Hit & Miss: Rap Comebacks

Andrew Hickey takes a look at Rap Comebacks and why some artists rose from the ashes and others should've stayed gone...

Scroll through the gallery to see the Hits & Misses of Rap Comebacks >>>
HIT: JOE BUDDEN While plenty of rap fans are happy to see the success of super-group Slaughterhouse, nobody is more overjoyed than Joe Budden. Easily the member with the most commercial potential out of the crew, the ‘Jump Off Kid’ became the ‘Fall Off Kid’ after his career ground to a halt in the mid-2000s following the initial success of single Pump It Up. As someone with ambitions beyond one single he became a prolific mixtape artist, despite many ignoring his initial moves. After five tapes and an indie album he became hard to ignore and then banded together with his fellow embittered rappers. Now he’s signed with Eminem, an artist that understands lyricism and comebacks, and is preparing his next studio album.
MISS: MASE Occupying a place in the rap game that should be called ‘Stop Trying’, Pastor Mase, or Murda Mase, or whatever he’s calling himself this week, just can’t stay away. While never the best rapper, his mush-mouthed delivery was entertaining and he had a charm that comes with ignorance and being validated by ass-kissers and platinum plaques. After the well dried up, and Bad Boy Records was entrenched in controversy, he bounced and headed to church. After doing his Creflo Dollar thing for a while, he had not one but two failed comebacks. Now that he’s been featured on the Cruel Summer album, for some damn reason, his Kanye-esque overconfidence must be at an all time high.
HIT: CEE-LO From targeting white people early in his career to making music specifically for them, Cee-Lo is a man who has mastered the art of rising from the ashes. One of the most beloved groups of the conscious rap movement Goodie Mob came out of the racially tumultuous ‘dirty south’, Atlanta to be exact, with a chip on their shoulder and took an aggressive stance on racial issues like a southern fried version of Public Enemy. After a softer and less focused third album, the group fell apart. As the Mob tried to move on, Cee-Lo was plotting his next move, which came in the form of Gnarls Barkley. Since then he has become a cartoon character who also happens to have a lot of talent underneath.
MISS: CL SMOOTH One of the most talented and beloved lyricists among rap fans in the early-to-mid-90s, CL Smooth found himself on the short end of the rap stick (which sounds creepy) when he went his separate ways from production partner Pete Rock. In limbo for several years, they got back together for a couple of heartwarming tracks towards the end of the decade and into the early 2000s. Rather than sit back and enjoy his brief but impactful career, he wanted to hang with the kids and hooked up with Dipset producers the Heatmakerz, who were already past their prime in 2006. Now working on his third solo project he seems to be enjoying himself, even if no one else is paying attention.
HIT: DOOM Some choose to take a break from the spotlight, others almost have no choice. On the cusp of success with his avant-garde group KMD, things were put on hold for the former Zev Love X following the untimely death of his brother Dingilizwe ‘Sub Roc’ Dumile. The group has also clashed with label Elektra over the controversial cover art of album, Black Bastards. Rather than become another bitter rapper he rewrote the rap handbook, coming back to the game as the mysterious MF Doom, complete with metal face mask. Despite oversaturating the market he remains an intriguing figure.
MISS: SHYNE Patterning yourself after a dead rapper isn’t a formula to lasting success. Who would’ve thought? As soon as attention whore/mogul Diddy heard the baritone of Jamal Barrow he saw dollar signs. Bearing a strong vocal resemblance to his deceased artist the Notorious B.I.G, Mr. Combs attempted to ride it all the way to the bank. Like the ‘tribute’ single I’ll Be Missing You, Shyne’s debut album was a blatant money-making exercise. A victim of the industry and Puffy’s penchant for causing drama, Shyne wound up in jail and released an angry, lacklustre album from behind bars. After converting to Judaism and changing his name to Moses Levi, he decided to release the Gangland mixtape. It finds him spending 18 tracks trying to sound like his latest enemy, Rick Ross.
HIT: BIG BOI Most rappers would kill to have the legacy and career of Outkast. The ying and yang duo of Big Boi and Andre 3000 managed to balance musical credibility with commercial success for a decade without sacrificing anything. That was until Andre fell off the deep end and they split in two different directions. Taking the best elements of his past work and combining them with more of a dancefloor focus, Big Boi released one of the finest commercial rap albums in recent memory, with Sir Luscious Leftfoot Purple Monkey Dishwasher or whatever it was called.
MISS: JAZ-O The career of Jaz-O has been one big slap in the face. As the Afrocentric movement became dominant in early '90s rap, he was one of many fist raising conscious rappers, the difference was he rapped in an incredibly fast, sometimes incomprehensible style. Despite releasing two albums, his career remained at a standstill, while he simultaneously mentored the future Jay-Z. By 1996, Jigga had signed a solo deal and abandoned Jaz’s rapid-fire style finding his own groove. After being invited to work on his early albums, Jaz began to resent the success of his protégé and aimed to relaunch his career using his bitterness as a platform. Unfortunately for him the resulting projects flopped while he continued to hold a grudge.
HIT: EMINEM The ultimate ‘rising from the ashes’ story, Mr. Mathers has had many ups and downs in his career. From trying to get attention as a white boy in the rap game to being the centre of attention, he is the closest rap has had to a rock star and has the most chance of breaking the dreaded age discrimination curse in rap, although we’re sure he’ll have more sense than to keep performing into his 60s, unlike Mick Jagger. He has crawled out of his drug haze and become a focused businessman and commercial enterprise, even if most of his new stuff blows donkey.
MISS: NAUGHTY BY NATURE The early '90s was a good time for sexuality in music. Whether it was the female empowerment and sexual awareness of Salt N Pepa or the innuendo of Naughty by Nature, listeners were getting it in the earhole. Thanks to their rugged yet smooth production and the charisma of leader Treach they became pop culture icons. As things soured in the mid-'90s the fellas took time away from the spotlight before releasing an underwhelming album attempting to rekindle the fire. If that wasn’t enough they made another comeback in 2003, minus producer Kay Gee. Rather than record another album, they now collect the rap equivalent of a pension by touring Australia and other foreign markets. So success in a way.

