As July saw Juice WRLD’s Legends Never Die open with the largest first week sales of 2020, ranking it as the biggest posthumous debut since Notorious B.I.G.’s Life After Death in 1997, Gemma Cockrell reflects on both the plights and pluses of the posthumous album.
When musicians die, their music lives on. In some cases, albums released after the death of its creator revel in an even greater poignancy, inviting listeners to hear the music in a new light. However, there are many problems posed by posthumous albums; it is difficult to know exactly what the artists would have wanted, and whether the music would have turned out differently had they been alive to have creative control over it.
Four of the most prominent recent examples of posthumous releases have been in the world of hip-hop and rap. From Lil Peep and XXXTENTACION, to Juice WRLD and Mac Miller, these are artists who we lost too soon, and who’s music had so much more to offer.
Though many posthumous releases have been dismissed as label-driven ‘money grabs’, Lil Peep’s have been coordinated by his loving family
Though much loved by many during his lifetime, Lil Peep’s fanbase grew immensely after his death as people heard about the tragic overdose which cost him his life at just twenty-one years old. In his legacy, his mother was given control of what music will be released, and ensured his posthumous music came from a place of love and respect. Though many posthumous releases have been dismissed as label-driven ‘money-grabs’, Lil Peep’s have been coordinated by his loving family seeking to continue his legacy.
His first posthumous release, Come Over When You’re Sober Part II was released in 2018 as the follow-up to Part I, which was released during his lifetime. The record felt therefore like a natural progression; his naming of the first suggesting a subsequent, as well as the songs found on his laptop following his death. His second posthumous release, Everybody’s Everything, was released alongside a heart-rending documentary in 2019. A compilation album, it compiled a host of previously unheard collaborations, as well as tracks which were never formally released on streaming services.
In featuring songs that Lil Peep had finished recording during his lifetime, the albums released since his passing have been incredibly popular among fans. Rather than tainting his legacy, they have only extended and added to it; offering fans, both old and new alike, an opportunity to feel even closer to a remarkable artist beyond his lifetime.
However, not every artist’s posthumous releases are so well-loved by fans. XXXTENTACION, though an extremely controversial figure during his lifetime, had an extensive fan-base waiting on his posthumous releases. After being robbed and shot multiple times in June of 2018, albums SKINS and bad vibes forever were released after his death. However, much like his life, they felt tragically unfinished.
The collaboration felt like it had been released purely to make money from two rappers with similar fanbases
Many of the tracks felt like mere skeletons of songs; hooks or verses which were clearly just vague ideas at the time, thrown over some beats. It was safe to say that fans were disappointed, and many of them no longer interested in hearing new music from him. Unlike Peep’s, XXXTENTACION’s posthumous releases should probably have stayed unreleased.
One of the posthumous releases, Falling Down, actually featured both XXXTENTACION and Lil Peep. The latter’s family and friends, however, openly disapproved of its existence. Rumours circulating at the time suggested that there had been tension between the pair, and that such a collaboration would not have happened had both rappers been alive. It therefore felt like it had been released purely to make money from two rappers with similar fanbases.
Juice WRLD’s Legends Never Die instead navigated perfectly the potential plights of the posthumous album; described by Pitchfork as a “continued look into his world.” Mac Miller’s Circles, released two years after his fatal drug overdose, was similarly well received by fans. A follow-up to his album Swimming, which was released while he was alive, and comparable to to Lil Peep’s Come Over When You’re Sober Parts I and II, the albums fit together as perfect companions. Because of this, it felt although the releases had been planned this way before Miller’s death, and therefore offer fans a chance to celebrate his life and career whilst mourning the great loss.
Conclusively, whilst releasing an album posthumously can pose a host of challenges, it can be done with respect and sensitivity. If an artist was working on a record shortly before their death, and it was nearly or fully completed, then it is likely that the artist would have released it themselves in a similar arrangement. In these cases, posthumous albums tend to feel the most poignant and compelling, offering perhaps the closest ode to the life and intentions of its creator.
The most important thing is respecting the legacies and families of the artists we lost too soon
If an album and songs were to be left wholly unfinished, however, then it is much harder to imagine what the artist had intended to eventually put out. By releasing work that is clearly incomplete, there is a risk of tainting an artist’s legacy, and a posthumous album feeling although a label is simply trying to profit off of a musician’s death. Whilst the debate is an important and ongoing one, the most important thing is respecting the legacies and families of the talented artists we lost too soon.
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