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The History of Rappers Retiring—and Unretiring

With Friday’s ‘No Pressure,’ Logic became the latest high-profile MC to announce they’re hanging up the pen and pad. But history shows that most can’t leave hip-hop alone. Will the Maryland rapper follow suit?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Retirement isn’t a cut-and-dry thing for rappers. In November 2003, Jay-Z staged the most famous farewell tour in hip-hop history, releasing what was intended to be the career-capping Black Album and hosting a sold-out sendoff in Madison Square Garden. He returned with a new album three years later. He released his most recent solo project in 2017. No one considers Jay-Z to be retired, at least officially. On the other side of the retirement coin sits the greats of yesteryear. Take Rakim: The pioneering rapper hasn’t released a record since 2009’s The Seventh Seal and has made only scant appearances on wax in the last decade. But he’s never announced that he was stepping away from the mic. If the God MC released a new album today, it would certainly be considered a comeback record, but there would be no talk of his “unretirement.” The industry has passed him by, but he’s never said that his career is over.

Rapper retirements remain largely a semantical discussion, but it’s one that the artists themselves are often happy to engage in: Stars such as Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Waka Flocka Flame, and even the 17-year-old Lil Tecca have all threatened to retire or gone through with it in recent years. And like Jay-Z, they’ve all returned to music. Logic became the latest to announce he would hang up the pen and pad, citing the desire to be a “great father” (though his recent seven-figure Twitch deal may have played a role). His new album, No Pressure, out last Friday on Def Jam, is intended as a coda for a 10-year career that’s earned three Billboard-topping projects, billions of streams, and a legion of devoted frat-rap acolytes.

It’s ironic that No Pressure is the album Logic is retiring on because it’s a decent introduction to his brand of way-too-earnest rap. Executive produced by No I.D., the breaks- and soul-sample-heavy affair captures a true-school vibe, paying homage to “Elevators (Me & You)” on “GP4” (is there a more recognizable snare in hip-hop?) and Midnight Marauders through a female narrator’s choppy diction. (Though No Pressure’s tour guide saying “Logic and his crew played chess mercilessly throughout the album’s creation” doesn’t have quite the same impact as anything Tribe’s said.) As a lyricist, Logic doesn’t exactly till new soil, and songs like “Perfect” and “A2Z” aren’t nearly as clever as he seems to think they are, but he spits with an undeniable passion that helps the album avoid the preachy pitfalls of so many mundane conscious-rap projects. Logic’s appeal has always existed outside of critical realms, and while No Pressure won’t lead to a greater reappraisal à la Mac Miller’s mid-2010s output, the Maryland rapper acquits himself nicely.

But the quality of No Pressure is secondary to the more important question: Will Logic refrain from releasing music, as promised? To help assess whether it was the right move, we’re examining some of the more high-profile retirements in rap history. (Apologies to Scarface, Dr. Dre, LL Cool J, and other past-their-prime legends who have said they’re done; we agree, the timing made sense, but if you’d like to stage a comeback, you have our enthusiastic blessing.)


Too Short

Year: 1996

Short Dog was 30—the same age Logic is now—when he released Gettin’ It (Album Number Ten), but he was at a decidedly different point in his career. In the previous decade, the Bay Area rapper helped define the sound of a region and gave others the blueprint for how to make it as an independent hip-hop artist by peddling tapes out of his trunk. But he was eight years removed from his most vital work, Life Is … Too Short, and while he had continued to rack up platinum plaques in the intervening years, his pimp schtick had grown somewhat wearisome. With Gettin’ It, Too Short gave rap artists one more blueprint: how to make a farewell album. “It’s getting close to the end, y’all,” he says on the album’s opening cut. “But we’re gonna kick it like this on the last album.” Up to that point, few if any MCs had a say over how and when their career would end. It’s fitting that Too Short would be among the first.

Did he stay retired? Nope. Three years later, Too Short returned with Can’t Stay Away. Since then, he’s released 10 more albums, the most recent of which came out last December.

Was it the right move? Gettin’ It was his last platinum album, though 2006’s Blow the Whistle produced his biggest hit in its title track. However, Too Short last made headlines in 2012 for a “fatherly advice” segment for XXL in which he taught a group of teenage boys “mind manipulation” tactics to “turn girls out.” Maybe he’s better off keeping his thoughts on record.

