Kingdom Come (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)

It could be his age, his largely disappointing run as the head of Def Jam or just the ceaseless motion of the industry, but the rap world Jay-Z left in 2003 doesn't need him nearly as much as the one to which he returns three years later. On Kingdom Come, Hov is a little too aware that rap survived his retirement — and even sounds insecure on the clumsy "30 Something," where he simultaneously defends acting his age and shames his youthful peers for acting theirs. (The diluted rhymes on "Hollywood," "Trouble" and the preachy Hurricane Katrina track "Minority Report," however, don't sound like they're aiming for the eighteen-to-twenty-four set.) Nevertheless, Jay-Z can still rap his ass off — especially over the Just Blaze-produced heaters "Oh My God" and the album's "Superfreak"-sampling title track — and even gets some good lines in at recent rival Jim Jones on the relatively fierce "Dig a Hole," but the fact that he even responded to the potshots is an admission of defeat. An almost embarrassing comeback, it's only appropriate that Jay-Z filled Kingdom Come with Michael Jordan references.

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