Your brother was involved in a tragic shooting a few weeks ago. How is he doing today?
My brother is well. My brother is well. He’s walking. He’s breathing. He’s having trouble doing these things. I think having trouble breathing is the most difficult part. But he’s doing fine. He’s doing all right.
That’s good to hear. You’re finally off Def Jam after years of waiting to release The Growth. How did you get your release from Def Jam?
Honestly, it was pretty simple. I was dropped. A few people close to me knew that I wanted off of Def Jam for years. Ever since they tried to do something with “Gangsta Party,” I wanted to go elsewhere. But every time there was mention of me going elsewhere, they came with contingencies. I was worried about having to pay back the money I spent there. I was worried about them taking the records I recorded while I was there with their budget. I was worried about a bunch of things. Two years ago I figured the best way to get off the label without having those issues or without having those problems was to not record and to not release any music. It’s been difficult. I’ve been living off publishing money and it’s been a struggle, but the plan worked out. I’m off and I don’t owe them anything. I feel great. I feel like a new artist again. I have a bunch of meetings with a bunch of labels. I can’t even put it into words. I kind of feel like I did when I first got my deal at Def Jam.
Do you feel Def Jam didn’t want you?
It was pretty apparent that they didn’t want me. It was as plain as day to me. It should have been as plain as day to the fans. In my tenure at Def Jam, after awhile, there was no recording budget. My last two years at Def Jam, I wasn’t even able to sign an A&R. That pretty much lets you know where a label stands with you and the feeling was mutual. I wasn’t going to run around and bash Def Jam like LL and some of the other artists. I’ve been there and done that. At this point I still wanted to keep a healthy relationship and leave on good terms and we did. I don’t know if they just didn’t believe in the music. I spoke to Jay maybe about six months ago. Nothing came out of that conversation at all. I spoke to L.A. Reid about three months ago. When I spoke to L.A. Reid, I knew this really wasn’t the place for me. I didn’t think they understood what I was trying to do musically.
A lot of artists have criticized Jay-Z’s management at Def Jam. Do you feel Jay-Z was threatened by your music?
I refuse to think that. I’m a Virgo. I’m trained to go off of logic and common sense. I refuse to think that a legend such as Jay would harbor some type of ill will because of the “Pump It Up” freestyle that we did or because a kid from Jersey knows how to rap pretty good. I don’t want to think that at all. There are a billion reasons you can look at. Conspiracy theorists can throw that out. People can say, “Maybe Joe Budden just can’t make a hit.” That just can’t be true. I’ve been nominated for awards and I was nominated for Grammy after one album. I rap better than 95% of the people that are in the game commercially right now. So when Jay got there, I always felt that because he was such a great artist and a great rapper, he would be able to see the talent and the potential in me and that never materialized. I don’t harbor any ill will towards him.
Did Def Jam not believing in you ever cause you to doubt yourself or your music?
No. No, not at all. Not at all. I never doubted me. Basically what they did was just make it really difficult for me to make the music I’m capable of making. They had me running around like an unsigned artist. Unsigned artists have to run around and mess with producers who may not be as capable as some of the Timbaland’s and some of the more popular producers. I couldn’t pay these people and even the lesser known talents, I couldn’t pay them. They made it really hard for me to do my job. I don’t know if that was done purposely. I don’t know if it was done intentionally, but record labels will do that if they don’t have faith in you. But they’ll sign a guy like Young Leak. There’s a million names of people I could name that they signed that fans could sit there and be like, ‘What the fuck is going on with this signing?’ And they had Joe Budden sitting on the shelf.
I’m not upset with them at all. I’m grateful for my time there. I learned a lot with them. I guess what it all boils down to is that the people that are at Def Jam now are not the people that signed Joe Budden, the people that had faith in me. It’s a whole new regime. Who’s to say I would have even signed with Def Jam if that regime had been there in the first place.
After what you went through at Def Jam, would you sign another major label deal?
I’m being open-minded. I’m listening to the independents and I’m listening to the majors and I’m going to see what the best route is for Joe Budden to take. The best part about being unsigned right now is that I have so much more knowledge that I didn’t have when I was originally unsigned. So now I’m looking for different things than what I was looking for when I was 20 or 21. So I’m going to see what the offers are. There are plenty of them. My resources are endless.
And I’m just so excited, Brian. I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am. All I’m doing is working on Mood Muzik 3. That’s going to be out. We’re shooting a video for it. I’m just going real hard on Mood Muzik 3. So, like, kind of what’s happening now is what I planned on happening for Mood Muzik 3. Mood Muzik 3 has been done three times over but I didn’t want to put it out because I didn’t want to get hot and then give Def Jam a reason to not let me go. So now that I’m let go, I’m going to put this tape out, fans are going to enjoy it and I’m going to find a new home and a Joe Budden album will happen in 2008. That will happen. I’m not going anywhere that’s not as ready to put this album out as I am.
