Had Joe Budden not become one of hip-hop’s most talented MCs, what career path would he have chosen instead? “I would have become a lawyer,” the Jersey City resident concedes in his authoritative baritone voice, “because I like to debate.” With characteristically wry humor, Budden adds: “But I wasn’t that good at the school thing.”

Though his dreams of litigation may have been prematurely shelved, Budden’s immense skills as a hip-hop lyricist – he’s a rapturous storyteller with a cocky flair for wordplay – are not that different than the skills a lawyer might bring to the courtroom. Those exceptional skills are on full display for Budden’s second album, The Growth (Def Jam), a solid collection of hard-driving club tracks and introspective midtempo tunes, all anchored by Budden’s confessional lyrics and trademark rapid-fire rhymes. The album’s evocative title refers not only to the positive transformations in Budden’s professional career, but also to his burgeoning maturity as an artist and human being.