The New Wave of Posthumous Albums

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Artist Album Covers

Some of the most popular posthumous albums released in the last year include music from Pop Smoke, XXXTentaction, JuiceWRLD and Mac Miller (top left to bottom right.)

Over the past few years, an increasing amount of music has been released posthumously. The popularity of this style of release raises questions regarding morality that were previously unexplored. Is it okay for one to profit off of the music of someone who has no control over its release? Is a song truly made by an artist when they were absent at the time of its production? The topic of posthumous music is only going to become more prevalent as the presence of social media further develops the virality of a popular artist’s death.

Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville invented the phonautograph, the first sound recording device. Using it, he recorded a song that wasn’t recreated in sound until over a century after his death. (Wikimedia Commons)

Posthumous music (music that is published after the death of the artist) has been around for quite a long time. The first posthumous music existed before the 19th century. However, the prevalence of posthumous music has risen along with the popularity of recorded music. If an artist passed away, their music could be published for fans to appreciate. On the most basic level, this is quite magical. The ability for a recording to cement the work of an artist in time is a skill we have only recently acquired. However, with the prevalence of record labels and companies controlling the publication of this music, it raises moral issues.

The primary issue that exists with posthumous music is the fact that the artist cannot control any aspects of how the music is published. When an artist dies, they often have large amounts of recorded music that hasn’t been released. However, there can be many different reasons for why it hasn’t been released yet. In some cases, the artist believes that the music simply isn’t good enough to be published or doesn’t represent the message that they want to put out. In other cases, the music was going to be published but was unfinished. In any case, an artist typically has ideas about how they want their music to be consumed by the public, but when they die, there is no way for them to give input. 

“Come Over When You’re Sober,” the album by Lil Peep that contains the controversial feature with XXXTentacion. (Artist Album Cover)

Another issue that we run into is that posthumous releases can be skewed in a way that would never have happened if the artist was alive. When rapper and singer Lil Peep died in 2017, Columbia Records published an album of his music soon after. One of the songs on the album featured another late rapper, XXXTentacion, whom Lil Peep apparently disliked.

Among all these issues, there is also a very positive side to the debate. Posthumous music allows fans access to the music of an artist that otherwise they never would have heard again. Fans often appreciate the release of new music enough to discount the moral issues that are raised. 

What do you think? Should record labels publish unreleased music from an artist after they’ve passed away?