Moving from mixtapes to albums, this may be considered the debut of Budden's independent-era career. No longer retained by an A&R, his witty lyricism and sharp rhymes aren't held back here. From the introductory "Now I Lay," Joe sets the stage for the LP, saying, "Fuck y'all! I ain't gotta explain myself," before doing just that. "I don't care how you rate me/It'll take a long time to evaluate me," he adds before claiming a straight jacket couldn't hold him.
Through the majority of the LP, "Regular Joe" manages to spit rhymes that sound like they're coming straight from a psychiatrist's transcripts. From a personal vacation from stress ("Don't Take Me"), to the remorseful father who once contemplated the abortion of his only son ("I Couldn't Help It," where he also speaks on getting with a fellow rapper's girl), Budden unleashes his truth with no filter or rose-tinted glass. Sometimes, his rhymes sound like correspondence letters, speaking to his brothers about their future ("Blood on the Wall"), and writing to everyone in his life as if it was his last rhyme ever ("Do Tell"). He opens up even more in a hypothetical conversation with God ("Pray for Me") as he argues with The Lord about everything from Aids to retardation and starvation, only to find more truth about his own pitfalls. Joe then spits as if he was in a mental institution ("Angel in My Life") just to tie loose ends with the album's title. "They say the room's padded for my own safety/But the cushion don't soften shit/ They lock the door, but still, they let my thoughts in it."
Another notable highlight is Joey's progressive flow. Throughout the album, especially shown on "Exxxes" and "In My Sleep," Joe expands his toolbox, riding beats with more melodies than usual. This helps Budden's rhymes connect more with a wider range of listeners while never losing his lyrical aptitude in the process. On an album that channels a psychiatric evaluation of an emcee through well thought out rhyme patterns and meditative narration, the flow is crucial to driving the point home. And it does.
While lyrically, this is a new plateau and an exciting, polished album, Padded Room's accompanying music marks Joe's independent arrival with the disappointments of independent production budgets. The hard-to-take-serious Blastah Beatz placement on "Now I Lay" is followed by an even weaker instrumental by Fyu-Chur for The Game-assisted letdown "The Future" [click to listen]. Dub B's "Adrenaline" sounds extremely out of place, while Quan's "Happy Holidays" ultimately feels like filler music to the lyrics. Many of the other records carry their weight musically, but for the same artist backed by Just Blaze and White Boy six years ago, the homegrown talents are strong in mixtapes, but leave more to be desired on retail product.
Despite a minor shortcoming, Joe Budden has released a candid and thought provoking piece of work. It's something that many fans have been waiting for. Even with miscues on board, it's still the album mainstream rappers attempt to make on paper, and the kind of writing that many independents can't seem to keep up with.