They say rap is a young man's game, and in the age of the microwave superstar and fickle fandom, it's easier than ever to disappear. And yet, through ingenuity and some rebranding Feng Shui, some of rap's most dynamic veteran talents have staved off the Career Reaper and bounced back in new and exciting ways.
One particularly spectacular example is Gucci Mane. After being locked up for gun and drug charges stemming from a 2013 arrest, a new-and-improved GuWop emerged from an Indiana federal prison. Upon his May 2016 release from prison, he flaunted a notably slimmer physique the result of a fitness regimen and ditching his lean habit—and attacked the rap game with renewed vigor.
Another memorable rebranding success story revolves around Joe Budden, who went from acclaimed lyricist to legit media personality over the course of just a few years. In 2018, he parlayed the success of his The Joe Budden Podcast into a deal with Revolt TV to create his own show. He's also got a deal with a streaming giant.
Will Smith also went from Philly to Hollywood, turning his rap stardom into a Oscar Award-nominated career. His album sales were on the decline as one-half of the duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince before he participated in one fateful acting audition that changed his career trajectory forever.
GuWop, Budden and Will Smith are far from the only hip-hop artists to reinvigorate their career either through music or another avenue. Today, XXL takes a look at rappers who've managed to resuscitate or reinvent themselves just when it looked like things were a wrap.
Will Smith Becomes a TV Star
While it's almost impossible to separate Will Smith from the global movie star he has become, the Fresh Prince was once in dire straits. As one-half of DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, Will saw a lukewarm critical reception to their joint 1989 album, And in This Corner..., a project that also flat-lined commercially. Compounding the matter was the fact that Will had been spending too much money and the IRS hit him up about owing them $2 million in tax payments in 1989.
Speaking on the financial issue in a YouTube video he uploaded in 2018, Will remembers feeling down and out before his girlfriend told him to go hang out on the set of The Arsenio Hall Show. It was there that he met someone connected to famed record producer and musician Quincy Jones. From there, he ended up at Jones' home for a party where he was given the chance to deliver an impromptu audition for the main character in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which debuted on TV in 1990.
The role, of course, helped propel Will to a new plateau for stardom, and within seven years, he'd become one of the most bankable movie stars in all of Hollywood. Considering the fact that he's now made more money from acting than he ever did as a rapper, it's hard not to consider Will Smith to be the most successful career revival in rap history.
Joe Budden Becomes a Cultural Commentator
When he burst onto the scene in the early 2000s, Joe Budden quickly established himself as the proverbial next up for East Coast rap superstars. At least one unsatisfactory major label deal and one Slaughterhouse album later, Budden's rap career somewhat stalled.
In 2015, Budden discovered his own salvation when he teamed with friends to start up his first podcast, I'll Name This Podcast Later. Since then, he bolstered his brand further. From 2017 to early 2018, he was a host on the internet show Everyday Struggle. After that, in 2018, he scored a deal for his podcast, now known as The Joe Budden Podcast, to stream exclusively on Spotify. That same year, he partnered up with Diddy's Revolt TV for a deal that was reportedly worth $5 million and launched his latest series, State of the Culture.
For all his efforts, Budden's become a bona fide media phenomenon. In 2018,The New York Timescalled him the "Howard Stern of Hip-Hop." The idea that he could soon be more well-known as a cultural commentator than as a rapper is proof of a legendary rebrand.
Gucci Mane Becomes a New Man
By his own admission, Gucci Mane was in a bad place back in 2013. That year alone, the rapper, who later admitted to have been dealing with a codeine addiction, was arrested on three separate occasions, with one of those instances being directly after he was released from jail. After a vicious Twitter rant in which he bashed T.I. and Nicki Minaj in September 2013, Gucci was arrested on gun and drugs charges.
After being sentenced for the charges in May 2014, GuWop began one of the more remarkable transformations in recent hip-hop history. When he was released from prison in May 2016, Gucci had lost 80 pounds after detoxing and hitting the gym. While his music retained its grit, Gucci soon began letting loose enough speak-it-into-existence aphorisms to fill up a post-prison self-help book. One year after being released, he performed on ABC's Good Morning America. Since then, he's released a few multiplatinum-selling singles, including the Drake-featured "Both" and the Migos-assisted "Get the Bag." In October 2017, Gucci married his girlfriend Keyshia Ka'oir. Trap fairy tales don't get any better than this.
