Continuing our new Original Content series "Hip-Hop's Best Verses," Joe Budden channeled the spirit of hip-hop's greatest lyricists on the incendiary mixtape classic "Dumb Out."
Introducing our new series Hip-Hop's Best Verses -- self-explanatory, really. The aim is to take a deep dive into some of the rap game's best verses of all time, exploring the bars, the flows, the cadences, and everything that makes them withstand the test of time. Less of a ranking, more of a celebration of lyrical greatness. Feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments, and enjoy.
IV. JOE BUDDEN - DUMB OUT
There’s a winning combination in hip-hop that goes something like this: an independently released mixtape plus a rapper with something to prove equals a recipe for success. It’s not a perfect formula, but history has shown that some of the culture’s most enduring verses arrive when an artist deviates from major label expectation and vents their frustrations directly to the people. While it might not be the most commercially viable option, the freedom of forsaking traditional song structures allows a rapper to write unimpeded, often in a stream-of-consciousness fashion. For an artist like Joe Budden, who has forever been one of hip-hop’s most opinionated personalities, the format lends itself well to his particular style of lyricism.
Given how absolutely ubiquitous Joe Budden has become in the world of hip-hop media, his classic breakout single “Pump It Up” has become somewhat of a running joke. And without fail, invocations of the Just Blaze-produced track tend to elicit a passionate response from his fans, during which his Mood Muzik mixtape series is inevitably brought up. Largely understood to be the pinnacle of Budden lyricism, the likely catalyst for his inclusion in Slaughterhouse and the reason he continuously weaponizes his possible return to rap, Mood Muzik allowed Joe Budden’s complex personality and unapologetic tendencies to shine unimpeded.
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In 2006, when Budden’s confrontational nature incited the rage of his peers and burned a few notable bridges, he opted to regroup on wax. Unconcerned with making friends and burying hatchets, Budden instead doubled down and aired his ever-growing list of grievances. What followed was a compelling and vicariously therapeutic body of work, better known as Mood Muzik 2: Can It Get Any Worse. At the center of the project stood a track that, to this day, stands tall as an arguable contender for Joe Budden’s magnum opus. That track is “Dumb Out,” a seven-minute salvo of confident lyricism, the likes of which can only be fueled by years of pent-up animosity.
Though the first verse shines as a warm-up, the extensive second is where Budden really earns his stripes. Fueled by a cataclysmic and aggressively biblical instrumental by The Architects, Budden uses the opportunity to assess the state of the rap game and his own position within the eclectic cast of characters. “It's no games, just a Def Jam Vendetta,” he reflects, alluding to the beloved game in which his likeness is involved. Perhaps it’s why one of the song’s most memorable sections is akin to scrolling through a roster of hip-hop’s playable characters, with their strongest attributes cleverly contrasted against Budden’s own. Pledging to take things back to 1999, a time that many still deem to be part of the golden era, Budden essentially pulls a “Control” years before Kendrick set the game ablaze.
“No names should be mentioned but mine, unless you’re talking Big Pun in his prime,” raps Joe, firmly asserting his dominance as a top-tier lyricist. “Maybe '96 Jay, before Dame was throwing money around / Or 2pac without Humpty around / Or 50 before Em, Nas talking like a gun in his song / Cam'ron during Children Of The Corn / Beans before the cops came through and try to grill 'em / I'm talking '95, Big L before they killed 'em / Em before 8 Mile, Shyne before the jail shit / Canibus, no album out before the L shit.” And that’s only the tip of the iceberg, to use a timeless cliche. Before the section is done, Budden also alludes to DMX, Ghostface, Raekwon, and Fabolous before wrapping things up with a poignant punchline. “Or Talib with Mos, Common before Be / If they any less common, don't put 'em before me,” he spits, all but demanding to be respected as a hip-hop great.
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Though the name-dropping section is among the song’s more notable moments, “Dumb Out’s” merits run far deeper than shock value. Somehow, Budden manages to toe the line between savagely confident and vulnerable to the point of relatability, sharing frank updates on his career and forcing listeners to evaluate his talents. “Don't put ni*gas in the same sink as me,” he warns. “I mean metaphors, storylines, deep shit, club shit, girl shit, world shit / They don't use the ink like me, nig*as don't even think like me.” It’s interesting to see him coming to grips with his artistic individuality, understanding that while he’s unlikely to ever infiltrate the mainstream market, he’ll forever provide listeners with a unique, unfiltered, and versatile perspective. The fact that he makes such a clear statement in the midst of a genuine lyrical clinic gives it all the more credibility.
It’s not surprising to see Joe Budden achieving such success in the media realm. He understands his causes and the importance of fighting for them. Even while surrounded by foes, as he was during the release of “Dumb Out,” Budden found value in building a following on the basis of merit. Not unlike his recent handling of The Joe Budden Podcast, Budden placed a wager on himself and reaped the benefits -- the most significant one being the retention of his artistic integrity. Though some might argue that his rap career was a case of squandered potential, others will rightly assess that “Dumb Out” and its ilk laid the foundation for Budden’s eventual induction into Slaughterhouse -- a position in one of the game’s most respected groups of all time. There’s a reason why he remains, albeit often a fringe candidate, included in top-ten lyricist discussions.
For more like this, check out last week's "Best Verses" installment, Lloyd Banks' "Victory Freestyle."