In 2003, Hov demanded our undivided attention as he released what was, at the time, his swan song. The Black Album was touted as Jay's retirement album, and it was quite a way to go out. The Black Album is considered by many to be his strongest all around effort, producing some of the generation's most iconic tracks. Just three years later, he returned wearing the 4-5 like Jordan (it ain't to play games with you) with Kingdom Come. Despite what you think you remember about it's release, it actually did very well commercially, selling almost 700,000 copies the first week, and critically, receiving mostly high marks in reviews. The fans, however, seemed to voice a different opinion. People seemed to like a few of the tracks, but categorically dismiss the album when discussing Jay's best works. Even Mr. Carter himself called it his least favorite album in a 2013 Instagram post where he famously ranked all of his albums in order.
But was it really that bad? Maybe we were too eager to compare it to The Black Album, which is one of the greatest albums of all time. They're completely different albums, and stylistically can't even really be compared. Black Album was a collection of bold statements, a final declaration to solidify Hov's place in hip hop's history. Kingdom Come is storytelling at it's core, Jay giving us context and understanding. Songs like "Lost Ones" will be immortal because of their brutal honesty and transparency, a peek behind the curtains. Had Kingdom Come been released in present day, we could have appreciated it for what it was individually, rather than the follow up to a classic. Once given a chance to marinate for a while, it grows on you, and probably doesn't deserve the harsh criticism it has received from fans and even Jay himself.
Relapse, 2009 & Recovery, 2010
Eminem's comeback story is a complicated one, as it wasn't just a comeback in music, but in life. Having not released an album since 2004's Encore and being in and out of rehab facilities struggling with his sobriety, 2009 saw a sober Marshall Mathers return to hip hop with the highly anticipated Relapse. It is a truly dark, strange look into the mind of Mathers. While he displayed his other worldly lyrical abilities per usual, he also took us back a bit to the old Slim Shady ways, with twisted storylines ("Same Song & Dance") and song concepts, plus lots of drug-related content.
However, Relapse didn't seem to satisfy the rabid desire among mainstream fans for 'a great new Eminem album', although we're not sure why. Sights were set on Em's next release, Recovery, originally titled Relapse 2, it ended up going in a markedly different direction than Relapse (which is a good or bad thing depending on who you ask). Recovery came out on the back of a smash hit "Not Afraid", and it went on to become more successful than his first comeback attempt. Although Recovery was reviewed more favorably than Relapse, and was also more successful commercially, for the die-hard Eminem fans, Relapse takes the cake. The title says it all-- while we definitely want Eminem to stay sober these days, some of the best music he's made has been under the influence, and so it's not surprising more of what we initially loved was made during a relapse phase. For other fans, Recovery was the missing piece that made it seem like Em was back and on the top of his game. He was not as dark as his vintage self, yet still delivered his masterful lyrics with that same punch. Songs like "Almost Famous" showed that Slim Shady was still the greatest lyrical wordsmith we've ever heard, and he wasn't going anywhere.
Which project did you prefer when it comes to Eminem's comeback?
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,2010
It's tough to call this one a comeback in retrospect, because it's more a declaration on the album that preceded it. 808s & Heartbreak was released in 2008 to a confused fanbase who had become accustomed to Yeezy's raps and simply wasn't ready for a collection of autotune-dipped love ballads. Because of the mixed reception, MBDTF was thought of as Kanye's return to his rap roots, but it ended up being so much more. Kanye released one of the most complete albums of all time, showing his extreme versatility and reminding everyone that he could dominate the genre.
Looking back, 808s & Heartbreak truly was ahead of it's time, and has since become a fan favorite. It paved the way for a style of music that artists like Future have made an entire career out of. In that sense, MBDTF is less of a comeback album than a milestone album for all of hip hop. Knowing how sensitive Yeezus can be sometimes about criticism, maybe all of us collectively panning 808s & Heartbreak drove him to make the next album that much better. So if you think about it like that...nice job guys!
