One might say that “Joe Budden, Media Star” is a monster of Complex’s making. However, every phase of Budden’s career—before and after he co-hosted Complex’s Everyday Struggle in 2017—has led to his current position as hip-hop’s most powerful media personality. The sum of his experiences, along with his acerbic wit, make him a vital cultural commentator (and not, as he notes in our interview, a traditional journalist). Of course, his contrarian personality, at once a gift and a curse, has courted controversy and occasionally burned bridges along the way.

Here’s a quick timeline of how Budden got here: There were the heady “Pump It Up” days of the early 2000s, when he was Hot Rookie Joe, a promising newcomer yet unscathed by the industry. Soon followed the Bitter Rapper Joe era, when his career stalled and he had his first taste of broadcasting as a fill-in host on Hot 97. Around 2008 Budden transitioned into his Indie Joe persona, full of emo mixtape vulnerability, and ventured into content as Vlogger Joe, later morphing into Reality Star, Love & Hip-Hop Joe. Next came Supergroup Joe, back on a major label with Slaughterhouse, and Assorted Beef Joe, irresistible fodder for gossip blogs. In 2015, Budden became Podcast Joe, less than a year before officially adopting the title Retired Rapper Joe. 

 It was in 2017, when he was paired with DJ Akademiks as sparring partners on Everyday Struggle, that Budden’s second professional life truly began. His opinions were deliberately inflammatory; the discourse frequently coarse. Yet, after so many career stops and starts, Budden’s cynicism about the industry was well-earned. The audience embraced this new version of Joe, even if they didn’t always agree with what he said. There was a precision to his vitriol, a sharpness in his delivery—as befits a former MC—and his firsthand experience lent credibility to every rap discussion. While retired athletes often find lucrative gigs analyzing their sports, Budden was the first to pave the same path in hip-hop. 

After a tumultuous nine months on EDS, Budden left Complex, acrimoniously, over money and ownership—a harbinger of things to come. He hosted a debate show for Revolt and inked a podcast deal with Spotify, only to part ways with both shortly thereafter. (We will refrain from discussing the rancor around the co-hosts he’s cut ties with.) “All the places that I left, I left because I wasn’t gonna get the money that I felt I could go get here,” Budden recently said on DJ Akademiks’ Off the Record podcast. “In hindsight, Complex didn’t do nothing wrong. They had it valued a certain way and I didn’t. And they weren’t willing to pay. I felt I could go outside the building and go get that. Same at Revolt. Spotify. That’s been the story of my career.”

As that career continues to rise and Budden pursues further expansion in media, he remains steadfast and stubborn, albeit less angry than he was six years ago. If he’s learned from his travails over the past two decades, the future for Media Mogul Joe should be less contentious, given the success he’s now achieved on his own terms. We wouldn’t bet on it, though.