No Love Lost
[E1 / Mood Muzik Entertainment, 2013]
Brendan Flanagan, February 26, 2013
otential is a fickle bitch. When Joe Budden broke onto the hip-hop scene a decade ago with a blistering summer hit (“Pump It Up”) and lyrical ability sorely lacking in the genre’s latest generation it was only natural for hopes to ride high that hip-hop purists had their newest champion. Budden had an innate ability to blend street cred and emotionality in his rhymes and saw vulnerability as much a part of being a man as staking one’s claim as the dominant rapper in hip-hop. While his second studio project withered and died on Def Jam’s vine, Budden put out two successful mixtape projects (Mood Muzik Vol. 1 & 2) to sweeping critical and fan acclaim. Despite the quality of these mixtapes and his self-titled debut album, Budden has never been able to capture the widespread approval he saw in his career’s incipient stage. While the people always yearn for a story of redemption, Budden’s latest release, entitled No Love Lost, fails to live up to the potential many early fans hoped would resurface.
This isn’t to say the album is a dud; it is likely to touch many different demographics and any rap album that is concentrated on the subject of love and relationships will struggle to come up with enough variety to leave everyone walking away happy. There are radio-ready songs such as “Top Of The World” which features a smooth hook from Kirko Bangz and “NBA” where Budden invites Wiz Khalifa and French Montana to take part in some generic braggadocio over a tight T-Minus beat (who also produced Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools (Drank)”). The mixtape devotees will appreciate the introspective “Castles,” about a man struggling with his own weaknesses as well as “My Time,” a throwback track right off the Mood Muzik assembly line. For someone in the tabloids for his ample dalliances as often as he is for his prodigious talent for lyricism, he didn’t forget about the object of so many of his affections. “You And I” is Budden’s ballad to the fairer side of love and it’s hard to imagine the song not having its own muse drifting somewhere in Budden’s past. What makes the album’s low-points tolerable is the fact that Budden doesn’t shy away from what has worked for him in the past: he’s unapologetically honest and still one of the most creative lyricists active.
This album finds a delicate balance between commercially-targeted club tracks and the music of substance that Buddens is renowned for. Purists can rest easy skipping the first four tracks knowing they will likely get a product on par with previously adored projects, and since that’s who I’m writing this review for that’s what I suggest. Get through the radio rap in the first quarter of the album and the product is quality from “start” to finish. Budden may never fully reach the potential he showed so early in his career. By his own admission there’s no telling where his career would be right now had the people who signed him to Def Jam nurtured him the way they had intended, but this album, like its predecessors, gives hope that the best of Joe Budden has yet to come.