Since the outset, Joe Budden has never been one to shy away from a skirmish. As a formidable lyricist in his own right, the Jersey City MC has a history of being prepared to tussle with anyone: from hip-hop’s commercial heavyweights to lesser MC’s that could have been unworthy of a riposte. Whether it was Saigon or Drake, Jay-Z, Lil B or G-Unit, no one has played the antagonist as well as Budden. Despite renouncing his status as an artist to become a full-time media personality in recent years his gravitational pull towards beef has done anything but lessen– the antagonist narrative lives on in Budden.
From his position as a cultural commentator for Spotify and Revolt, Joe has continued to gain the ire of old heads and the new breed alike. While he may not be crafting wordplay-laden bars, his notoriously barbed tongue and uncensored outlook has still led to squabbles with former Shady Records boss Eminem, Chance The Rapper, Russ, Lil Yachty and Migos in recent years. Through all of the ensuing smoke that’s come his way, Budden has remained steadfast in his claim that he’s “retired”; seceding from the old days where he’d mount up on a beat to settle scores, instead, entertaining diatribes on his podcast. Despite each controversy that he’s taken in his stride, there’s one unresolved issue that seems to have stirred something in Budden, and that is, the dangling carrot of battling CyHi The Prynce.
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Unexpected as it may have been, this issue wasn’t sparked by subs on a high-profile single but some throwaway bars in a freestyle. Flanked by Deante Hitchcock, Naj Murph and Tate228, the Stone Mountain MC uncorked a series of rhymes that put conflict firmly on the agenda:
“I think that I should’ve been in Slaughterhouse/ Leave you with a rib-eye tryna’ clown me/ Boy, I knock the legs off a cow just to ground beef/ So call Backpack or Smack and tell ’em set it up/ And anyone who wanna bring a half a mil’, we can bet it up.” Rather than keeping it on wax, CyHi reiterated his willingness to place 500k on the line and claimed that he would “end his rap and podcast career.”
In days gone by, this would’ve been enough for Joe to jump in the booth with malicious intent but his initial response was far more reserved. As opposed to leaping into fight-or-flight mode, Budden calmly pointed out the futility of calling out “rapper Joe” when the issue falls under the remit of his “media” counterpart. However, this calm and collected exterior soon proved to be more penetrable than it appeared. Largely spurred on by his podcast co-hosts Rory & Mal, what began as comical jabs led to Joe erupting in trademark incendiary fashion:
“CyHi don’t want no f****g Joe Budden smoke, When Joe get some time and if he put a record out, that would be the end of him. The only n***a who wants smoke with Joe is Lil B, that’s it. All these other n****s… I don’t give a fuck what you talking ’bout, n***a.
In the aftermath, Cyhi chalked the rant up as evidence of Budden being “shook” and it is a statement that seems to hold some weight. As to why Joe may find this particular feud to be so irksome, one plausible hypothesis arose during the podcast discussions. During his combative rebuke of CyHi as any potential threat, Budden’s co-hosts proceeded to play devil’s advocate, expressing reasonable doubt in his skillset. Budden posed: what would happen if CyHi exchanged bars with his former Slaughterhouse cohort, Royce Da 5’9″? To his incredulity, his co-hosts dismissed the possibility that CyHi was on Royce’s level, in a way that insinuated there were lightyears between Joe and his former ally.
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To that end, why would the same man that barely lifted his head to acknowledge Lil Yachty and Migos’ “Ice Tray”– “If a n***a hatin’ call him Joe Budden (Pussy!)”– and claimed disses from Eminem didn’t merit a response, react so viscerally to the notion that he could not overcome Cyhi? The answer could reside in the fact that he sees parallels between his own career and his younger foe’s journey.
Despite coming up in different eras, the stark similarities between the two make for compelling evidence. For starters, the early stage of their careers saw both artists hailed as stars-in-waiting. In Budden’s case, his acquisition by Def Jam came complete with the mantle of “carrying on” the label’s “tradition for the next ten years” and this premonition seemed to be coming true when his eponymous debut arrived. From club-optimized bangers such as “Pump It Up” and “Focus” to the contemplation of “Walk With Me” and “10 Minutes,” his penmanship and adaptability as an MC marked Joey as tailor-made for the intersection between the streets and the charts. Three years on from being the toast of his “dream label,” Joe was on the outs with Def Jam and had left a shelved album, titled The Growth, in his wake. From there, Budden would exact his vision and develop his emotionally raw style on the Mood Muzik mixtape series and subsequent studio projects.
For CyHi, his road to Def Jam and Kanye West’s G.O.O.D Music imprint was accelerated by a lofty co-sign from Mrs. Carter herself. Informed that “you have to sign him” by Beyonce, ‘Ye heeded her words and put pen to paper, but it was far from an easy ride that followed suit. Following a stellar outing on “So Appalled” from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, where Cy proved he could hold his own with Jay, Pusha & RZA, it seemed as though the stars were aligning for the Georgia export’s ascent. Much like Joe, this prospective greatness was kept under wraps at the behest of his label, only allowing for the occasional feature to emerge through official channels. In the same vein as his Jersey counterpart, CyHi took matters into his own hands and delivered a stream of mixtapes that highlighted his formidable talent, including the Royal Flush and Black Hystori Project series respectively.
By 2015, CyHi was released from Def Jam and sought his revenge on Kanye, Pusha and everyone that had bypassed him with the diss track “Elephant In The Room.” Later recanted as an Em and Dr Dre-esque ribbing between mentor and mentee, the ferocity and candidness of the bars bore resemblance to Joe Budden’s “Def Jam Diss” in which he took aim at his employers and then-label head Lyor Cohen for stalling on his second record. Much like The Growth, Cyhi also has an album that’s collecting dust in the form of L.I.O.N, and it would be two more years before his long-awaited debut No Dope On Sundays would emerge. An acclaimed if still under-the-radar release, the rapper has since teased a follow-up, set for arrival next month. While every fan of high-caliber lyricism is hoping this is the case, it is hard to take this proposed roll-out at face value when so many prospective release dates have never materialized over the course of his career.
Joe Budden, in his mind, has often been overlooked, overshadowed and hampered by the industry and those in his camp. Whether or not CyHi is cognizant of it, his time as an artist has been subject to a similar mix of reverence and rejection. When their creativity was stifled by labels, they rallied against the industry bureaucracy. When they were mismanaged by figureheads, they took it to the booth rather than burying it,and when everything else had been taken from them, their talents as MCs remained the one constant. Ultimately, this may be the reason why lyrical warfare with CyHi is so enticing to Budden, in a way that trifling with another rapper simply isn’t. Budden left behind a blueprint for how to navigate through rap’s choppiest waters and create your own buzz, one that CyHi has– likely unconsciously– emulated.
For both of these artists, money and notoriety may have still found either, but it was self-expression and articulation of their stories that kept them involved in hip-hop at their lowest ebb. Now that Budden has been provoked by a genuine contemporary, he could feel the need to re-assert his abilities in a way that Quavo or Takeoff couldn’t force him to. Whether or not an MC’s net worth exceeds his is of little concern, what he couldn’t abide by is if they’re perceived as lyrically and artistically superior, and that’s why Cyhi is in prime position to make him grab the mic. Due to all of their jarring similarities and the potential for Budden’s creativity to be re-ignited, let’s hope the two decide to settle this on wax and not relegate this generational warfare to a pipe dream.