Jay-Z's transparently phony "retirement" and subsequent return to rapping seemed designed to raise expectations for his comeback album to levels he couldn't possibly meet, let alone exceed. On Kingdom Come, Jay-Z compares himself to Jesus, Superman, and Michael Jordan, but then hubris is an essential component of every superstar rapper's job description. Kingdom Come follows the same sturdy formula as The Black Album, Reasonable Doubt, and The Blueprint, with a minimum of guests, a reasonable running time, and trendy beats from top producers. But the urgency just isn't there.
On "Show Me What You Got," "Kingdom Come," and "Oh My God," Just Blaze brings the drama, but Jay-Z's flow is fairly drowsy. But as Dr. Dre—who produced four tracks—would be happy to tell Jay-Z, things just aren't the same for gangstas once they become moguls. The album alternates between brash displays of braggadocio and paranoid acknowledgments that mo' money leads to mo' problems. It surveys a cold world where friends have become enemies, relatives linger in prison, and hurricane Katrina revealed the horrific inequalities and poisonous indifference bubbling under the surface.
Kingdom Come is clearly the work of a man with nothing left to prove except that his skills haven't atrophied. On "30 Something," Jay-Z crows that 30 is the new 20, but he nevertheless seems comfortable aging into hip-hop's middle-aged upper-class patriarch. He just isn't the same kid from the Marcy projects who exploded into hip-hop a decade ago, and on Kingdom Come, he succeeds due to craft and hard-won experience rather than hunger. Jay-Z's wholly expected return isn't the second coming, just another solid album from a guy who's been around the block he now probably owns.