Josh Fundafunda looks at the current trend of posthumous albums.
The passing of a celebrity or public figure is a tough time for family, friends, and fans alike. It is a heavy loss knowing that their creativity is cut short. Although, posthumous albums or projects can be acceptable in some cases, but come with a host of terms and conditions which I believe must be met.
First and foremost, it is important to remember that the families are only people and should be allowed time and space, so debating the complex intricacies of music ownership rights might not be their first interest. And regrettably even that might not be in their power. Record labels are businesses and their primary interest is making a profit. Unfortunately, this often comes at the expense of the artist, whether they have passed away or not. All over the industry (and across the majority of genres as well) are stories of artists signing themselves up for more than meets the eye, or of artists recently freed from what seem like the shackles of contracts. By capitalising an inherently artistic medium of expression, you degrade the artist into a money-making machine akin to a printing press. Hopefully more artists begin to realise the pitfalls of the industry and learn to better navigate their own careers. This seems to be the case as more artists understand ownership in the modern era; for example, Kota the Friend (who is still thankfully with us) reiterates throughout his music not to “bring up [his] masters ‘cause that’s for [his] kids” (‘Berlin’). Hopefully this growing sentiment of ownership continues to take hold and keep music at its most creative.
By capitalising an inherently artistic medium of expression, you degrade the artist into a money-making machine akin to a printing press
Nevertheless, there are great cases of artists’ music being treated with the respect it deserves. I think an exemplary example is Malcolm James Miller’s (aka Mac Miller) posthumous album Circles. Primarily, before his death in early September of 2018 Mac was already well into the recording process of the project, and the rest of it was finalised by Jon Brion, a close friend who worked with Mac in the past. Having a trusted producer behind this project is definitely one factor which saved the album from being a corporate cash-grab, which it could have very easily become. Nevertheless, the project was released on the 17th of January, just nine days after its initial announcement though a family note on his Instagram account. Unlike some other cases of posthumous albums, there was little to no promotion for this record, and no rush to exploit sympathetic fans. His family was ingrained in discussions about whether or not to release anymore of his music, and they thankfully believed it was best.
One case which does not sit so comfortably with me is the handling of Gustav Elijah Åhr’s (aka Lil Peep) music. The first of Peep’s posthumous releases came not even 24 hours after his passing, which suggests a lack of intention concerning his music. Similarly, while his ‘estate’ gave input to much of the music to be released, alongside a short film documenting his life, I feel the music industry as a whole unfortunately influenced his music for the worse. His archive being obtained by Columbia Records, controversial collaborations on his songs, and tensions about features on his songs all suggest a mismanagement of his music after his passing. Posthumous albums can serve as an opportunity for closure, a way to comprehend lives lost too soon. But they can just as easily leave a stale taste in the mouths of people who truly cared for their music. The only way to truly respect these artists is to follow their wishes and handle their music as best we can once they are gone.
Posthumous albums can serve as an opportunity for closure, a way to comprehend lives lost too soon
Posthumous albums can serve as an opportunity for closure, a way to comprehend lives lost too soon. But they can just as easily leave a stale taste in the mouths of people who truly cared for their music. The only way to truly respect these artists is to follow their wishes and handle their music as best we can once they are gone.