With a new purpose at his back and fresh motivation to inspire others, things were looking up for Meek. By the end of the year, he'd squashed beefs with The Game and Drake and unleashed his fourth major label album, which was appropriately named Championships. The project was his best-reviewed in years and has since been certified platinum.
50 Cent Goes Into TV
By the time he released his fifth album, Animal Ambition, in 2014, 50 Cent had seen his record sales slow up as hip-hop pivoted from pure gangsta rap to trap and R&B-infused SoundCloud rap. Ever the hustler, Fif channeled his energy into television and signed on to executive-produce and star in Starz's Power in 2014. Since then, the TV series became one of the most-watched on the network and enjoyed a six-season run. As he ended his run on the show some time in 2018, 50 got a gig executive-producing ABC's For Life, a TV series that chronicles the real-life story of a man who becomes a lawyer after being convicted of a crime he didn't commit.
On April 6, 50 announced that another TV series he's involved in, which is based on Big Meech and the legendary Black Mafia Family, had been picked up by Starz. Needless to say, Fif's TV career has been more than successful.
Tity Boi Becomes 2 Chainz
It's rare that you get a second chance at being a rap star, but 2 Chainz did just that and made the best of his opportunity. He actually created one. After spending years toiling away as a member of Ludacris' Disturbing Tha Peace label in the early-to-mid-2000s, the rapper formerly known as Tity Boi decided to split from the label at some point 10 years ago. In 2011, he debuted his new name, 2 Chainz, and unloaded T.R.U. REALigion, a mixtape that re-established him as an artist with deft wordplay, a nimble flow and an all-together more flamboyant—and more marketable—identity. Since then, he's released multiple critically acclaimed albums, including his platinum-certified 2012 debut album, Based on a T.R.U. Story, 2017'sPretty Girls Like Trap Music and 2019's Rap or Go to the League.
Ice-T Becomes a Cop
There are few things more ironic than an artist who once had a song called "Cop Killer" gaining a second career wind by portraying one. Well, that's exactly what Ice-T's done since he took on the role of Detective Odafin "Fin" Tutuola on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in 2000. Before that point, he'd previously played the role of Detective Scotty Appleton in the 1991 classic New Jack City. Still, that was a one-time role, and this gave Ice-T an identity entirely different from the one he debuted with his explosive raps over 30 years ago. As of today, he's been on this show for 20 years.
Yung Berg Rebrands as Hitmaka
Yung Berg appeared to be a rap star on the rise when he dropped off "Sexy Lady," a debut single that peaked at No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 after it was released in 2007. After that hot start, however, his debut album, the 2008's Look What You Made Me, failed to make a major impact. His numerous mixtapes he's released since then, including 2009's Back 2 Business and 2016's Reality Check, also failed to garner him too much attention, and it looked as though his rap career had completely plateaued, if not flat-lined.
Some time in 2014, Berg renamed himself Hitmaka and, while he was still rapping, he soon became a sought-after producer working his magic behind the scenes. Since 2014, he's produced tracks for the likes of Nicki Minaj ("Want Some More"), Big Sean ("Bounce Back"), Wiz Khalifa ("Something New" featuring Ty Dolla $ign) and plenty more. In 2017, he was named the Vice President of A&R at Atlantic Records.
N.O.R.E. Becomes a Podcast Star
After his 2013 album, Student of the Game failed to make a significant commercial splash, two years later, N.O.R.E. turned a good sense of humor and a knack for conversation into his Drink Champs podcast, a remixed version of his Militainment Crazy Raw Radio satellite radio show for Sirius XM. With connections all over the rap game and an audience that grew with every unfiltered conversation, N.O.R.E. and his podcast co-creator DJ EFN began making major waves in the world of podcasting once they started in January 2015. They secured plenty of revealing interviews with 50 Cent, Nas and Lil Wayne along the way. In November 2016, it was announced that N.O.R.E. and EFN had secured a deal to bring Drink Champs to Revolt TV.
