Posthumous albums honor artists’ legacy


Art illustration by Enzo Cabaltica

Noela Bae, Content Editor

At just 20 years old, XXXTentacion had his life taken away from him in June. But his music continues to live on through posthumous songs, providing solace for many and giving a voice to those who are downtrodden or hurting behind closed doors.

XXXTentacion is just one of many artists whose music continues to be released posthumously. The management companies of other artists such as Mac Miller, Lil Peep and Michael Jackson have also been releasing their songs after they have passed away to preserve their memories, as well as to allow listeners to get ahold of music that resonates with them.

Skeptics, however, view posthumous releases as a commercial strategy for companies to rack up revenue. For example, in September 2018, rapper ILoveMakonnen released “Falling Down,” a track that features Lil Peep and XXXTentacion, as a tribute to the two artists. Makonnen made it clear that “Falling Down” was to honor the artists, announcing so on social media and during interviews. Even then, the song has received backlash for being a corporate ploy to capitalize on Peep and X’s stardom. Some have added that the song should have never been released, maintaining that Peep would not have agreed to a collaboration with X because of X’s extensive list of violent behaviors and criminal records.

To ensure that posthumous songs are not a way for companies to profit off of an artist’s popularity, some, if not all, of the earnings should be handed over to the family or a noncontroversial cause that the artist believed in. For instance, much of the profits after X’s death have been used to fund the Helping Hand Charity Event, which X had been hoping to host as an effort to help South Florida communities after the Parkland shooting. X wished to spread positivity and love, and his mother and attorney team helped to carry on his vision by hosting the event.

“The music companies have a hand in producing and marketing the music, and they certainly deserve a portion of those profits,” said U.S. History and Government teacher Mike Williams. “But certainly the families or whoever owns the rights to the music — they should get a majority of the profits.

Apart from simply inheriting the earnings from posthumous songs, the artist’s family should also have greater involvement in the release of posthumous music. The management company should have to receive the family’s approval before publishing the songs. For “Falling Down,” Makonnen approached Peep and X’s families before the release to ensure that the track reflected the message that the artists had intended to convey. Both families were in full support of the release.

“Out of anybody, the families and people who were close to the artist would know if the artist would have wanted the music to be released or not,” said junior Rithwik Swarnkar. “If the artist has not signed an album deal, but the family agrees to release the music, it would be justifiable for the company to do so.”

Under the circumstance in which the family does not consent, the management should respect the family’s decision and opt out of producing the song, even if the state statute and other legalities grant the company postmortem rights to the music.

Often, families allow songs and albums to be published posthumously to bring themselves closure: the posthumous releases stand as a final completion of unfinished business. But the families also possess the larger vision that the music can give fans another opportunity to connect with the artists.

“There are still fans out there who want to hear, for example, uncovered new [guitarist and singer Jimi] Hendrix material or whatever catalog of music that may get unearthed or repurposed,” Williams said.

Through such songs, fans can once again listen to lyrics that they can relate to and feel the visceral emotions woven inside the music. X’s songs, for example, frequently discuss loneliness and suicide, appealing to those that are wrapped up in similar thoughts. His music has a raw, authentic element that makes it magnetic and intoxicating. Likewise, Peep’s songs revolve around self-deprecation and heartbreak, and though these are dark, heavy topics, they are emotions that many listeners can relate to.

“XXXTentacion has one song called ‘Slipknot,’ and I really like that one. I think it’s both the message he tries to convey and the beat of the songs that make me enjoy his songs,” Swarnkar said. “I like his lesser known songs more than his popular ones because the unknown songs tend to carry a deeper meaning and have an impact on the listeners.”

Though many speak of commerce as being the guiding principle behind posthumous releases, skeptics should consider the silver lining: posthumous songs allow an artist’s legacy to live on and fans to capture the last bits of art from their favorite artists.