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Review: Joe Budden - 'Rage & The Machine'

Updated on October 21, 2016

Though only 36 years-old, New Jersey rapper Joe Budden’s gravelly tones, direct rap bars and unperturbed demeanour drip in life experience on his latest, ‘Rage & The Machine’.

Produced entirely by Rhode Island's AraabMuzik, ‘Rage & The Machine’ is one of those rap albums that takes pride in shunning glossy, readymade beats.

Though the record’s instrumentals can get chaotic, fragmented and rough, there’s an absorbing unprocessed, street-level finish to its tracklisting - as well as Budden himself.

The emcee often spits about being proud to be grown, and he repeatedly demonstrates that he’s more than happy to side step the trends that preoccupy certain younger acts.

‘Rage & The Machine’ certainly doesn’t pander to any ‘Hotline Bling’ type hip-pop ideas.

While that kind of stance is admirable in an industry full of hip-hop artists blindly following each other and bringing the whole genre down, 'Rage & The Machine’ sounds it could’ve been released sometime in 2011.

Placed ahead of the record’s later, confessional offerings, ’Rage & The Machine’ boasts a lot of bangers and the album’s catalogue of forceful, authoritative beats impact meatily.

However, none move far from a kind of rut. The tracks aren’t dated, they’re just sound a little obsolete. They lack freshness and Budden’s concrete, sturdy flow and presence doesn’t do much to counter the problem.

In a music climate full of artists posting new material up online, on an hourly basis - it’s even more noticeable.

The album’s surprising amount of soul samples are pleasant to listen to though. They’re not always inserted into the hip-hop as slickly as they are on ’Forget’, still, they all have a positively alleviating effect on the ears.

Representing Jersey City, the album’s intro track ‘Three’ is cluttered and all over the place - nothing is done in halves on it. Despite that, the cut does eventually win out with it’s ambitious, grand-scale production tricks.

‘Three’ plays out in phases and is propped up by the fervent sounds of a gospel choir. As Budden describes the cut-throatedness of his hometown, he sounds wild, like he’s rapping through clenched jaws or gritted teeth.

Fellow Slaughterhouse member Joel Ortiz makes an appearance on ‘Serious’. ‘Rage & The Machine’ would've been improved if it took more cues from the slick collaboration.

There are several interesting, unexpected elements spread across its beatwork and hook. Plus the boys sound self-assured growling alongside each other, warning off all competitors.

Dotted with classic Notorious B.I.G references, as well as a sad nod to America’s recent police brutality incidents, ‘I Gotta Ask’ is led by a unique, smartly-executed sample.

‘Flex’ is a seductive hip-hop highlight which features guest spots from Canadian rapper/singer/songwriter Tory Lanez and Fabulous.

Over an erotic, slow-jam beat, the rappers wisely hold back and let the slow-burning instrumental do the mood-setting.

The boys rap about being entranced by the allure of the female form, and thanks to Lanez’ singing, ‘Flex’ successfully conjures up a sensual vibe.

Featuring vocals from New York R&B singer Emanny, Budden hits the club on ‘Time For Work’

The tune’s design and light, old-skool chorus can get overly-busy, but Budden is confident sizing up the ladies and spiting about having a good time over its striking beat.

On the offensive and aiming directly at his opposition, Budden employs his most feral tones in order to deliver ‘Wrong One’ - a cut that lands full force via merciless beats and alert bass sounds.

‘I Wanna Know’ is decorated with likeable R&B elements and features Brooklyn, New York singer/songwriter Stacy Barthe.

Admittedly, ‘I Wanna Know’ overindulges slightly with the vocals towards its drawn-out ending. That being said, on a positive note, the track is based around a sped-up, melodic soul sample which immediately makes the tune more accessible.

In a way that’s casual and seasoned, Budden is charismatic on ‘I Wanna Know’. The rapper is heard comically interacting with the song’s samples as they dance around him.

Most of the track’s super-confessional, heart-to-heart lyrics are aimed toward his son.

Without things getting sappy, Budden candidly confesses that he’s still learning how to be a dad. The rapper impacts further as he strains his delivery during the song’s last verse to explain just how much having a son has filled a huge void in his life.

On the album’s finale ‘Idols’, Budden shouts out his hip-hop inspirations, which includes the likes of Ice Cube, LL Cool J, Gang Starr, Slick Rick, Chuck D and Rakim.

The rapper also thanks Jay Z for his contributions to the hip-hop community before saluting the eventual success of his previously-troubled music streaming platform, TIDAL.

The tune’s luxurious beats are initially interspersed with several smooth soul samples. However midway through, ‘Idols’ morphs into something more grandiose. Budden then meditates passionately on the future, and the kind of legacy he wants to leave behind.

Verdict: *****5/10

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