joe appeared grumpy, maybe even ill, so Loni and I waited until Crystal returned down the stairs to make a peep. Crystal soon came in with a wad of American twenties, rifling through them to make sure the amount was right. It was, so she was able to usher Loni and I up a sister flight of stairs, which led to the stage. “You guys are the only two who’ll have access here,” she added. “It’s less crowded on this side.” Crystal guided us up along the narrow stairwell, until we came out onto the hard wood surface of the stage. Joe’s DJ had already set up shop, perched on top of his carpeted platform, turntables and MacBook piled onto each other on the fold-up table, banner draped over its ends. “Tell your photographer she can move wherever she wants,” Crystal shouted into my ear, as the fans had gotten increasingly rambunctious during the two hours they had waited for Joe to seal the deal on his Chicken con Asparagus back at the hotel. All jokes aside though, the crowd’s frustration probably stemmed more from the event’s lackluster promotion and organization than it did from Joe’s tardiness… because when the G finally arrived, a riptide of wild cries rose above the sea of blue and white ball caps, which characterize any T.O. crowd.
Up on stage, Joe, adorning black-on-black True Religions, studded belt, and an oversized diamond Rolex, weaved together a laid-back and rather spontaneous performance, which included records, “Pump It Up,” “Dear Diary,” “Ten Minutes,” “Pray For Them,” “Follow My Lead,” “Ordinary Love Sh*t pt. 3” and a couple of others. Initially, Joe took some time to warm up, however, by the halfway mark he had shed the heavy winter sweater, and stripped down to his wife-beater and bare back of tattoos. During one especially long intermission – after all, the show had to extend an extra hour or so because of Daylight Savings Time – Joe even challenged three members of the crowd to join him up on stage to try and complete any 8 bars of a song he picked for them. Joe had evidently devised a plan to weed out all would-be fans, who have become increasingly prevalent since Shady 2.0’s domineering performance at the BET Cypher, while at the same time distributing prizes to anyone skilled enough to conquer his game. In the end, none of the drunken, marijuana-toking jokers could complete Joe’s special challenge, leaving my bruh from New Jersey bewildered as to “why anyone would ever put themselves through that type of embarrassment?” Joe would later hypothesize, “They don’t care a room of people is out there watching. They on stage with Joe Budden.” Joe eventually wrapped things up at The Opera House with an extended meet and greet session right down in front of the stage, where he signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans who were patient enough to stick around and fight their way to the head of the crowd.
All biases aside, the most enthralling moment of the evening had to be when Joe performed a record which he understandably dubs his “Purple Rain.” While performing this particular record, the lights were dimmed down to a purple haze (no pun intended, Joe’s not a weed rapper), the fog machines strenuously milking grey clouds, while Joe raised his commanding croak over the drawling bassline of his incognito track. Looking out from the DJ’s booth at Joe, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Stanley Kubrick’s masterful film, A Clockwork Orange and its “rape” scene. Not that Joe was defiling any young flower up on stage or anything, a la Akon or Kubrick’s ruffians, however, there was still some of that apocalyptic vibe present. I mean, here’s this 30 year old rapper exposing the most obscure crevices of his soul, bearing his self naked… and for who? A hundred fans who’ve never listened to his music before he appeared on national TV three weeks prior? For a dilapidated old landmark (Toronto’s The Opera House) in dire need of a new sound system and dressing room renovations? For me, personally, Joe’s Saturday night performance at The Opera House did not necessarily represent the apocalypse of hip-hop, as we know it. After all, Joe’s living well, lodging at nice hotels, doing what he loves and stacking cash. Nevertheless, what Saturday night’s show did represent is the absolute Armageddon of an extinct generation of concert promoters and fans. Hip-hop music is just now broaching its second generation in Toronto, which means young promoters and fans alike need to put in the extra hours to improve their craft. As do our writers, if we ever hope to sell out a Joe Budden show in the future.
After the show, while Joe continued to lounge around stage-front, tidying up pictures with the last of his fans, Crystal came up behind me backstage. She asked if I still wanted our interview. “With Joe?” I asked, slightly confused. Crystal nodded. So, ten minutes later, as Joe pounded down the narrow steps of The Opera House and entered into the dungeon, crowding between SLR cameras, tripods, New Era fitted’s, and groupies with bad haircuts, all the dude could voice between cigarette puffs was, “Okay, what’s this one interview I need to do?” That’s when I raised my finger, imperiously, and said, “Me.”
You dealt with the Toronto crowd pretty well. Obviously you’ve got quite a few new fans from the Cypher.
A young crowd, right?
It definitely was a different crowd. I could tell there were a lot of supporters out there, along with a lot of new faces and people who may not have been so familiar with me. That’s always a good chance when you get to perform in front of those type of people. The crowd was cool though.
But do you mind that, when you have new fans who may not know the lyrics?
No, no, my shows, no matter how big the crowd is, they are normally very intimate, shows where you really want to be as personable as you can with them, which is why after the show I stick around. I take pictures and just kick it with them. A lot of the fans have seen the show on a different stage somewhere else. They travel to see it, so you get familiar with them after a while.
I wanted to ask you about the Cypher, because you have ten minute songs, eight minute songs, where you just rap, and then you hear about rappers doing like thirty takes at the Cypher to do like sixteen bars or something. Did you witness any of this?