So in a way you couldn’t get too hot to where Def Jam might realize what they had.
Yeah. When I was on Def Jam, yeah. Online, you read the statements. “Joe Budden is lazy.” “Joe Budden doesn’t have the work ethic.” Anybody that’s followed my career from early on knows that’s not the truth. You’re talking about the guy that put a verse on every mixtape that was coming out. You’re talking about a guy who doesn’t even write 16’s anymore. Everything I write now is 60 bars or better. “Lazy” is the wrong word for me. It shouldn’t even be said. But I wasn’t going to do anything to get hot when I was on Def Jam. It would have been a waste of time. It’s like what happened with Mood Muzik 2. When Mood Muzik 2 came out, they kept me. That’s exactly what happened. They were thinking of letting me go and I put Mood Muzik 2 out and they didn’t let me go. They were thinking about letting me go and I put “Sexy Love” out and they kept me.
Do you regret keeping your buzz up while you were signed to Def Jam?
I don’t regret it. I don’t regret it. I’ve been gone for so long. I did those things for the fans, really, in spite of my situation. When I put Mood Muzik 2 out, it wasn’t to show Def Jam anything and it wasn’t because I had to do that. I didn’t get one red cent off Mood Muzik 2. I did it because it was too long since the fans had heard from me. After Mood Muzik 2, I said, “Okay, I can at least maybe put a verse on a couple of my deep joints and maybe that will work.” In my last interview with you I think I said I was going to hop on everything. That’s what I was prepared to do to get hot. I’m willing to work and I’m reputable. I’m ready to work at any given time of the day. Every day of my life is music. But doing it over there, it would have all been in vein.
Are you starting over with The Growth or is The Growth not even going to happen?
You know what, Brian? The Growth will probably not be The Growth. I have a bunch of songs that I plan on keeping. When I find a new home, I’m going to record some new songs and pick the best of the bunch. I don’t think it will be called The Growth. I’m grown now. It’s been four years. The Growth has come and gone. Between Mood Muzik 2 and Mood Muzik 3, The Growth is probably out already. My lead single that I wanted to be from The Growth will be on Mood Muzik 3. There are joints that will be on Mood Muzik 3 that were initially intended to go on my album, but since there’s no album you got to let some of those go. I don’t think there will be The Growth. There will be another album with all new material.
What producers do you want to work with today?
You know what? I don’t have anybody in particular. I’m willing to work with anybody who’s talented, who has crack and who has good music and who I have a type of chemistry with. I’m not out to work with a name. I’m out to work with somebody who’s talented. I can’t give you any names. I’m working with two guys from Jersey right now. They’re called The Classics. They’re unknown producers and they’re extremely talented. They did the majority of Mood Muzik 3 and they’ll be on the album. I say that to reiterate that I’m not in search of a name.
DJ On Point told me last week that you guys were halfway done with Mood Muzik 3. on the project? What’s the status of Mood Muzik 3?
On Point lied. Mood Muzik 3 is a song away from being completed. One song. And I’m going tonight to do the one song. It’s done already. I’ll be in the studio tonight to complete it. And then the drama begins. Then I’m going to start tearing these streets up. I don’t have to worry about getting hot or worry about some of the things that I was worrying about.
How are you releasing Mood Muzik 3?
Through distributors. On Point is going to release it and I’m going to get it in the streets and make sure the sales are documented. With Mood Muzik 2, distributors caught on 8 months, 9 months after everyone had it and when you pull it up on Soundscan, it says “10,000” next to it. I’d like to do 35,000 on Mood Muzik 3. It really says something that I’m able to put out a “mixtape” and people appreciate it like it’s an album and I appreciate it because I go hard on it production-wise and concept-wise. I really put my all into the Mood Muzik series. I didn’t have a choice. I couldn’t put my all into an album. I had to put my all in someplace and the people are excited about it and I’m excited about that. Mood Muzik 3 is a lot different from Mood Muzik 2. On Mood Muzik 2 I was angry about a lot of things, particularly my Def Jam situation and the music that was out. Mood Muzik 3 plays more like my album. Everything on there is original and it just has more of an album feel, to me, anyway. Other people may feel different but that’s how it feels to me. Mood Muzik 2 felt like a mixtape and Mood Muzik 3 feels like an album.
Would you say Mood Muzik 3 is your best work to date?