Life Is Good, 2012
God's Son has a few albums that could be considered comeback albums, including Stillmatic (which could easily have a spot on here as well), but this one stands out because it seemed like such a comeback in his personal life as well. Nas hadn't released a solo album since 2008's controversial Untitled LP, which was not deemed his best work, although it did debut at no. 1 on the Billboard 200. Leading up to his declaration that Life Is Good, Nas was coming off some highly-publicized and trying times, namely a lost battle with the IRS and a tough divorce from his wife Kelis. Right from the start, you could tell this was going to be an emotional project for Nas, with songs like "Daughters" and "Bye Baby" allowing him to finally vent and get some things off his chest in the best way he knew how. It felt genuine and honest, and it made for one of the best Nas albums in a long, long time. Nasty.
The way Dr. Dre treats his solo album schedules, every album is a comeback album (get it? Because of Detox?). After much anticipation, Dre dropped his follow up to The Chronic in November of 1999 to near unanimous approval. It was everything we love about gritty West Coast gangster rap, but with a complete new sound. New-comers like Scott Storch and Eminem added layers that would change hip hop for years to come on tracks like "Still D.R.E." and "Forgot About Dre", respectively. Dr. Dre never fell off, he just made us wait a long time, which now looking back wasn't nearly as bad as it could've been. Seriously Dre, can we just hear it already?
My Name Is My Name, 2013
Clipse was one of the most iconic duos of the early-2000s, and bucked industry trends to create their own individual sound. The two brothers, Pusha T and Malice, released three albums together that brought dark, street rap to a whole new mass of fans. However after Malice refound his faith and announced he wouldn't be making music as part of Clipse anymore, rather he was writing an autobiography and recording a Christian rap album, Pusha was forced to figure out his next move alone. He wasn't on his own for long though, as longtime friend Kanye West quickly signed Pusha T to his G.O.O.D. Music imprint.
Through his new partnership with Kanye, The Neighborhood Pusher went on to release the critically acclaimed Fear of God series in 2011, as well as his debut solo album, My Name Is My Name, in 2013. MNIMN was regarded as one of the best albums in a year when we also had new music from Jay Z, Kanye West, Eminem, J. Cole, and more. It was a long awaited return to the top for a seasoned veteran of the game. Fans loved it, critics loved it, and it only made it more clear that we never want to wait that long for another Pusha T album again.
No Mercy, 2010
Tip had a rough couple of years leading up to the release of No Mercy. Two stints in prison threw a wrench in the gears of what was shaping up to be a monstrous rap career. After a 2009, after the release of 2008's Paper Trail, Tip headed to jail for one year a day. When he got out in 2010, he immediately got back to work in the studio, putting together No Mercy (originally titled Uncaged King). Following the success of some his highest charting singles in his career off Paper Trail ("Whatever You Like", "Live Your Life", and "Dead and Gone"), T.I.'s comeback probably wasn't as strong as he would have liked, with the album peaking at no. 4 on the Billboard 200 (compared to Paper Trail's no. 1 debut). No Mercy also received mixed reviews from the critics, but it nonetheless contained some great collaborations from T.I., including the Eminem-featured and highly overlooked "All She Wrote."
Based On a T.R.U. Story, 2012
This comeback is truly amazing, in terms of career scope and musically. Raise your hand if you remember any music from the duo Playaz Circle, besides Duffle Bag Boy. A few of you with your hands raised, not bad, but you get the point. Tity Boi, as he was known while in said group, was making small moves, but things weren't really popping off the way he'd have hoped.
Boom! Tity changes his name to 2 Chainz, lays down some of the hottest features of the year (some, meaning, 100), and totally reinvents himself. He invades hip hop as this caricature of a rapper that yells ridiculous adlib-filled verses that make varying amounts of sense lyrically, but still somehow make everyone including your grandmother want to twerk what their mother (your great-grandmother) gave them. As much as you try to hate on what he's doing, you still get hella turnt at the club when his verse from Mercy comes on.
His debut solo album, Based On a T.R.U. Story, was released in 2012 and charted as the number one album in the United States. Singles like No Lie ruled the charts, and the album was nominated for the Best Rap Album Grammy. Not a bad comeback story. Truuu.
