Keeping Artists Alive Through Their Music



Lil Peep, XXXtentacion, and Juice WRLD, gone too soon

Justin Todd, Contributor

On November 15th, 2017, musician Gustav Åhr (stage name Lil Peep) passed away after a drug overdose. On June 18, 2018, Jahseh Onfroy (XXXTentacion) was murdered outside of a motorcycle dealership in his car. Malcolm McCormick (Mac Miller) died following a drug overdose on September 7th, 2018. Jarad Higgins (Juice Wrld) died in a similar drug-related incident on December 8th, 2019. In the past three years, four major figures in hip-hop/emo rap passed away at tragically young ages, arguably at the peak of their careers. These artists were not the only ones to have followed this pattern, with Kurt Cobain’s devastating suicide in 1994, Tupac Shakur’s assassination in late 1996, and even Queen frontman Freddie Mercury’s loss in a battle with AIDS in 1991; however, these untimely passings seem to be centering more around those in the hip-hop genre in recent years. Following any artist’s death, their record label will likely release demos, unfinished albums that have been completed by friends, family, or otherwise, and/or singles featuring other artists with snippets of the late artist. There are mixed reactions to this phenomenon of releasing music posthumously, mostly depending on those releasing the artist’s music.

     A few main posthumous albums that people tend to have heard include Lil Peep’s “Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 2”, XXXTentacion’s “SKINS”, and Mac Miller’s “Circles”. Listening to these projects tend to invoke different reactions from people. Paizley Wallace explains, “Listening to a dead person’s music makes me feel sad… You realize you’re never getting any more music from them.” These projects can invoke sentimentality in a listener, but thinking about production and money can open one up to different feelings, as Andy Mourelatos describes: “They’re tainted more often than not by corporate greed and profiting off an artist’s death;” Nick Cilantro, a Tanque Verde HS sophomore adds to this point, stating, “If it’s just little things written with half-done lyrics pieced into something then it’s kinda messed up.”

     Releasing a final album can be a great sendoff for a deceased artist and a gift for all their fans to enjoy. There are limits, however, to which people believe releasing their music becomes disrespectful to said artist. Sam Kerr is not a fan of posthumous music in general, explaining, “I can understand if they were to donate all the money to… help victims like the artist, but 9 times out of 10 they keep the money for themselves.” Some artists, namely Tupac, are thought of by people like Nick Cilantro to be getting used for money: “He’s dead. He’s been dead, but his name is still being used to crank sales… His label should be sued.” Another big example of “milking” a late artist’s fame for profit is XXXTentacion, who has had three albums released following his death at the time of writing. Andy Mourelatos reinforces this point, saying, “The fact that he’s had more than one (release) and the newest has songs that don’t even feature the artist (exemplifies) the industry being corrupt and disrespectful to his death.” Contrary to these opinions, Jazz Harvey, a freshman at RUHS, believes “they are making the artist live on longer and have their memories live on.”

     For those who compare the artist’s discography prior to and after their passing, posthumous music has been described as feeling awfully paced, incoherent, and much darker, especially when addressing topics such as drug abuse, depression, etc. When asked how they feel a dead artist can be honored through their music, Sam Kerr believes it can be done “by donating all the earnings… to a charity that can help others like the artist… Something that can make a difference. Andy Mourelatos answers this question beautifully, talking about Mac Miller’s Circles, which he believes to be a posthumous album done right: “It takes Miller’s legacy and the album he was already working on and stays true to his vision… It doesn’t turn into a commercialized nightmare of features and work that he wouldn’t want, it just truly sounds like a proper final album and a send-off to Mac’s life and legacy.” All in all, when done with care, a posthumous project can be an everlasting legacy of a renowned artist.