The artists who dramatically retired… and then came back again

Nicki Minaj isn't the only artist to embrace retirement before getting bored of the whole thing

Despite announcing her departure from music approximately [checks notes] 22 days ago, Nicki Minaj returned today (September 27) with brand new track ‘Fendi’. The collaboration with PnB Rock and Murda Beatz lands ahead of the rapper’s link-up with the Italian designer label of the same name: Minaj has designed 127 pieces ranging from shiny silver moon boots, to rainbow aviators emblazoned with the Fendi logo. As well as name dropping the label for a second time (Fendi also gets a nod on last year’s ‘Chun-Li’) the track opens with a snippet of the rapper declaring “this is really my favourite song!” Call ‘Fendi’ a new song, call it an advert disguised as a single, call it what you want – whichever way you view things, all this activity doesn’t exactly scream ‘retirement’.

Here in the UK, the state pension age just keeps rising and at this rate, us mere mortals will probably be leaving work in our ’70s. With 10 Grammy nominations, shelves full of shiny award trophies, and millions of pounds to her name on the other hand, there’s nothing to stop Minaj from sacking it all off, finding an allotment, and switching to a new pursuit of… I don’t know… pickling vegetables? Sure, it only lasted 22 days, but can you blame her for giving it a go, however brief?

Minaj certainly isn’t the first artist to toy with retiring, and she’s unlikely to be the last – here are some other artists who quit music for a modest retirement… and then got bored and came back again. 

Jay-Z 

When Jay-Z released ‘The Black Album’ back in 2003, he dramatically billed the rap classic as his final release. Opening with the line “they say they never really miss you ’til you’re dead or you’re gone,” the entire record repeatedly hammers home the fact that Jay’s leaving the business for good – before dropping in a contradictory curveball like ‘Encore’. And following the record’s release, he went even further, throwing a full-blown retirement party at Madison Square Gardens. There was also a Greatest Hits album. 

Spoiler: it didn’t last. After putting out several collaborative projects, Jay-Z returned with his next album ‘Kingdom Come’ just three years later. ”It was the worst retirement, maybe, in history,” he later told Entertainment Weekly

Lauryn Hill

Following the release of her own classic ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ in 1998, Lauryn Hill also disappeared from the public eye. Her live album ‘MTV Unplugged 2.0’ – released two years after ‘Miseducation…’ – featured a series of searing interludes, with Hill speaking at length about her personal and artistic struggles between tracks. “I used to be a performer, and I really don’t consider myself a performer anymore,” she said. “I had created this public persona, this public illusion, and it held me hostage. I couldn’t be a real person, because you’re too afraid of what your public will say. At that point, I had to do some dying.”

Hill spent several years completely out of the public eye, later telling Essence: “For two or three years I was away from all social interaction. There was no music. There was no television. It was a very introspective and complicated time because I had to really confront my fears and master every demonic thought about inferiority, about insecurity or the fear of being Black, young and gifted in this Western culture.”

Though she later un-retired herself and returned to touring – most recently, she went on a 20th anniversary tour for her debut album – Hill has not released another studio album since 1997. 

Lily Allen

Amid intensive coverage, Lily Allen put out her second album ‘It’s Not You, It’s Me’ in 2009 – then, she abruptly announced that she was stepping away. “I have not renegotiated my record contract and have no plans to make another record,” she wrote on her blog, It’s Not Alright.

And credit to Allen, she properly lent into retirement to start with – absolutely living up to the daytime telly property show dream, she moved to a country house in the Cotswolds, and opened a short-lived vintage shop called Lucy in Disguise in London. Though she kept her promise when it came to albums for the time being, she collabed with Professor Green on Beats International rehash ‘Just Be Good to Green’ just a year after the publication of her now-deleted blog. 

Just two years later, however, Allen was back in the studio with pop whizz Greg Kurstin: “throwing shit in the wall and seeing if anything sticks” is how she put it in conversation with Q. And in 2014, the singer returned with her new albumSheezus, putting a speedy end to her pivot to pensioner. 

LL Cool J 

Taking note of Jay-Z and Lily Allen’s couple-of-year-long retirements, and raising them, LL Cool J dramatically announced his retirement on social media in 2016. Today I officially retired from music. Thank you for the love,” he posted in a now-deleted tweet, as Billboard reports. 

Mere hours later, the rapper reverse-retired, just as suddenly. “Today I’m officially coming out of retirement!” he wrote, gleefully ignoring the existence of his previous post, and confirming that he was starting to work on a new album. He later admitted that he was trying to “have fun with this twitter game… Lol”

Death Grips

U.S. noisemakers Death Grips approach retirement casually – in the same way that most of us approach a new years resolution to lay off the pints. In 2014, the group revealed their break-up with a scrawled note on a napkin, but exactly a year later, they returned with the instrumental soundtrack ‘Fashion Week’. Later that year, their fifth album followed. 

That infamous napkin might’ve marked the official short-lived break-up, but in the years prior, Death Grips developed a reputation for staging dramatic no-shows and messing with impending hiatus. Zach Hill has previously performed via Skype. And when they were due to appear at Chicago’s Bottom Lounge in 2013, the band didn’t even travel to the city – instead, they played pre-recorded music, and draped the stage in a suicide note. Angry fans destroyed their drum kit, and Death Grips responded by saying the whole saga ‘was the show’. It sounds like the sort of excuse that someone might make up in order to bullshit their way through GCSE art, but it really was planned in advance – the drum kit turned out to be a children’s set. 

Lil Uzi Vert

At the start of this year, Philly rapper Lil Uzi Vert told fans that he wanted to step away from music for good. “I’m done with music…” he wrote in an Instagram story. “I wanna be normal. I wanna wake up in 2013,” he wrote in an Instagram story. But just two months later, he returned with ‘Free Uzi’ – as reported by Pitchfork, his label Atlantic called it a “leak”.

In a recent interview with GQ, Lil Uzi Vert stated that these days he’s only making music for his family – but then again, he also said he has finished his second record ‘Eternal Atake’ back in May. Basically, who knows?!