A lot can change in the space of 12 months — especially in the world of Hip Hop, the evolution of which has been accelerated by social media, streaming services and bedroom studios.
This year, numerous rappers have seen their stock rise and fortunes change, either by overcoming adversity or returning from hiatus to remind fans why they fell in love with them in the first place — or, in some cases, reinvent themselves entirely.
Whether that’s Gunna and Megan Thee Stallion surviving courtroom scrutiny, Travis Scott navigating one of the worst tragedies in festival history or Killer Mike dropping arguably his best album more than two decades into his career. And let’s not forget about André 3000 making a surprise return with an even more surprising album. Perhaps the only thing more unexpected was Snoop Dogg “giving up” weed.
While the modern Hip Hop news cycle is flooded with social media spats, explosive podcast segments and damaging legal drama, these artists found their way back on top with quality music and smart moves.
Review all of our2023 Hip Hop Award categories.
Here are the biggest Hip Hop comebacks of 2023…
Editor’s Note: Nominees are listed in alphabetical order.
BIGGEST HIP HOP COMEBACK OF 2023 NOMINATIONS
The Biggest Comeback of 2023 award goes to…
For a while, many doubted that Gunna would be able to climb his way back to the heights he achieved just 11 months prior when he earned his first No. 1 album with DS4Ever. Some even wondered whether his career was over altogether.
With the release of his third album A Gift & A Curse this past summer, though, Gunna silenced the critics and proved that not even snitching allegations can drown the Drip King. Loaded with infectious, hard-hitting anthems and a defiant edge that’s reflected in its lack of guest features, the project peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart while its platinum-certified single “Fukumean” cracked the Top 5 on the Hot 100 chart, becoming one of the biggest (and unlikeliest) rap hits of 2023.
Gunna also delivered two sold-out — and impressively put-together — arena shows in New York City and Los Angeles, proving the line of people still riding with him outnumber those ready to tear him down. Gunna definitely had the biggest comeback of 2023 and he has shown no sign of slowing down moving into the new year.
“André 3000 has released a new album” is a sentence few rap fans ever expected to read, but like Dr. Dre and Jay Electronica in years past, 3 Stacks proved in 2023 that sometimes miracles do happen. His debut solo album and first full-length offering since OutKast’s Idlewild in 2006, New Blue Sun isn’t quite what fans were expecting, though. An entirely instrumental affair showcasing André’s woodwind skills, it’s arguably the most polarizing album in recent years. To some, it’s a sonic spiritual voyage that calms the mind and feeds the soul; to others, it’s an 87-minute slog that puts you to sleep.
Despite a sense of disappointment among some fans, New Blue Sun has received loftypraise from many of Andre’s musical peers and proved to be a modest hit on the charts. It debuted at No. 30 on the Billboard 200 and pulled in higher first-week sales than recent releases from Nas, Lil Wayne, Ice Spice and others. Its almost 12-and-a-half-minute opening song also cracked the Hot 100, breaking the record as the lengthiest track to appear on the chart — a fitting achievement for a man who’s known to take his time.
Fortunately, 2023 wasn’t completely bereft of bars from André Benjamin. Continuing his trend of show-stopping features once every blue moon, he delivered an existential, extraterrestrial verse on Killer Mike’s “Scientists & Engineers” alongside Future and Eryn Allen Kane. The song is up for two awards at the 2024 Grammys — Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance — which take place exactly 20 years after OutKast became the first rap act ever to win the coveted Album of the Year prize.
Killer Mike’s two-decade-plus career has long been defined by his affiliations. He emerged as the bruising mic bully of the Dungeon Family, signed to T.I.’s Grand Hustle label after OutKast went on hiatus, and eventually reinvented himself as one-half of Run The Jewels alongside El-P. Even his seminal solo album, 2012’s R.A.P. Music, was produced entirely by the Def Jux co-founder, marking the beginning of their critically acclaimed partnership.
But 2023 was the year that Killer Mike — better yet, Michael Render — stepped out of any lingering shadows that were casting over his large frame and basked in the spotlight on his own with Michael, his first solo album in over a decade.
Steeped in the essence of southern Black music, militancy and spirituality, the project is by far Mike’s most personal, with heartfelt odes to his first girlfriend, wife, addict auntie and late mother and grandmother. It’s also his most sonically rich effort, boasting a star-studded supporting cast that includes No ID as executive producer. Even André 3000 failed to upstage the big man, with Mike arguably out-rapping his longtime friend on “Scientists & Engineers.”
Michael is up for three awards at the 2024 Grammys, including Best Rap Album. And while the Recording Academy hasn’t been kind to No ID-helmed projects from rap veterans in the past, Killer Mike is further proof that rappers can age gracefully, much like the 50-year-old genre itself.
Megan Thee Stallion
2022 ended on a bittersweet note for Megan Thee Stallion. That December, Tory Lanez was found guilty of shooting her in the feet during a drunken dispute in July 2020, ending a two-and-a-half-year ordeal that had turned her trauma into fodder for gossip blogs and media personalities — many of whom showed (and continue to show) little sympathy towards her. You’d forgive the Houston rapper for not claiming the verdict as a total victory. As she tearfully admitted during the trial, the shooting and its heavily-scrutinized aftermath had left her feeling depressed and suicidal.
In the 12 months since, Megan has been steadily healing from these personal wounds while notching a string of professional wins. Her “Bongos” collaboration with Cardi B — the pop-oriented successor to their 2020 smash hit “WAP” — cracked the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100, she made her feature film debut in the A24 movie Dicks: The Musical, and she settled another long-running legal battle, “amicably” parting ways with her former label 1501 Certified Ent. which she had accused of stopping her from releasing music and withholding money.
Perhaps Megan’s biggest statement, though, was “Cobra,” her vulnerable yet defiant comeback solo single. Inspired by a snake’s ability to shed its skin, the track found Tina Snow laying bare her demons and sinking her fangs into those who profited off her pain — not to mention serving post-breakup body in the accompanying music video.
Travis Scott has been one of the most scrutinized names in music since 10 people died and hundreds more were injured at his Astroworld Festival in Houston in November 2021. The way he handled the horrific crowd crush, which unfolded during his headlining set, has come under heavy criticism; so too have his attempts at an apology. While he’s been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing, Travis is still named in a staggering amount of lawsuits, the majority of which have yet to be resolved.
The memory of that tragedy will never be erased, not least among the families of the victims. But for Travis Scott, 2023 has been as good a redemption arc as he could’ve hoped for.
His star-studded and sonically-exhilarating UTOPIA album topped the Billboard 200 chart in August with the biggest first-week tally in Hip Hop this year (496,000 units), reasserting his status as one the genre’s most bankable stars. Meanwhile, his Circus Maximus Tour — which boasts amusement park-level stage design and floor-shaking performances — has seen La Flame return to the stage in full force, becoming the first rapper to headline and sell out L.A.’s 70,000-seater SoFi stadium.
Check out our previous Comeback of the Year award winners.
Artwork and graphic design by JR Martinez.
Paragraphs written by Andy Bustard.