An uncompromising rapper more interested in working his craft than in keeping the party going, Joe Budden uses his drug-addled past as an inspiration for grim, intense and utterly sincere raps. Rising to the top of the burgeoning New York mix tape circuit in the early '00s, Budden spent years honing his skills as a freestyle rapper before hooking up with producer Just Blaze and getting signed to Def Jam. The Spanish Harlem native's self-titled debut is an East Coast rap triumph that makes almost no concessions to the crossover market. The best part is that Budden has been making a name for himself purely on the strength of his abilities and the fact that he was a successful rapper long before Def Jam became involved in his career. Hopefully, the label's influence will act as a catalyst for Budden, allowing him to continue rapping at the high level he's already attained, rather than turn him into just another hip-hop entertainer.