Speaking to XXL in 2016, N.O.R.E. gave some insight about why podcasting appealed to him. "Every other format is for the new artists," he said at the time. "There’s no platform in music, period, that salutes artists that have over 10 years in the game. If you think I’m hip-hop, you got to meet DJ EFN. He still believes in vinyl. We’re really like the rapper and DJ combo like Eric B. & Rakim. You go out to one of his events and he’s deejaying, he makes people go out and get vinyls. He won’t be digital. He believes in the real essence of hip-hop. So with his heart and my connections and our passion together, that’s what we wanted to do."
Juicy J Links With Taylor Gang
As a member of the legendary Three 6 Mafia, Juicy J had already made major contributions to the rap world by the time he linked up with Wiz Khalifa in 2011. However, his second solo studio album, 2009's Hustle Till a Die, had sold just 5,800 copies in its first week of release. In addition to that, Three 6 appeared to be on the downward side of their commercial success. With little momentum at his back during that time, Juicy began collaborating with Wiz Khalifa before confirming he'd signed to Wiz's Taylor Gang and also become a part owner of the label.
After collabing with Wiz on multiple songs, Juicy unloaded "Bandz a Make Her Dance" in 2012. The track, which features 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne, became his biggest solo single ever, peaking at No. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The single helped power his third studio album, 2013's Stay Trippy, to a No. 4 spot on the Billboard 200 albums chart after selling 64,000 equivalent album units in its first week, easily his best solo performance.
Lil Wayne Drops Tha Carter V
At the time he dropped off his long-awaited Tha Carter V album in September 2018, Lil Wayne's rap career was at something of a standstill if not in full decline. Between 2010 and 2015, only one of Weezy's albums had been certified platinum (Tha Carter VI, 2011). After Tha Carter VI was released in 2011, fans found themselves playing the waiting game for the next entry into the series but instead saw Weezy engaged in a heated legal battle with Birdman and two non-Carter projects hit the internet. The Free Weezy album was only available on Tidal.
In the summer of 2018, Weezy finally settled his dispute with Birdman and got out of his Cash Money Records contract. That set the stage for the release of Tha Carter V, an LP that sold 480,000 equivalent album units in its first week and eventually went platinum. It also secured Weezy his first platinum-selling LP in seven years. At this point, it was safe to say that Weezy was back.
DMX Signs to Def Jam Once More
The last few years of DMX's life have been tumultuous to say the least. Back in March 2018, the rapper was sentenced to one year in prison for tax evasion. Before that, he'd had a storied battle with drug addiction. In January 2019, he was released from prison and things began looking up. In April of that year, X signed on to star in a movie called Chronicle of a Serial Killer. That September, sources at Def Jam confirmed that X had signed to their record label once again. While X had to enter rehab less than a month later in 2019, by that December he was performing once again. Late last month, he confirmed to Tory Lanez that he was indeed working n a new album. Don't look now, but it might be the year of the dog once again.
Waka Flocka Flame Goes EDM
By 2013, Waka Flocka Flame had embedded himself into the game as a pioneer of the speaker-thumping, Lex Luger-heavy trap sound. However, his major label follow-up album still hadn't been released and things had been quieter on his end. And 2013, he generated more buzz when he announced that he'd be jumping into the world of EDM by creating an EDM rap album with Skrillex and Diplo features. While fans were skeptical at first, many came around on the idea by the time Waka teamed with DJ Whoo Kid for their Turn Up Godz mixtape, which dropped in 2015. The two hit the road on tour, bringing their turn up to the masses. Redirecting his trap energy to songs to rage to, Waka made an interesting transition and ingratiated himself with another audience in the process.
Lil Jon Gets Back to DJing
For the latter portion of the 1990s and early-to-mid 2000s, Lil Jon reinforced his brand as part of his group Lil Jon and Eastside Boyz. After the group dropped their final album, Crunk Juice, and Lil Jon dropped his debut solo album, Crunk Rock, to lukewarm reviews, the influential producer got back to basics.
Before he'd ever started shouting his vocals over anthemic crunk songs, Lil Jon had been a DJ. For the last several years, Jon's taken his hustle to another level, DJing events all across the globe for hefty sums. According to a 2013 article from Forbes, people at Jon's level can make between While it's hard to call this one a rebranding—after all, he started out behind the turntables—it's hard not to look at Lil Jon as someone who's career received a second wind.
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