There’s an aura surrounding Joe Budden that’s reminiscent of a sleeping dragon. Partially due to the brilliant manner in which he’s built up his own lore, allowing his Mood Muzik series and Slaughterhouse tenure to age like fine wine. A pioneer of the internet era, establishing Joe Budden TV well before the social media-heavy status quo of today, Budden has always proven savvy at controlling the narrative. It’s part of what allowed him to transition so successfully from underground lyricist to one of, if not the biggest name in hip-hop media. Between stints on Everyday Struggle, State Of The Culture, and his own long-running Joe Budden Podcast, Joe’s rebrand has been among the game’s most successful. 

Anyone who ever watched Joe’s post-rap content has likely heard some variation of the phrase: I’m retired. Occasionally used as a means of staving off confrontation on wax, as was the case when Eminem and CyHi The Prynce fired warning shots in his direction, it also served a dual process. Which is to say, keeping one foot, perhaps even a singular toe, in the realm of hip-hop. After all, Joe has teased a return on numerous occasions, his most recent stemming during a call with former groupmate Royce Da 5’9”.  Despite good-natured jabs from Rory and Mal, who declared a returning Joe would need a few sessions at Royce’s boot camp, Joe seemed to relish in the idea of reminding the uninformed exactly how he gets down. And were he to indeed pick up the mic, he’d have a notable advantage in his back pocket

Visibility. Consider that some people probably associate Budden with his “Media Joe” personality, his hip-hop acumen all but forgotten. There are still people who declare “Pump It Up” to be his crowning achievement, as if he didn’t go head to head with The Game, 50 Cent, Jay-Z, and countless more. Of course, he’s pissed off no shortage of artists since hanging up the lyrical spurs; how often is a podcast host the center of a Migos refrain? But such conclusions are hardly new territory for Joe, arguably sitting among the biggest pot-stirrers of the past two decades. Though his brutal honesty seems to be a point of pride for Jumpoff, his sudden transition from rapper to media mogul has made it difficult for a proper back-and-forth. It sometimes feels like Budden is hurling shots from a “safety zone,” holding an impenetrable shield emblazoned with the words: “I’M RETIRED.”

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Given that his love of conflict has yet to die down, many rappers targeted by his critiques have been left at a disadvantage. Comments that might have once elicited bars by the hundreds are addressed in a different medium altogether. Joe has even used his retirement status as a benchmark to measure the quality of potential adversaries, deeming only a select few worthy of receiving Budden bars. Should he be so inclined, he can add additional insult with a simple “he’s not worthy,” building himself up and tearing his foe down in one fell swoop. Though it must be immensely frustrating for anyone chasing the Budden smoke, it remains a masterstroke only he is capable of pulling off. 

Still, the fact that rappers are continually impacted by Joey’s words, be they encouraging or vitriolic, speaks to his impact in the game’s current mediasphere. On the flipside, it has never been easier to hear his thoughts on a given topic, be it music or his own personal life; lest we forget, Joe is no stranger to Love & Hip-Hop, with his romantic escapades often acting as the centerpiece to his storylines. Where his life used to be a mystery unraveling through his music, the shifting medium has flipped the book wide open. Joe’s opinions have become common knowledge, and his infectious guffaw serves as living proof that his depressive state is a thing of the past. It’s interesting, actually: Joe’s ubiquity has elevated his brand to an all-time high, but his comfort zone has been laid to waste in the process. Not to mention, he’d be forced to walk a fine line between his dual identities, especially if comments made on his podcast spurred consequences for his rap alter ego. True, he could always line his bars with heated takes on pop culture. Budden has amassed an impressive knowledge of current events, and those familiar with his Podcast know he’s capable of trolling with the best of them. But that would only open the door for confrontation, not to mention serve as a vast stylistic departure for his core fans.

Budden has gained so many new fans since his retirement, he’d be unwise to capitalize on that. There may even be cases in which some have trouble associating the joke-slinging, pause-dropping Podcaster with the darker material that built his formidable reputation in the first place. Blending both sides would likely be one of his biggest challenges, should he indeed plan on following Royce’s lead and stepping behind the mic for a final album. And you already know he’s tempted. How could he not be? For the first time in his career, Joe Budden would release a project with all eyes on him. Some curious, some excited, and some simply praying for failure. Especially since he’s touted himself (and perhaps fairly so) as one of the sharpest emcees in the game. At this point, Joe has teased the prospect of a comeback one too many times. It’s time to set the record straight and bring the rebrand full circle. Even if it means picking up the phone and securing that Lil Ak feature. 

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