Stay Trippy, 2013
Similar to Tity Boi Dos Necklaces and Pusha T, Juicy J had to pick up the pieces solo dolo after his successful group, Three 6 Mafia, stopped making new music. Juicy had always been the energy guy in Three 6, perfectly complimenting DJ Paul's more reserved, serious delivery, and would have to find a new home that would foster that energy and use it for good. He did just that in late 2011, joining Wiz Khalifa's Taylor Gang in a very expansive role.
In 2012, we were finally able to hear the new Juicy J product, and it didn't disappoint. His first single, "Bandz a Make Her Dance", was a smash hit and set the tone for his solo offering, Stay Trippy, which dropped in August of 2013. Juicy continues to stay true to his roots making syrup soaked club anthems that always manage to get stuck in your head, and on your playlists.
Asher Roth caught a terrible break, but it was a break nonetheless. His song "College" essentially made hip hop heads everywhere swear they'd never give him a chance, and they really haven't. His debut album, Asleep in the Bread Aisle, was actually pretty good. Songs like "Lark On My Go Kart" and "As I Em" proved he had immense lyrical ability as well as the ability to craft quality songs around those lyrics. Regardless, it was considered an afterthought in the hip hop community, and pretty much flopped commercially.
Over the next 5 years, Asher faced adversity tremendously well, releasing standout projects like Seared Foie Gras with Quince and Cranberry and the Rawth EP while simultaneously dealing with countless album delays and other various label troubles. Finally, in 2014, we finally got Asher's comeback album, RetroHash. It feels like a concept album, mixing hip hop with 70's soul, 80's funk, and 90's garage rock while still maintaining his new identity all along. Reviews were mixed but generally positive, while fans had even more varying opinions on it. They can all agree on one thing though, let's hope we don't have to wait that long for the next one.
Pilot Talk, 2010
Following his departure from Cash Money in 2007, Curren$y could have very well fallen off the rap game completely, with fans left contemplating what could have been. At that point in time, Spitta had yet to cement himself as THE stoner rapper who gives his fans free music on the daily. Slowly but surely he was on his way to that status, having dropped a several mixtapes between the time he connected with YMCMB and his absence from the crew. After a string of mixtapes under his belt and jumping around with different labels, Spitta made a triumphant comeback with his debut solo album and a new sound, Pilot Talk. While the rapper had never really 'left' the game, per say, the independent release solidified the New Orleans' native unique style and sound. It proved that Curren$y could maintain a loyal fanbase independently, without going the "Where Da Cash At"/mainstream route. The rapper perfected laid back, weed raps with beats to match (mainly thanks to collaborator Ski Beatz). "Race cars and weed jars" remains Spitta's go-to topics of discussion til this day.
Common was looking for his next move after 2002's Electric Circus failed to impact in the way he'd hoped (or in any way, for that matter), and it came through thanks longtime friend Kanye West, who Common had known since '96 when Yeezy was still in high school. 'Ye signed Common to his G.O.O.D. Music imprint and contributed to his successful comeback by producing every track on Be except for two J Dilla tracks. That did the trick, as Be peaked at number 2 on the Billboard 200 selling over 800,000 copies and pulling in four Grammy nominations. The album lit a fire under Common's career, exposing him to a whole new audience, allowing him to explore other opportunities like modeling for The Gap and acting in movies like "American Gangster." He's still going strong today as his next album Nobody's Smiling drops July 22nd.
HotNewHipHop takes a look at twelve memorable comeback albums.
"You have no choices about how you lose, but you do have a choice about how you come back and prepare to win again."
What makes a great comeback album? Is it an artist that left the scene for awhile, only to triumphantly return? Or is it more about an artist rebounding from a disappointing project, whether critically or commercially? It's both, really. It's very rare for an artist to consistently deliver at the highest level throughout their entire careers, rather mimicking a roller coaster. This makes it almost inevitable that at least once or twice we're destined to be disappointed in an album or two, even by our most beloved artists. But there's nothing wrong with that, because without these scattered lulls there'd be no comeback album, the proverbial make-up sex of music.
When it comes to the comeback album, there isn't a proven formula, as some artists get back to their roots while others try to reinvent themselves. No one method is necessarily the best, and results vary dramatically. There's been comeback albums that redefine entire careers, and others that dig the artist into a little bit deeper of a hole. Today, we'll look at some of the genre's most memorable comebacks in recent years, in no particular order whatsoever.