by Leor Galil
I wasn't a Budden fan prior to seeing him onstage—I actually ended up at the show for a school assignment. I'd been taking a sociology class on youth subcultures in my final semester at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, and part of the coursework for one particular project required my peers and me to attend a few hip-hop shows, much to my delight. But due to my overly packed schedule and the difficulty that comes with trying to see live music in a Boston suburb with few public transportation options, I wound up snapping up a ticket to see Joe Budden at Cambridge's Middle East Downstairs out of academic obligation rather than interest. Fortunately I had a comrade-in-arms in Alex, who shared my lack of interest in Budden.
Our expectations were pretty low given our general apathy, but Budden somehow managed to find a way to limbo underneath that low bar without ever threatening to go near it. Arriving onstage more than an hour late, Budden took little opportunity to actually do anything resembling rapping; a couple songs into his set he rested on one knee and held his microphone towards the crowd, barely imploring his fans to fill in the blanks as he took long drags on a cigarette despite the fact that smoking had been banned in Massachusetts before that evening.
Budden's outsize ego didn't mesh with the reality of performing at a venue with a capacity below 600, and his contempt made the entire affair toxic. I couldn't stand to be there and hated that in some small way I fueled his egomania simply by standing in front of him as he held the microphone as far away from his face as possible.
But as Budden wasted a large portion of his set offstage, Alex and I were forced to exit the Middle East Downstairs partially out of a need to catch the free shuttle service that ran between Brandeis, Harvard Square, and Boston a few days a week. We ran toward the bus stop cursing Budden's name, and we continued to curse his name when we saw a shuttle pull away just as we arrived in Harvard Square. We didn't stop grumbling about Budden throughout the hour-and-a-half wait till the next bus arrived sometime after 1 AM, and we couldn't stop even after we made it back to Waltham. It became an in-joke for the rest of the semester, which just might be the only good thing that came out of that turkey of a performance.