The success of 50 Cent in early 2003 opened the floodgates for other street-level, mixtape-bred rappers, one of whom was Joe Budden, a Jersey City rapper with a distinct loose-cannon style molded from years of freestyling. Born in Spanish Harlem and raised in Queens, Budden came of age across the Hudson River in Jersey City, which he proudly continued to rep in his rhymes despite its somewhat unsavory reputation relative to more traditional hip-hop breeding grounds like Harlem, Brooklyn, the South Bronx, and Queensbridge. Following some troubled teenage years, Budden cleaned himself up and focused his sights on hip-hop fame. He teamed up with producer Dub-B (aka White Boy) and began making demos, one of which ended up in the hands of DJ Clue.
Soon afterward, Budden was a mixtape fixture, freestyling over popular beats on mixes by New York's leading DJs, most notably Clue, DJ Kayslay, and Cutmaster C. In particular, his "Grindin'" freestyle turned heads, as did one of his White Boy productions, "Focus." It wasn't long before Budden joined On Top management and went to work with Just Blaze, one of New York's hottest producers of the moment, best known for his work with Jay-Z but also respected for his sure-fire freelance work, such as Erick Sermon's "React" and Cam'ron's "Oh Boy." Indeed, a sure-fire hit resulted: "Pump It Up," a club-ready track that connected everywhere, from MTV to the streets.
While all of this was going down, industry heavyweight Def Jam signed Budden and prepared his debut album, Joe Budden, which charted well its opening week, earned some critical support, and foreshadowed a bright future for the refreshingly unique rapper. Unfortunately, a changing of the guard at Def Jam meant the executives who had signed Budden were gone. His next album would remain in limbo until late 2008 when the Halfway House mixtape arrived with an announcement that the rapper had signed with Amalgam Digital.