Poor or progressive: Posthumous albums


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There are many popular posthumous albums such as “Circles”, “Legends Never Die” and more. But are these albums’ popularity worth the effect it can have on an artist’s legacy.

By Liam Klein, Opinions Editor

Posthumous albums are nothing new to the music industry. What do The Notorious B.I.G’s “Life After Death”, Jimi Hendrix’s “The Cry of Love”, 2Pac’s “R U Still Down” and Marvin Gaye’s “Vulnerable” all have in common? They all were released after the artist’s death and in some cases multiple years after. However, due to the sad reality that more and more young artists are tragically dying in the midst of their careers, it feels like there are more posthumous albums than ever before. 

This influx in posthumous albums over the past few years has made it difficult to see the true intent behind releasing these albums. These albums could be a heartfelt last release that the artist would have felt comfortable putting out into the world. But, likely these albums served as an incohesive cash grab by the artist’s family and studio to capitalize on the publicity and fame of the artist. This begs the question: have posthumous albums become unethical? 

To draw this line it is first important to understand how the release of posthumous albums works. Firstly, there is such a thing as pre-planned posthumous albums in which the artist has completed the album and it will be released at the time of the artist’s death – these are no different from a regular album outside of the album rollout. Secondly, there are unplanned posthumous albums, these are more common and happen after an artist’s untimely death. 

The creation of these albums varies from a wide range of complexities, such as how much the album is completed and the plans for the album before the artist’s death. However, usually, the family or label of the artist puts the project on the shoulders of a few different people: a producer, writer, collaborator, or another artist who was close to the artist or involved in the creation of the project. 

Despite this, there still are some memorable posthumous albums that are actually good listens. Some prominent examples include Pop Smoke’s “Shoot For the Stars Aim For the Moon,” which was finalized by fellow New York rapper 50 Cent, along with plenty of examples from the early 2000s such as Ray Charles’s “Genius Love Company” and Johnny Cash “American IV: The Man Comes Around,” both of which cracked the Billboard 200. In recent years though, perhaps the prime example of posthumous albums can be in recent years is Mac Miller’s “Circles”. 

The album was released a year after his death and was planned to be the second part of a trilogy. It was finalized by producer John Brion under the supervision of Miller’s family. The album is regarded as one of Miller’s best. It does an excellent job of giving closure to Miller’s career; most importantly, it has cohesive themes and ideas throughout the album – something very few posthumous albums have.

Unfortunately, for every “Circles,” there are a ton of cluttered, overproduced, convoluted posthumous albums. Perhaps the poster children for these poor posthumous albums are Xxxtentacion, Juice World and the king of pop Michael Jackson. 

All these artists have had more than one album released posthumously, years after their tragic deaths. It seems like each one is a more lackluster cash grab than the last. While some may see that these projects are commercially successful such as in the case of Juice World’s “Legends Never Die,” cases like this are few and far between and the commercial profit is the only silver lining. 

There are many more examples of posthumous albums that end up as shallow flops, only aimed at capitalizing on the name of the artist. The best example of this is Michael Jackson and his two posthumous albums; one was so terrible that in July of this year, Sony removed three songs from streaming services from Jackson’s 2010 posthumous album “Michael.”

Along with this, when artists have more albums released after their death than before, it leaves listeners pondering about ulterior motives for the release of these posthumous albums. Is it about music or money? Money makes the world go round so the answer is clear. Perhaps, the most conspicuous example of this involves Xxxtentacion, a rapper who died in 2018; ever since his close family and relatives have been desperately disputing over who should control his lucrative estate which is valued at over $50 million dollars and even more coming from his music streaming. 

Posthumous albums are undoubtedly unethical choices – besides the fact that most posthumous albums are better off unreleased. When snippets of artists’ music are being milked into full-length albums long after their death and half-finished singles are released years later, it makes one thing clear: posthumous albums are about the money, not the legacy or the music. Families should stop using these dead artists to profit for themselves as it only produces unlikeable music for the fans and tarnishes the artist’s reputation.