It’s been four years (which equals about 4 decades in hip hop time) since we’ve gotten an official solo studio project from Joe Budden. Since then, he’s been front and center for numerous “beefs” and controversies, and invested most of his time working with Slaughterhouse. While the music he’s helped create with the Shady Record’s backed group has been largely hit or miss – and widely considered a disappointment by their biggest fans – no one’s ever doubted Joe’s ability (or that of any of Slaughterhouse’s artists) as an MC. It seems like that hit or miss trend might just carry over into his newest project with the just dropped, No Love Lost.
That isn’t to say that the album isn’t a quality experience, and maybe the “best” front-to-back solo project Joe’s ever dropped. However, at times, it feels like it tries to do too much – and run in three distinct lanes – at different times through the album. As a result, it feels very disjointed and overly ambitious. While a guy with wide commercial appeal like Drake or Kanye can pull that off and get a ton of love, Joe appeals mostly to fans that look for highly technical and clever lyricism. With that in mind, it’ll very interesting to see how this one is received considering it tries to appeal to so many types of fans – who may or not even be aware of Joe Budden already.
At moments, the No Love Lost album goes for the obvious radio/club hit, like with the Wayne and Tank featuring lead single “She Put It Down” and “NBA” which feels like much more like a lost cut from Wiz’s last album “ONIFC” than a Budden track. At others it goes for the insightful and introspective, though never corny or preachy, angle that many of his die-hard fans have come to embrace, with a few moments like the Crooked I and Joell Ortiz assisted “Skeletons”. There’s also a very strong R&B infused handful of slower songs that are obviously targeted towards the ladies (and maybe dudes going through relationship issues) on tracks like the Omarion driven “Switch Positions” and “You and I” with Emanny (who should be given credit for a great vocal performance).
Maybe not so surprisingly, the album’s biggest highlights are probably when it’s taking the more “conscious”, insightful route. Not so coincidentally, that also happens to be when other Slaughterhouse members are absent, or Budden goes in completely solo – most notably tracks 7 through 9. “All in My Head (feat. Royce Da 5’9” and Kobe), the before mentioned “Skeletons”, “Castles”, the Emanny featuring “Ghetto Burbs”, and “Runaway” are probably the best examples of the intelligent but relatable style he’s known for, and will probably be the moments the biggest Joe Budden fans out there embrace the most. In fact, if the Slaughterhouse album would have stuck to the formula those tracks lay out, it probably would have eliminated a lot of criticisms its most vocal audience expressed in a big way.
The two other approaches we get aren’t poorly executed either, but they do leave a bit to be desired. Lazy probably wouldn’t the right way to describe them, but “somewhat uninspired and a bit generic” would probably be appropriate. A vast majority of the non-Slaughterhouse features come across as paint-by-numbers verses, especially those coming from the bigger names – though that’s pretty par for the course these days. This trend is even more noticeable in the production and beat selection they have too. “She Put it Down” sounds like every other club-focused attempt at a hit that every song Young Money has a presence comes across as lately. It does bang a bit, but it’s probably replaceable and forgettable when it comes to most people’s rotations.
Like we mentioned before “NBA” definitely feels quickly put together, and while Wiz and French Montana definitely thrive in the type of environment the song creates, there really isn’t anything unique or fresh about it. The one definitely positive, seemingly single focused moment though is “Last Day” which gives us an on-point performance from both Lloyd Banks and the recently resurgent Juicy J over a trap-slanted A6 beat. It should also be mentioned that the R&B vocal performances from Tank, Omarion, and Emanny are all well done, they just probably won’t appeal to the biggest part of Joe’s fan base in a big way.
The biggest missed opportunity here lies in the production and beat selections though. Much like the somewhat generic feel that a majority of the high profile features bring, a lot of the production concepts and choices are almost painfully generic. Outside of “Castles” and the just-mentioned trap beat on “Last Day” there’s probably not much that will stick with you from a beat standpoint. There are definitely some smooth elements present like the more instrument focused feel on the R&B slanted tracks (especially the key work on “Switch Positions”), but nothing that hasn’t been done a million times before. Every producer, from T-Minus, Kardiak, and Boi-1nda comes with a polished and solid sound, but there’s just nothing very memorable, or that you’ll keep coming back to once this one ages a bit.
Overall, No Love Lost, is well worth the purchase for any fan of lyrical focused, yet unpretentious hip hop, and fans of Joe Budden (and Slaughterhouse), especially those missing some more party-focused stuff in their music collections. But, it’s hard to see more than half of this project being considered ideal for his typical fan base. At the same time, it lacks the huge smash like “Pump it Up” that gave him glimpses of mainstream superstardom early in his career. It’s definitely a strong effort, and enjoyable – it just doesn’t have a clear direction or concept to push it into the realm of what could be considered a “great” or focused project. With that in mind, it’ll be real interesting to see how this one is received both commercially and among his core set of fans.