No, I didn’t witness that. Skillz put that shit out there. I don’t know why Skillz did that. Our Cypher was filmed in Detroit. It was the only Cypher that was filmed out of New York, and it was just us. It was just us, and we all had written our shit maybe a few days prior to- But we’re all very professional, so we knock it down. We did a few takes just so they could get some different angles, but I didn’t witness any of the stuff Skillz was talking about. I don’t think Skillz should have put that out there though. That’s sacred. It’s sacred information. What happens at the Cypher stays at the Cypher. I know the last time I did the Cypher in 2009, I had wrote my shit the night before, maybe 3 or 4 in the morning, so it may have taken me a little while- I don’t think it’s for the fans to know. Skillz is the homie but I don’t think he should have put that out there.
I loved your Cypher. It was great.
It kind of reminded me of the style, you guys rapping fast, well, you were pretty laid-back, which I like. I think that caught a lot of people’s attention. But you have records like “Hard White (Remix)”, where you rap fast. I couldn’t even get the correct lyrics for the second half of the verse. What are you saying there?
In the “Hard White (Remix)”. “I roll that window down and start dumpin, pull up on whatever block that ya’ll on, pills got a nigga walkin around doing stupid shit, my definition of an oxymoron, that ain’t never stop me from keeping a bad one, I would tell niggas again but they heard the story, furthermore he got a couple I ain’t bust but there’s no need to rush they reserved it for me, see I’m all about fam I don’t fuck with the rest, goons that’ll squeeze till a couple is left, the squad’s a facade, it’s all smoke and mirrors, yelling ‘payback’… See I’m a grown adult, so whether that shit you say, you don’t reciprocate love and respect you get plugged, you will need doctors to cover your holes… ya’ll probably didn’t hear me, stand on a couch… breaking any bottle that’s near me, so real I don’t need a hollow to prepare me, I’m the first one in the group to catch a body…” That was the last fast line. But some I’m working on just tinkering around with different things. Any time I’m rapping with Slaughterhouse, they normally like to pick beats where you get to play around with different flows, different cadences.
Royce is altering his voice a lot which is cool.
I think all of us are just tinkering around with different things, just trying to improve, trying to be different.
You rapped about pills and the oxymoron line. You notice now a lot more rappers are talking about different drugs than just weed, talking about ecstasy, MDMA. Do you think they need to be talking about this kind of stuff, because lots of kids are going out and doing that stuff?
Well, no, I’ve never been one to think that rappers should censor what they say because they’re role models. At the end of the day, people need to use their own discretion, about what they intake inside of their bodies. It’s the same thing with going out and watching a movie. You go out and watch a movie, I don’t expect you to leave the movie and go shoot up everybody that you see. At the end of the day, it’s all entertainment.
Right. Your show is a performance too. When you were starting out with rap, were you trying to brand yourself a certain way? How much of what we see on stage is really you, or did you kind of become what you embody on stage?
The majority of my stuff is really me, only because the majority of the music is really me, and coming from real-life experience, something I’m writing about from a very genuine place. I’m probably in the minority as far as that goes. There certainly aren’t too many artists who can say that. It’s pretty much me when you come to a Joe Budden show.
I don’t mean any disrespect, but you have a pretty nasal voice. A lot of rappers have what some people might call abnormal voices, compared to everyone else, and that’s why they’re so good, like Prodigy, Rick Ross, they command the beat. I wondered if this was something you maybe got picked on about as a child, but then it became your money-maker down the road?
My voice coming up was very, very, very squeaky, in my earlier ages, in my earlier years. Once I hit sixteen or seventeen my voice just kind of skyrocketed somewhere else. But rappers do very often tinker with their rap voice. You try different things and experiment with different things, but this is just my shit.
I like your hat tonight. I noticed you have a big hat collection. You have a couple Jays hats.
I have billions of fitted’s. Hockey fitted’s-
You have a Leafs hat?
Are you contesting with Drumma Boy? He told me no one could compete with him.
[laughs] I hadn’t even heard of his collection. I hadn’t really heard about anyone else’s hat collection. How many did he say he had?
He didn’t put a number out there. What would you approximate though?
I easily have over a thousand, easily. I’ve got closets strictly for hats. I’ve got a shelf case strictly for hats. I easily have over a thousand. I don’t think Drumma Boy wants to see me and my hat collection.
You said before you don’t sleep a lot. Has that changed?
No, I don’t really sleep very often, especially now when there are so many projects to do. We’re working on a Slaughterhouse project, wrapping that up. I’m wrapping up my solo project, and then you still in the meantime need to release the music so the fans are content. So there’s really not too much time to sleep.
But would you advocate that for someone else?
No, no, the body needs sleep to function properly. And even when I notice I’m not functioning properly, I shut everything down and go get some sleep.
But when you’re rapping, do you find lack of sleep affects your work?
I mean, the adrenaline rush compensates for the lack of sleep.
Have you seen the movie Exit Through The Gift Shop?
There’s a guy named Mr. Brainwash in the movie. He’s a street graffiti artist. He recorded his whole life, and was somewhat delusional, had lofty dreams. And you said in a song once, rap is so basic, you could accomplish so much more, because you’re a smart guy. Do you think you need a special confidence to achieve such things, like Mohammed Ali believed he was the crown prince of everything, not just in boxing?
No, I definitely think that’s a personality thing. Confidence is not something that is so common in people, I’m noticing. When you have those people who feel like that, they really are special people. It really is an attitude not everyone can just acquire. You have it or you don’t have it.
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