Let dead artists rest in peace

Michael LaRocca, Staff Writer

Illustration by Connor Lawless

Listening to music is comparable to drinking water to me. In turn, I tend to care about the artists I listen to the most. Right now, my audial faucet has been dispensing plenty of the late Chicago rapper, Juice WRLD.  

Listening to Juice WRLD’s music made me reflect on the considerable number of artists, especially in the hip-hop genre, that we have lost over the past half-decade. But with the way the industry moves, you would never know they left us.  

From month to month, we hear too much about pieces of music coming from the estates of artists who have passed away. They mostly come in the form of short features on other artists’ music, but the real problems come in the form of larger projects.

Posthumous albums, which are produced after an artist’s death, have been one of the bigger trends in the music industry over the past several years. The inherent concept of them has good heart behind it, with them traditionally being released as a way for the artist to give a final goodbye to their fans from beyond the grave. However, the climate of the modern music industry has caused this definition to become blurred beyond recognition.

I first got into Juice WRLD’s music last summer after the release of his first posthumous album, “Legends Never Die.” The album itself was critically praised at the time, and for my first time listening to his music, I was thoroughly impressed. The more I listened to the record and the rest of his music, though, the more I began to wish I was listening to tracks that Juice WRLD had actually been present for the completion of.

To my knowledge, there are four late artists since 2018 who have had posthumous albums released that have gained significant traction: Mac Miller, Pop Smoke, XXXTentacion and the aforementioned Juice WRLD.

For the majority of these artists, their first posthumous release was seen positively in the eyes of the public. But once the artists’ former studios decided to come out with more material after that initial release, that is when they go from honoring the artist, to attempting to profit off their life.

When a posthumous album is released, it basically has a coin-flip chance of being good or bad.

Albums like Juice WRLD’s ‘Legends Never Die” and Mac Miller’s “Circles” both found the perfect balance of quality of work and care put in, leading to their deserved critical praise. On the other hand, Pop Smoke’s “Faith” and XXXTentacion’s “Bad Vibes Forever” came off as poorly crafted exploits of their original artist’s talent, hijacking their legacies in order to bring in major guaranteed revenue.

When more music is released, fans of these artists — including myself — were able to see the productions for what they are, absolutely bare. In both Pop Smoke and XXXTentacion’s second posthumous albums, the main artists are almost nowhere to be seen. The thinning amount of content left in their catalogs became more evident as we saw the majority of each album’s runtime be occupied by swarms of features from fellow artists.

According to HipHopNumbers, Pop Smoke accounted for 63% of the lyrics on “Faith,” which was down from 68% on “Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon,” a posthumous album that contained 14 features in 18 tracks.

XXXTentacion’s river of unreleased music ran dry a long time ago. His final appearance on a song most likely came in August 2021 when he had a verse on Trippie Redd’s song “Danny Phantom,” the verse itself being the focal point of the track.

Pop Smoke was a victim of this as well. When talking about the release of “Faith” on Aug. 17, Pop Smoke’s friend, Mike Dee, said: “In my opinion, instead of dropping all 30 songs, I would have waited. Maybe 10 now, 10 the next year, that way his name would stay alive, instead of dropping it all at one time … I’m guessing this is it, what he had left in the vault, this is the end.”

Hearing stories like this are what makes me want to dislike posthumous releases as a whole. Milking an artist for everything they left behind, just to make more money, is unethical to the highest degree.

Milking an artist for everything they left behind, just to make more money, is unethical to the highest degree.

— Michael LaRocca, staff writer

A single posthumous release, like what we’ve seen with Juice WRLD and Mac Miller, is the only moral way to go in these situations. Even then, the managers for both artists have stated publicly that there are more posthumous releases on the way for their clients, undoing the closure they had given the fans previously.

Even the artists of today feel the same about this component of the industry.

R&B artist and rapper Anderson .Paak showed off a tattoo in August 2021 that simply stated, “When I’m gone, please don’t release any posthumous albums or songs with my name attached. Those were just demos and never intended to be heard by the public.”

None of these artists need to have this much released after their death. Each of them, with the possible exception of Pop Smoke, have done enough for their legacies while they were alive for people to be satisfied with what is available to them. Juice WRLD’s second studio album, “Death Race for Love,” is one of my favorite albums of all time. I would be fine if I could only listen to that album for the rest of my life.

Posthumous music is at its best and most warranted when it is released with the same level of care and attention that the actual artist would have used if they were still alive. It loses its impact when it is released recklessly and in abundance. At that point, if managers don’t know when to stop releasing the music, then they shouldn’t release it at all.