Joe Budden is best-known for his decade-plus rap career, both solo and as a member of the group Slaughterhouse. But from the very beginning, Budden has been business-savvy, ambitious and ahead of the curve.
From the time he signed his first record deal in the early 2000s, Budden was curious about the Internet. He used it to talk to fans, and even ended up sharing his life with his following by live streaming on platforms like UStream and BlogTV.
Budden also expanded outside of the realm of being a rapper, into becoming a larger personality. Most recently, he moved into reality television and podcasting. Budden was a cast member of Love & Hip Hop: New York in 2013-2014 and Couples Therapy in 2015. He also hosts a podcast called I’ll Name This Podcast Later. His upcoming album, out Oct. 21, is called Rage & the Machine.
He unravels a whole lot about himself in this interview with Forbes Music Industry writer Shawn Setaro, check it out below:
Shawn Setaro: From the beginning, you used the Internet to connect directly with your fans. What appealed to you about that? What made you jump on that back in 2003 or so, when not a ton of artists were, for example, UStreaming with their fans?
Joe Budden: Well, back then it was my only means to get information or challenge someone else’s. That was the time that I had just gotten my record deal, and I was being told so many things from so many different people. I wasn’t a street dude, so I wasn’t going to go out on the streets and see what hot and stand on the corner. So I went to the Internet to get information and to test different music and to engage and hear other peoples’ opinions and perspectives.
And I learned about this community of people that not only existed, but were extremely hungry for music at a much faster pace and clip than we’re able to deliver. So what started a lot of the debates or disagreements between Kevin [Liles, President of Budden’s then-label Def Jam] and myself is that I was so forward-thinking, and the industry hadn’t quite caught up to that just yet.
Setaro: So you go back to Def Jam and you say, there’s this whole crowd of people out there on the Internet, and here’s what they’re listening to, here’s what they want, and here’s what they think of Joe Budden. What kind of reaction did that get?
Budden: One that we’ve all gotten used to. The internet was ignored until you could no longer ignore it. And that was sad. Nobody gave it much credence at all. But I never left, and the community continued to grow. You could early on begin to see the effect that it would eventually have on music.
Setaro: You could, and you probably have, traced a line from Joe Budden TV, the short videos you would do of your life [note: you can find the archive of Joe Budden TV videos here] to Love & Hip Hop.
Budden: I 100% have traced a line, yes.
Setaro: So by the time you get to reality TV, you know what it’s like to have a camera in your face all the time.
Budden: Yeah. It’s good practice. I mean, even with my podcast, I knew that eventually I wanted to have a career in broadcasting, and that podcasting would be good practice for that. Joe Budden TV was indeed good practice for what would later come. Today prepares us for tomorrow—I’m a believer in that.
Setaro: You were briefly a host on the [NYC radio station] Hot 97 morning show in 2004. What did you learn being on the radio that you took back to being a recording artist?
Budden: I took the same honest, straightforward, blunt style that I had in my music, and I brought it to radio. It was fun. We came up with some amazing ideas. Ebro [Darden], [DJ] Envy, Darnell Rollins, Miss Info, myself, we had a good time.
That was one of the few times in my life I can recall actually being nervous. They took this kid who had never done radio in his life, and put him in the lead chair on Hot 97 morning show, which is the number one station. That was a bit nerve-wracking, but we did alright.
Setaro: Eventually, you got to the point where you couldn’t do both rap and radio.
Budden: We couldn’t do both. But again, so many of the ways that I defied the standard in music were so left back then that they were received a certain way, even though it would eventually grow to be thenorm. Kevin Liles was saying you can’t sell music and be a radio host, and this was in the midst of Ludacris retiring from radio [rapper Ludacris got his show business start as a DJ on Atlanta radio station Hot 97.5 under the name “Chris Lova Lova”], and blowing up to be this huge rap star.
It was looked at as, why would you do that? Why would you give people that type of access to you? No one realized, where did you think the future of music was going? It was going to go to instant access, instant gratification. Putting more out there wouldn’t be something that would hurt artists. It would eventually help in the long run.
Setaro: You had another show prior to your current podcast called My F***in’ Show. That was just you—it wasn’t the co-host model of your current podcast.
Budden: That was only me, trying to practice broadcasting at home on my computer. We had a lot of funny conversations, and I would record and upload them. This was before I ever knew what a podcast was or how big that field was. It’s growing now.
It’s become a pretty cool thing to do now. Everybody has a podcast, and it’s great that people can get that instant access and hear whatever they want to hear from their favorite people.
Setaro: You were one of the first people to sign a digital-only record deal when you signed to Amalgam Digital in 2007. Why?
Budden: I think the future of music is digital. I’ve always tried to stay ahead of that curve.
Setaro: How did that work out?
Budden: Not too well. We had our disagreements, and eventually had to go our separate ways, which is how I ended up at E1.
Setaro: Your new album is your first sole independent project, just you and a digital distributor. Why not go through another label?
Budden: I was on a label. I’ve played both sides and got all the information I needed to get. I think this is the best way for me to do my business. I always challenge people to tell me why they would do it a different way. I can’t necessarily see why I would be so eager to sign my rights away.
Setaro: Let’s talk about television. You were on Love & Hip Hopand Couples Therapy.
Budden: That was fun.
Setaro: Being on reality TV brings you a different sort of fame—a get-recognized-while-walking-down-the-street fame that only a handful of rappers have. What was it like to jump into that world?
Budden: That was a bit awkward at first, when your demographics change like that. I had 70-year-olds who were recognizing me. I had no idea how large that audience was. But I got used to it pretty quickly.
Setaro: You were an early adopter of UStream and other live streaming technology. Now you have apps like Periscope that mirror that, but in a much more user-friendly way.
Budden: Yes. Even though I think they should bring BlogTV back—I loved BlogTV. But Periscope is great. I’m on Periscope a lot.
Setaro: Did you feel comfortable on Periscope since you had all this practice live streaming?
Budden: Well, no. One of the reasons that I began live streaming in the first place was because I was so comfortable. I felt like it was an advantage that I had because I was so honest in the music. I wasn’t pretending to be something else. I could cut a camera on in my house,I could cut a camera on with my girlfriend, I could cut a camera on with my kid and not be giving out some false image.
Setaro: You have these different fanbases now. You have people who know you for music, people who recognize you from television, and now people who know you solely from the podcast. How do you give people who know you from each enough content? Is that something you think about?
Budden: No. I mean, I’m myself on all of these platforms. There’s plenty of people who don’t necessarily enjoy my music that still enjoy the podcast and think it’s pretty funny and informative. So that’s not unusual for me.
My mom raised me on, whatever attracts, and you want to do as much as you can in this lifetime. And I go by that. I want to do it all. I want to rap, I want to do a morning show, I want to do a podcast, I want to act, I want to battle rap, I want to be a sports analyst. Anything that I can do that’s within the realm of possibility, I want to go give it a shot.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length. You can hear the entire conversation with Budden here.