Rap’s had more than its fair share of artists who found success and then fell off after failing to recapture the musical magic. Remember how great Big Daddy Kane’s career was before and after Prince Of Darkness? Thought so. For every few that have taken a tumble from the mountaintop, there are others who were able to find their ways back to peak performances. Here are 20 albums which mark the return to form for a few of rap’s best talents.
1. Raekwon’s OB4CL2 (2009) – Since changing the face of Hip-Hop in 1995, it had been a slow, quiet road for Raekwon with one disappointing album following the next. But thank goodness Rae went back to the drawing board and dug up his roots with an album that was just as gritty as the OG. It didn’t hurt that his Wu cohorts were ready to come back and form like Voltron one last time.
2. Killer Mike – Pledge Allegiance (2006) – After Monster and the failed Purple Ribbon experiment, we’d expected Mike to fall off like half of the rest of the Dungeon Family. But after grabbing his own flag and waving it for a militia of fans, Mike turned into this generation’s Ice Cube.
3. Dr. Dre – 2001 (2001) — In the annals of Dr. Dre’s catalog, people tend to forget that there was a few-year lull in his career after The Chronic dropped. Recall his sub-par Aftermath compilation, anyone? Exactly. So when 2001 dropped, Dre rapped about people thinking he’d fallen off and he proved them wrong with each bass line. The album was so good that we forgave him for lying to us for eight years about Detox.
4. Common – Be (2005) — Electric Boogalu Funky Tail Circus was a disaster that had people wondering if Badu put a spell on Mr. Sense. All it took was a Dilla/Yeezy one-two punch to pump life back into the Chi-town representer and a classic album as born.
5. LL Cool — Mama Said Knock You Out (1990) — The comeback album of all comeback albums or at least one of the originals in the category. After 1989’s Walking With A Panther, many wrote James Todd off for having gone too commercial with his suave and smooth approach. Cool J reupped with Mama Said…, which had four hits singles and the diss track “To Da Break Of Dawn” to let fans and critics know he was comfortable splitting time on the Billboard charts, in the bedroom with the ladies and on Farmers Blvd.
6. Nas – Stillmatic (2001) — Nas should thank Jay for his career resurgence. For years, he was known as the great rapper that would never be able to recreate his Illmatic magic. Then, a beef started and Nas crafted a comeback album powered by one of the most legendary diss records of all time.
7. Terror Squad – True Story — So we’re all clear, Big Pun was the unchallenged leader of Terror Squad, at least in the public eye. Once he passed away in 2000, many assumed his loyal set would all but fizzle away. And in a sense, this is actually true. In 2004, however, T.S. rallied behind Fat Joe for the successful compilation album True Story. Backed by super singles “Lean Back” and “Take Me Home,” the group at least made Punisher proud for a brief moment also helping stimulate the commericial careers of both Fat Joe and Remy Ma. Afterwards? They fell apart all over again. Tony Sunshine is still missing. Cuban Linx still hates Don Cartegena. Remy went to prison and Joe is a totally different person now, literally.
8. T.I. — Paper Trail (2008) — Tip’s career has seen more lows than highs since losing his best friend Philant in 2006. Coming off the heels of his now infamous firearms case and before heading to prison, Clifford went on an amazing run chronicled by countless community service hours and his sixth studio album Paper Trail. The project showcased a focused T.I. who counted his blessings, prayed for his demons and snapped at critics who labelled his career toe-tagged. A well rounded LP with songs for just about everyone, it stands as his last great submission to Hip-Hop. Let’s all hope he can get his once stellar career back on track once he is released from lockup this fall.
9. Geto Boys — Til Death Do Us Part (1993) — Losing an integral group member and what do you do? If you’re Bushwick and Scarface, you add in a labelmate who’s not just a replacement but strengthens the dynamic. Big Mike wasn’t just a fill-in for Willie Dee; he eclipsed him lyrically and brought in a player who could rhyme just as heavy as ‘Face.
10. Tupac – All Eyez On Me (1996) — 1996 shall be referenced here as an era before going to jail wasn’t part of the marketing plan for superstar rappers. The anticipation for Pac’s post-jail album was at a fever pitch and he didn’t disappoint. Equipped with a new squad and his most passionate bars to date, All Eyez On Me proved that Pac would stand strong despite his jail time. Take note, Tip and Weezy.
11. Ice Cube – Laugh Now, Cry Later (2006) — The mean mug that terrified millions of white people returned with a vengeance on 2006’s Laugh Now, Cry Later. Released six years after the forgettable War & Peace Vol. 2 (The Peace Disc), Cube reminded the world that before he was making G-rated films, he was a G. The independent release sold 144,000 copies in its first week and returned Cube to the realm of Hip-Hop respectability that he once defined.
12. The Game – Doctor’s Advocate (2006) — In 2006, with no G-Unit co-sign and no production from his mentor, Doctor’s Advocate was a make or break album for the Compton emcee. Many wondered if people would choose to blast a Game album through their headphones with no beats by Dre. The west coast representative responded with an overhand right of a first single “Its Okay (One Blood)” and a collection of well-produced mayhem that rivaled his near-classic debut.
13. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) — Kanye had lost his marbles. A fully-autotuned album and a bevy of public outbursts led us to believe that he’d caved under his own brilliance. But with the first G.O.O.D. Friday leak, Hip-Hop took note that Yeezy was just getting started and MBDTF was the album of 2010. Auto-Tune included.
14. Lil Wayne – Tha Carter (2004) — Not so much a comeback as a retail arrival following a slew of successful mixtapes, Tha Carter featured Weezy going for dolo sans his Hot Boyz family. In retrospect, the album became a stepping stone for Weezy’s rise to prominence today.
15. MF DOOM – Operation Doomsday (1999) — Zev Luv X took a hiatus from rap after his brother died in a car crash. But years later he came back as MF DOOM and an underground king was born. Doomsday was the Metal Face’s rise to fame and the beginning of a new, controversial career.
16. Redman & Method Man – Blackout! 2 (2009) — It took a decade for these two to make their long-awaited sequel. Between the release of the two albums, Meth and Red released sub par albums, a short-lived TV shows and couldn’t muster a buzz that reminded us of their past greatness. All of that ended with Blackout! 2. Meth and Red were back to their classic sound and haven’t looked back.
17. Tech N9ne – Everready: The Religion (2006) — Four years after Tech’s fifth album Absolute Power brought out the commercial side of his character, Everready helped bring the KC spitter’s career full-circle and opened up the door to many fans who may have passed prior earlier due to Tech’s appearance. Aside from probably being his most well-rounded outing, this is first cover in which he did not flaunt the face-paint he became judged by.
18. Sean Price – Monkey Bars (2005) — Face it. You’d written off the Boot Camp Clique since the mid-90s. But out of nowhere, Jesus Price and company came back with an onslaught of new music that made heads feel like it was the Golden Era once again. And P hasn’t looked back, adding to his legacy with every ad-lib.
19. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony – BTNHResurrection (2000) — The funny thing about Bone is that every project they’ve done since their infamous E.1999 Eternal has been a comeback album. That’s their biggest problem. Either way, Resurrection was probably their most legitimate. Not only because it was better than its predecessor, the Art Of War, but because Flesh was back in the mix for the first time.
20. Eminem – Recovery (2010) — Technically Relapse was his comeback album but, according to Em, he was still flushing the drugs and the accent out of his system. Thank goodness he did, as a more focused Em led to a reclamation of his top spot in Hip-Hop and pop music, let the Grammys tell it.