13. Joe Budden
Def Jam Records once heralded Joe Budden as the future of the legendary label, fit to follow in the footsteps of LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, DMX, and Jay-Z. In 2003, New York radio played his songs "Focus," "Fire," and "Pump It Up" on a loop, and the Just Blaze-produced "Pump It Up" went on to be Grammy nominated.
But by the time Jumpoff Joe submitted his darker-themed sophomore project, the label was tuning out the former drug addict. Budden artistically felt a-ways, and butted heads with new Def Jam president Jay-Z. Soon thereafter, Joey found himself a tarnished free agent. While some saw signing with indies like Amalgam Digital and E1 a step down, Budden used them to cultivate and grow a targeted audience, hungry for true, deep, emotional rap music.
Listeners got all of Joe (and each one of his relationships) whether they liked it or not. Along the way, he recruited the top lyricists Crooked I, Joell Ortiz, and former foe Royce da 5'9, to join him on a song, "Slaughterhouse." Their musical rapport turned into a group, which turned in to an indie album, which tuned into a major label deal through Eminem's Shady Records. Today, while he may not be doing Jay-Z numbers, Joe Budden makes the music he's proud to make, playing to large, loyal audiences. By anyone's definition, that's a success.