Joe Budden

Escape Route

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Gruff rapper Joe Budden's conquest of 2009 continued with Escape Route, an album released the same year as his hit full-length, Padded Room, along with the debut from his supergroup Slaughterhouse. Escape Route is labeled as a precursor to his 2010 album, The Great Escape, but save a rocky flow plus a couple tracks that are B- at worst, this hardly feels like a stop-gap release. You wouldn't expect to declare a track dubbed "Intro" a highlight, but with a Requiem for a Dream sample and cold killer punch lines like "Life's a bitch/I'm just lookin' up her dress," this generically titled juggernaut is Budden at his best. The regretful "Never Again" sounds like the unlikely pairing of Mobb Deep and any given emo band, while the stately "State of You" takes a much more Hollywood approach to despair, and along with the "Intro," suggests the rapper has been digging on soundtracks of late. Most of these dramatic creations come from producer Jared F with a handful of helpers -- the Worxxx, Chad West, and Streetrunner -- making worthwhile contributions. Budden's years stuck in contract negotiation limbo gave him plenty of time to store up material, but his third release of the year is almost as strong as his first triumphs of 2009. Poll the hip-hop faithful for opinions on Escape Route, and Budden himself would be the only one underselling it as a minor release.

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