(September 8, 2019). The word “retirement” can mean many different things to different people, and it can often depend on who’s saying it and in what profession they work.
Take former NFL star QB Andrew Luck, for example.
When news of his retirement came two weeks ago – in the midst of the NFL preseason and with the new regular season just two weeks away – the shock reverberated throughout the sports world and beyond as people questioned how someone still in his prime could leave the game with apparently so much left in the tank.
By comparison, this past Thursday when rap queen emeritus Nicki Minaj announced she was hanging up the mic to focus on family (presumably with her planned future husband Kenneth Petty), the immediate reaction was more disbelief than shock, and for good reason.
To put it simply, rappers have a history of retiring and then coming back – in some cases even stronger than before – with hardly a blink of an eye between their announced “retirements” and their next, post-hiatus album projects.
Nicki even somewhat recanted her tweet the next day, suggesting herself that it was “abrupt and insensitive” and that her fans – many of whom hoped she was just trolling them in the first place – would be “happy” when she further addresses the issue on her radio program – Queen Radio – on Apple Music Beats 1.
Unlike rappers still in their prime, very few NFL players – Green Bay’s Brett Favre perhaps being the most notorious example – ring the retirement bell (at least so loudly) before re-emerging to continue a career they never wanted to leave in the first place (in Favre’s case, he never really left until after his Minnesota Vikings stint).
So when Andrew Luck’s retirement press conference came with the show of emotions that one would expect from someone whose life’s work was his sport, his tears only added to the sense of permanency the retirement announcement suggested. The only things creating doubt as to whether Luck really meant it were his young age (29), his odd timing (on the eve of the NFL season kicking off) and his still relatively high skill level.
The move by Minaj, who, on the other hand, used the Twitterverse to surprise (or troll?) her fans, while nonchalantly acknowledging that her haters must be “happy now” and instructing her fans to keep “repping me til the death of me,” suggests a less heartfelt motive.
Rappers, more so than NFL football players, have to sell products. The more hype they create for themselves and their brand, the more they sell. Retirement announcements such as Nicki’s are just another way to rev up the hype machine and, as such, they have to be very public and impactful.
And Minaj certainly got the response she was seeking. Many of her Barbz expressed the expected mix of dismay and disbelief (and, of course, Twitter lit up like a Christmas tree!).
But those same Barbz would be encouraged to know that the list of rappers who abruptly retire and then come back include some of the biggest names in the business, which suggests a very short “retirement” for their queen.
Take Jay-Z, for instance.
He announced his planned retirement from music way back in 2003 after the release of The Black Album, even going as far as to give a cover-story interview to Vibe Magazine where he “pondered his legacy” and explained why hip-hop “just didn’t do it for him anymore.”
Sixteen years later, Jay has had more albums since his retirement than he had before it. Eight more of those albums have reached No. 1 with the legend now having more No. 1 albums (14) under his belt than any other rapper (and he’s also the artist overall with more No. 1s than anyone but the Beatles).
Minaj’s former Cash Money label mate Lil Wayne famously hinted at retirement in 2016, with an “I’m dun” tweet that claimed he was “defenseless” and “mentally defeated.” He later heavily caveated the announcement with clarifications that tied the tweet to his frustration with then-label boss Birdman and their then-ongoing dispute.
Whether he meant it or not, Wayne’s tweet sent shockwaves throughout the hip-hop world and even prompted this “don’t retire” response from current rap god Kendrick Lamar.
Ironically, Wayne had one of the longest holdouts as it wasn’t until 2018’s Tha Carter V that he came back in full stride. The album became the fourth No. 1 of his career.
Other rap artists have tried their hand at retirements in recent years, only to come back quicker than the ink could dry on their announcements.
Kid Cudi famously announced his retirement in 2009 with a blogpost stating the following: “After the release of my first LP this summer, I am not making anymore solo albums. I am falling back on being an artist. The drama that comes with it is more overwhelming than I was dealing with when I was piss-poor broke…”
He later reversed his retirement announcement just weeks later at the 2009 SXSW convention with an acknowledgment that he “needed his fans and they needed him,” so there’s “no more retirement, he was here to stay.”
Kudi has had a mixture of hip-hop and alternative albums since then, including five top tens on the Billboard charts.
But not all second-chance hip-hop careers have been as lucrative – or in some cases as advisable – as the first.
Rapper 50 Cent famously announced his “retirement” would come if his 2007 album, Curtis, didn’t sell more than Kanye West’s Graduation, which was being released the same day as 50’s. West’s Graduation won the battle (and the war), selling 957K to Curtis’ 691K, with the albums debuting at Nos. 1 and 2, respectively.
Of course, 50 then saved face (or tried to) by clarifying his intentions to release a new album concurrently with every release of a Def Jam album from that point forward – a retaliatory move that also never manifested itself.
But 50 has released two studio albums since then, 2009’s Before I Self Destruct and 2014’s Animal Ambition, albeit to much lower reception than his earlier efforts, further evidence that his rap career might need to take a permanent backseat to his other, more successful interests (entrepreneurship, television production, investments).
(Kanye Can’t Retire: In case you’re wondering if or when Kanye plans to put down his mic, there’s this claim that he is contractually forbidden from retiring.)
One of the most famous comebacks from retirement happened in 2016, but was doomed by tragedy almost as soon as it started.
The legendary trio A Tribe Called Quest had long since “retired” before coming out of it to release the 2016 album We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service. The album signaled perhaps the most anticipated un-retirement in hip-hop history.
Sadly, Tribe’s Phife Dawg suddenly passed away in early 2016 (as the album was being recorded) from complications due to diabetes, prompting remaining members Q-tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad to announce in 2017 that they’d be hanging it up for good during a concert stop in England, recognizing that they’d “suffered a blow” with Phife’s passing.
While Tribe’s latest retirement may be one of the few that actually sticks, other alternative rappers, such as Childish Gambino and Wale, have toyed with the thought of leaving the game in recent years, and the jury is still out on any comebacks (although there’s rumors of a new Wale album coming in the wake of 2017’s disappointing Shine release).
So, Nicki’s fans have a long list of rappers to pull experiences from when it comes to hip-hop retirements. And in her case, there is certainly enough motivation to stage a temporary “retirement” to build anticipation for a highly publicized return at some future date.
In recent years, she’s had to grapple with other females coming for her rap crown – one she wore unchallenged for the better part of the decade. Most notably, Cardi B has scored a No. 1 album and three No. 1 singles since 2017. She’s also won just about every hip-hop award for which she was eligible since that time, while Minaj has regularly been passed over.
And this past week’s No. 1 song, “Truth Hurts,” is by a singer who doubles as a rapper – current it-girl Lizzo – a performer whose shtick is arguably more outlandish than either Cardi‘s or Nicki’s.
Minaj has yet to score a No. 1 single, with her last No. 1 album happening seven years ago. Her last album, 2018’s Queen, debuted and peaked at No. 2, failing to knock off a months-old album by Travis Scott (and prompting accusations of foul play by Nicki).
In other words, it just hasn’t been a great couple of years for the hip-hop Barbie…at least by her own standards.
So this “retirement” may just be what Minaj, 36, needs to rejuvenate a career that appears to be on a downslope. It’s better to do it now while she’s still relevant, with enough support from her Barbz to be there when she mounts the eventual comeback.
There’s nothing to suggest that she can’t have both a family and a career.
And hip-hop history says that, as a rapper still in her prime, she will be back.
DJRob is a freelance blogger who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
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