With rap burnouts DMX, Mystikal and Cassidy all re-entering the game it seems to be comeback season right now. The rap comeback, a concept first mentioned by LL Cool J in the 90s, is always a tough proposition. Unlike other genres that worship the elderly, case in point the nearly 50 year career of The Rolling Stones, rap has never been particularly kind to its forbearers. What would generally be considered ‘older’ in regular circles is amplified in the world of hip-hop, where if you are over the age of 25 you are considered a thing of the past.

When it comes to pro sports like basketball or MMA age is understandably an important factor but even these forms have proven more accepting to age, with the likes of Shaquille O’Neal and Randy Couture performing into their late 30s or older. If afforded the chance to keep performing on a high level and continue to flourish artists like Big Daddy Kane may have had longer lasting careers. A combination of poor career choices and an onslaught of fresh faces in the vibrant early 90s, similar to today’s scene, prevented that from happening. Plenty of rock stars have done worse than appear in Madonna’s Sex book but rap is not so forgiving. While things are turning a corner thanks to older hustlers like Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg and Rick Ross, this has always been the case when it comes to hip-hop, a culture born out of youthful energy and adolescent angst.

Maybe we as rap fans are partly to blame thanks to our gluttonous consumption of new music on a daily basis and our overall short attention spans. There are generally two extremes as far as fans are concerned. First you have the trend jumpers that just move along with whatever is hot at the time and can’t even remember what came out last year. Then you’ve got those crying about how the game isn’t the same anymore claiming that certain artists or elements of the genre need to make a comeback. There is a fine line between a hiatus and a fully-fledged comeback (Nelly, jail victim Slick Rick). In some cases you could chalk it up as a rapper knowing when it’s time to bow out, choosing to make independent moves, but for the most part it’s a common trait that hip-hop devours its older performers when they outlive their ‘usefulness’.

The past victims of rap’s age discrimination could be chalked up to a lack of industry knowledge at the time and the fact that there was no internet to speak of back in the day. The future of rap careers and how long they last will be interesting to observe. We could see many rappers saving their money and retiring early. Successful comebacks are few and far between in these treacherous waters but at least past rappers can take solace in the fact that they have directly influenced today’s crop of stars (looking at you Lord Finesse). So we look at those that have succeeded and failed so far in coming back. Miss anyone? Let us know!