The Meadows Music & Arts Festival - Day 2
Jarobi White and Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest perform together at the 2017 Meadows Music & Arts Festival in New York City
Taylor Hill/Getty Images for The Meadows Music & Arts Festival

A Tribe Called Quest

Year: 1998

Strictly speaking, this wasn’t a retirement (none of the three core members of Tribe said they were quitting music), but The Love Movement was intended as the final album from one of the most-heralded groups in hip-hop history. Drawing heavily on J Dilla’s production, The Love Movement boasts a few highlights like “Find a Way” and “The Love,” but there’s little of the joy or energy that radiates from their four previous, classic records. (Fittingly, the most inspired track may have been the Q-Tip solo bonus cut “Money Maker.”) Tip, Phife Dawg, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad would all release solo projects in the ensuing years, but for all intents and purposes, Tribe appeared to exit the stage with a whimper.

Did they stay retired? Thankfully, no. In November 2016, with little advance warning, A Tribe Called Quest released We Got It From Here … Thank You 4 Your Service. It included posthumous contributions from Phife, who died the previous spring from complications with diabetes. The album, which placed no. 6 on The Ringer’s year-end list, was a fitting sendoff for the Native Tongues stalwarts.

Was it the right move? Yes and no. In 1998, the three members were moving in different directions, and The Love Movement showed they had little chemistry left. Q-Tip, in particular, thrived unbound from the group, notching minor hits in “Breathe and Stop” and “Vivrant Thing,” while Phife put a handful of well-received underground records and Ali Shaheed joined forces with Raphael Saadiq and En Vogue’s Dawn Robinson in Lucy Pearl. But Tribe’s presence was sorely missed, as evidenced by the cathartic outpouring from fans after We Got It From Here … dropped. (Though that was at least partially thanks to the proximity of its release to Donald Trump’s election three days earlier.)

Master P

Year: 1998

Like Too Short, New Orleans’s Master P got his start peddling tapes from his car. But he had a larger goal than just making it himself: He wanted to turn his No Limit Records label into an empire. By 1998, he had achieved that: The previous year’s “Make ’Em Say Uhh!” had introduced his roster (and gold tanks) to an unsuspecting nation; Mystikal and C-Murder were on the verge of superstardom; and his graphic designers, the charmingly lo-fi Pen and Pixel, pushed the boundaries of what rap albums could look like. (Shout-out to Big Bear, now and forever.) And crucially, the man born Percy Miller was worth $56.5 million, per Forbes’ calculations. So he took another cue from Too Short, announcing his new album, MP da Last Don, would be his last.

Did he stay retired? Uhh … no. Sixteen months later, Master P dropped Only God Can Judge Me. Since then, he’s dropped seven more solo albums and several collaborations with Tru and the 504 Boyz.

Was it the right move? At the time, absolutely. Master P had another big goal: making the NBA. He played for both the Hornets and the Raptors during the 1998 and 1999 preseasons, respectively, but failed to make either team’s roster. He would, however, later play in the CBA and International Basketball League. He would also negotiate Ricky Williams’s notoriously awful rookie contract with the Saints in 1999. (Let’s hope God doesn’t judge him on that last one.)

Washington Wizard’s R&B/Rap Night
Mase performs at the Washington Wizards’ R&B/Rap Night Concert Series on February 07, 202
Brian Stukes/WireImage

Mase

Year: 1999

The artist formerly known as Murda Mase transformed himself into the baby-faced star of the post-Biggie Bad Boy world, and his 1997 debut, Harlem World, produced three gold or platinum singles, including the Total-assisted R&B classic “What You Want” and early Neptunes highlight “Lookin at Me.” (“24 Hrs. to Live” with the Lox, DMX, and Black Rob remains the album’s greatest contribution to society, however.) It was shocking when, in 1999, Mase announced that his second full-length would be his swan song. While Double Up didn’t reach Harlem World’s heights, Mase didn’t point to declining sales as a reason for his retirement. Rather, he had a higher calling: He would become a Christian pastor.

Did he stay retired? No, he tripled up. In 2004, Mase returned to the rap world with a Welcome Back Carter–sampling single. The album that birthed that song seems to have been his last, however: After settling his issues with Bad Boy head Puff Daddy, Mase announced in 2013 he would release a new project titled Now We Even. The album never materialized.

Was it the right move? In the years after his initial hiatus, Mase’s newfound devotion became punch line fodder for rappers of all ilks. But perhaps the most cutting lyric penned about him came from his biggest fan: On “Devil in a New Dress,” Kanye West rapped “Don’t leave while you’re hot, that’s how Mase screwed up.”

Jay-Z

Year: 2003

There isn’t much left to be said about Jay-Z’s brief hiatus, but it’s worth noting that he likely viewed it as key to his myth-making process. (After all, his first post–Black Album solo track was “Dear Summer,” a song dedicated to how the actual season of summer would miss his new music to hold it down.) Jay may or may not have believed in 2003 that he was stepping away for good, but he understood how important the prospect of his retirement was to his narrative.

