The term one-hit wonder can be pretty cruel when you think about it. Often times it’s put on artists that are nowhere near the end of their careers, other times it’s saddled on people who simply took a much less commercial path, not concerning themselves with further appearances on the charts. On his first solo album in 16 years, The Death of Me, Ahmad mentions that he was called a one-hit wonder before he was out of his teens. Knowing this, it’s less surprising that the “Back in the Day” emcee chose to step away from the limelight and pursue other avenues such as a degree from Stanford University, which he attended on an academic scholarship. That time away from the mic and those off stage accomplishments inform The Death of Me beyond the lyrical explanation. Time and hard work have made Ahmad into an artist unafraid to both laugh at his mistakes and declare his triumphs. It’s this perspective that makes his new album stand out from a lot of other veteran rappers whose only concern seems to be fitting into the styles currently popular in order to maintain some sort of critical or commercial relevance.

The Death of Me opens with “Run Up On Me Tho,” which features a skeletal beat, just snare and plucked strings. The first thing you notice is how the years have changed Ahmed’s voice. He’s no longer the squeaky voiced kid of 16 years ago, his voice sounds blown out and raspy, and, occasionally, one worries he’s running short on air. It certainly adds character but it’s also at times fairly limiting, as throughout the course of Death of Me Ahmad never switches up his flow. Still, on a track like this it works well. Ahmad’s playing the part of the counted-out veteran and his world-weary voice is apt. A notable exception to that critique is the song “Dang,” on which Ahmad actually pushes his worn vocal chords to their limits and while it might not sound pretty, it does sound nakedly emotional and honest. Among lighter offerings there’s “UPS,” a genuinely funny song about the fact that most average dudes who work nine-to-five’s don’t get any respect from the opposite sex for simply handling their business. The Los Angeles native gives them an anthem and some pokes with, “When I opened up the door and she saw my vest / She like, ‘Nigga, please! You work for UPS!’” But that’s reality.

Another highlight is “Writtens,” a tale of Ahmad looking at the younger generation of emcees and finding them wanting. But in the midst of all that he sneaks in a great line about his father: “And my sister say my dad had a stroke / ’Do you miss him? Is you sad?’ / I say, ‘No’ / He cyin’ like, ‘Good, you don’ blew up’ / Inside I’m like ‘Ugh, where was you at while I grew up?’” and the result is powerful. On “I’ma Emcee,” Ahmad further lets the listener in on some of his more painful life experiences only this time he does it with a smile. It’s the album’s most upbeat track and despite its title, the least traditionally Hip Hop-sounding. It’s a strutting, Poppy affair and Ahmad floats above the beat half-singing lyrics like “Happy when critics hated and when they admit I’m dope / Content on top and when I got dropped from Interscope,” referring to the 4th Avenue Jones deal. Ahmad’s playful candor rubs off on guest Crooked I who, on “Get Some Money, Go 2 Jail” spits self-deprecating lines like “I’m sort of a star / Rims cost more than my star,” fully aware that he is embodying the “rapper” stereotype.

After listening to The Death of Me it’s easy to celebrate Ahmad’s return to Rap. His mature, astute attitude is something other grown, intelligent Hip Hop fans can certainly appreciate and something today’s young guns could probably learn from.