I can’t say that. I’m an emotional artist. Depending where I am in life and what my mindstate is is what’s going to determine what comes out. With Mood Muzik 2, I kind of raised the bar for myself with records like “Future” and with records like “Dumb Out.” I was really pushing the envelope. Anytime that you’re angry, you’re going to get some shit out. At least I am anyway. On Mood Muzik 3, the things I’m trying to prove are different. On Mood Muzik 2 I was trying to prove myself and I was trying to prove to people that I can rap. I proved that. On Mood Muzik 3 I’m letting out some frustration, but it’s not the same as it was on Mood Muzik 2.
When are you releasing Mood Muzik 3?
What do these labels coming at you have to have to get you to sign on the dotted line?
They have to be excited. They have to be excited. They have to be just as excited as I was when I first signed my record deal. When Kevin and Lyor signed me, they were so excited. They were ready to put the whole building behind me. They said, “If you fuck this kid up, you’re getting fired.” That was exciting. They have to be prepared to do some of the things I’m prepared to do to make this thing work. I don’t need a $2 million signing bonus and a $1 million budget and a $500,000 video. I don’t need anything like that. I don’t need anything that I have to recoup. I don’t want to be in the red. I want them to be just as excited to have me as I am to have them.
You’re saying it’s not about the money.
No. It’s not about the money. Not at all. No. This is not about money. This is not about any type of financial gain. No. This is about longevity. This is about hit records. This is about being able to be competitive in what’s going on with hip-hop today and the mockery that it’s become. It’s not about the money at all.
Are we going to see you work with up-and-coming artists from Jersey like Big Lou?
I’m open to that also. I have a pretty good rapport with some Jersey artists. Ransom is my man. Serius Jones is my man. But anybody that reaches out, if the timing is right and they’re not wack, I’ll do it. I’m Jersey all day, first and foremost.
What’s your focus going to be for the next few months?
I want to have a situation by January and I want to have this album out no later than July.
Would you offer any advice to young artists signed to Def Jam like Tru Life or Uncle Murder?
It’s different strokes for different folks. I couldn’t even begin to give advice to a Tru Life or Uncle Murder or anybody over there. Tru Life and Uncle Murder, these are people who have ties to the president himself like Bleek and Freeway. Everybody is different. You have to remember that I came in this game by myself, dolo, alone. I came from Jersey with no type of cosign and no type of backing and I sold 500,000 records. I really wasn’t looking for that stamp. I’m more than all right with relying on my capabilities than relying on somebody else. I’m not saying those artists do that. Maybe they’re thinking like I thought, ‘Just give it a chance. Just be patient. Maybe things will work out.’ That no longer worked for me.
Did not coming into the game with a cosign hurt you in the long run?
No. No. Not at all. Not at all. I mean, it could, but I don’t think it did though. In 2003, the only East Coast artists that broke from the tri-state area were 50 Cent and Joe Budden. Cassidy broke from Philly. That’s it to this day. No other artist has been broken in New York. You haven’t seen a Papoose album or a Maino album or an Uncle Murder album. You haven’t seen a record by them in the stores. That hasn’t happened since me. I can’t say that it won’t hurt me. I got a lot of support from a lot of different people and a lot of big names, but as far as being in bed with them business-wise, no, I don’t think I need that. I want people to appreciate Joe Budden’s music and that’s it.
How much attention do you pay to your fans when they say they want your new music?
I’m really all about my fans. I’m all about the fans. I just want to thank them. I have to thank them. I have to keep saying that Joe Budden’s fans are patient like nobody else in the universe. They rolled with me. They stuck with me. They defended and supported me throughout all of this bullshit and it’s going to pay off now. It’s a beautiful day. I feel like it’s my birthday. I feel like I had two birthdays now. I’m free. I’m unsigned. I’m a free agent without having to make “Free Joe Budden” t-shirts.
How relieved are you to be a free agent right now?
I can’t begin to tell you. I can only show niggas. Some people were wondering if it was Joe Budden or Def Jam [that was the problem]. Now that I’m off, I’m going to show what my grind is like. And that’s really it. I’m relieved beyond words and I’m excited and I’m ready to get back in this game and help change some of this bullshit.
Can we expect some new music soon?
Hell yeah! Definitely, definitely, definitely, definitely.
Are you going to jump in any battles in the future?
I wouldn’t stay away from it. I open to it. I’m open to doing it. I was really looking forward to battling Cassidy. I was really looking forward to battling Royce and Mistah F.A.B. I was looking forward to all of those things, but life happens and I wasn’t able to do it. But if the opportunity presents itself, I’m more than open to it.
What do you want to say to everybody?
I just want to talk to the fans and say, “Thank you” to the fans. I don’t have anything to say. I’m in grind mode. I’m not about talking about nothing. I want to go out there and do it. I want to thank the fans and thank the hip-hop websites. I want to thank everybody that supported Joe Budden from day one and hopefully y’all continue to do so.