Did he stay retired? I mean, you know the answer here.

Was it the right move? The Black Album remains Jay-Z’s second-best-selling album, so it’s obvious the hype helped here. Plus, his second act has looked dicey at times: His 2006 comeback, Kingdom Come, is a career lowlight, and his catalog is littered with other bricks like The Blueprint 3 and Magna Carta Holy Grail. But his last solo project, 2017’s infidelity mea culpa 4:44, is a near-perfect grown-people rap album, so if the 50-year-old Jay-Z does officially hang it up again, we’re good.

50 Cent

Year: 2007

Curtis Jackson didn’t intend to retire. Rather, he lost a loser-leaves-town bet with Kanye West when they both dropped albums on the same day and West topped Fif’s first-week sales. It would’ve made sense had 50 wanted to bow out: The PR disaster signaled just how far he had fallen in the four years since Get Rich or Die Tryin’ broke records for an artist’s debut—and losing to Mr. Benz and a Backpack seemed to portend bad things for 50’s brand of New York tough-guy talk.

Did he stay retired? No, but you’d be forgiven for thinking he had. In 2009, 50 released Before I Self Destruct, which barely went gold and produced exactly zero memorable moments. Truth is, 50 never intended to retire: Years later, he admitted the Kanye bet was a threat to sell records.

Was it the right move? Losing the bet did more to hurt 50 than winning would’ve helped him. But while he’s released just one album since 2009—the better-than-expected Animal Ambition—he’s found a new calling. He executive produced the breakout hit TV series Power, which ran from 2014 to 2020 on Starz, and currently has the same role with the drama For Life on ABC.

Lupe Fiasco

Year: 2008, 2012, 2016, 2019

The Chicago rapper first threatened retirement in 2008, citing issues with his label, Atlantic Records. He did not follow through. Four years later, he said his upcoming project Food & Liquor II would be the end of the line for him. Still, nothing. In 2016, after a controversy over anti-Semitic lyrics, he canceled three already-planned “farewell albums.” He’s dropped two full-lengths since then. In 2019, he hinted at his retirement again. He released a new EP this past Friday.

Did he stay retired? Just make it stop.

Was it the right move? Yes? No? Did anyone notice? Let’s move along …

Lil Wayne

Year: ??

The date for Weezy’s retirement is a bit nebulous, because it was tied to the release of the long-delayed Tha Carter V. He first broached the subject in 2012 and recommitted to stepping away in 2014. Two years later, facing an uphill battle with longtime label Cash Money, he tweeted he was “DEFENSELESS and mentally DEFEATED,” adding “I leave gracefully and thankful I luh my fanz but I’m dun.” It seemed as though it could be over for the erstwhile Greatest Rapper Alive.

Did he stay retired? It’s unclear whether he actually retired to begin with. When The Carter V finally came out in September 2018, there was little of the “last album” hype that accompanied other projects referenced on this list. And earlier this year, he dropped a new project named Funeral, which didn’t seem to be a musical funeral of any sort. Related: There’s a website dedicated to tracking his retirement. At the moment, it bears the word “NOPE” in giant, all-caps letters.

Was it the right move? Lil Wayne’s retirement story is darker than many on this list, especially in its latter years. He was exploited by his label and still carries wounds from childhood trauma and a stint in prison. Wayne and Wayne alone gets to decide when he should retire and whether it’s right for him.

Black On Both Sides 20th Anniversary Concert At The Greek Theatre
Yasiin Bey at the Black on Both Sides 20th Anniversary concert on October 25, 2019 in Berkeley, California
Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Yasiin Bey (Mos Def)

Year: 2016

The artist formerly known as Mos Def never quite lived up to the expectations set by his 1998 Black Star collaboration with Talib Kweli and his solo debut in 1999. He forged ahead with three follow-ups in the next decade, but none made much impact. Bey spent much of the 2010s out of the spotlight, before announcing his retirement from music and film in January 2016 via Kanye West’s website. (His statement was accompanied by a freestyle detailing an arrest in South Africa, where he had lived since 2013, for using a false passport and travel document.) Bey said at the time his next album would be his last. This was seemingly a reference to his team-up that year with Ferrari Sheppard, December 99th, about which Pitchfork wrote that Bey “sounds like he no longer believes his own words, or he’s tired of hearing himself say them.”

Did he stay retired? He’s certainly retired from releasing music to the public. But if you were willing to make a pilgrimage to the Brooklyn Museum a few months back, you could’ve been treated to a new Bey album titled Negus. (Okayplayer called it “an intentionally challenging listen.”) The project reportedly won’t come out in any traditional sense. As for whether any other new music could appear, in 2017 Bey said “I’m always going to be creating. ... I’m not going to disappear if I stop rap or doing it in a certain type of way.” So, it’s possible?

Was it the right move? Bey always seemed somewhat burdened by the weight of his immense talent and people’s desire for it to fit in a certain box. Any list of the most talented MCs ever should rightfully include his name, but his output never matched his ability. Still, if Bey’s happy releasing music as art installations, then we’re happy for Bey.

Joe Budden

Year: 2018

During his career, Joe Budden notched a handful of accomplishments that most rappers only dream of: a hit single in “Pump It Up,” a heralded mixtape series with his Mood Muzik installments, and fruitful collaboration with the three other talented MCs in Slaughterhouse. But true stardom eluded him, and he was at his best a provocateur. He’s dissed everyone from 50 Cent to Cam’ron to Lil B to Drake. He soon found those instincts served him well outside of the booth, and he landed a job hosting Complex’s Everyday Struggle. (Let’s have a moment of silence for Lil Yachty.) In 2018, Budden made his new career his full-time gig, announcing he was leaving music to focus on The Joe Budden Podcast (which is produced by Spotify, the parent company of The Ringer) and his Revolt talk show, State of the Culture, which he hosts with Puff Daddy.

Did he stay retired? So far, yes! He appeared on a song with AZ and DJ Premier in 2019, and Slaughterhouse cohort Royce da 5’9” has pushed to get him back on the mic, but to this point, he’s staying true to his word. He’s even given rappers like Waka Flocka Flame support on retirement (though his words for Logic were a little less loving).

Was it the right move? The New York Times called him “the Howard Stern of Hip-Hop.” I’d say rap retirement is going well.

Nicki Minaj

Year: 2019

Last September, Nicki tweeted “I’ve decided to retire and have my family. I know you guys are happy now.” Her fans, predictably, freaked out. I mean, what else could that tweet have meant other than that she was retiring to start a family?

Did she stay retired? Apparently the tweet meant something else! In an interview with The Shade Room the next month, Nicki said that she simply meant that she was pondering her future. “When I posted that retirement tweet, I knew that I still had music that I already had recorded that was still going to come out,” she said. “So the retirement was kind of talking about my album, meaning like, ‘Do I want to go back and record my fifth album?’” Um, sure.

Was it the right move? In July, Nicki announced that she was expecting her first child. No word yet on album no. 5.

Lil Tecca

Year: 2019

Some of us dream of retiring by 65. Lil Tecca tried to do it at 17. The Queens rapper, who had a breakout hit in 2019 with “Ransom,” tweeted to his fans last September “I love y’all but this shit won’t b continuing as long as y’all thought.” His issues seemed to stem from frustrations with the industry, but he didn’t elaborate. At least he tried reassure his fans:

Did he stay retired? Sadly, it appears that Tecca isn’t living the early-retirement dream. While he hasn’t directly addressed the tweets from last fall, he’s released three singles in 2020, all of which are slated to appear on his upcoming album, Virgo World. Looks like it’ll be a little bit before he collects that pension.

Was it the right move? Not retiring is the right move for Tecca, but probably not for those other 30 artists who sound just like him.

Logic

Year: 2020

In one of his final interviews in 1997, the Notorious B.I.G. told Spin that he wanted “to quit the game and just chill and watch my kids grow up—live the life of a normal rich person.” Nobody’s ever compared this guy to Biggie before, but 23 years later, Logic is living out the slain great’s dream, quitting rap to focus on being a dad. And by the sounds of things, he’s ecstatic. To celebrate the release of No Pressure, the rapper born Sir Robert Bryson Hall II (yes, seriously) hosted a live stream in which he cried and thanked Drake, J. Cole, and Kendrick Lamar for supporting him when others would not. He also promised to keep making beats and possibly give some to aspiring rappers. But as far as the rat race goes, he’s done.

Will he stay retired? It’s possible! On No Pressure’s “Dad Bod,” a goofy, goopy number about the joys of his domestic life, he raps about feeding his son applesauce and says, with a straight face, “I love my wife like I am Chance,” a reference to noted wife guy Chance the Rapper. As this exercise shows, hip-hop artists rarely stay retired, but it seems as though Logic is as good of a bet as any to do so.

Is it the right move? Joe Budden may be getting his wish with Logic’s retirement, but despite their differences, Budden is the closest analog for Logic on this list. Both have developed lucrative second careers built around their personalities (for Budden, it’s podcasting and hosting; for Logic, it’s novel-writing and hanging out on Twitch, apparently), and both seem at peace with their decisions. It feels like a great time for Logic to step away. But while rap may not miss him in the same way it did Jay-Z or A Tribe Called Quest, chances are, if he comes back, no one will bat an eye.