General News / January 17, 2020

Posthumous albums are an ethical balancing act

General News / January 17, 2020

Posthumous albums are an ethical balancing act

The rollout of Mac Miller’s ‘Circles’ has been near perfect, but frequently music released posthumously leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

When the news of Mac Miller’s posthumous album ‘Circles’ landed there was an undeniable air of excitement. ‘Easy Mac with the cheesy raps’ had struck a chord with so many and the development of his sound over the years left fans longing for a glimpse of the direction his music was going in.

Since his passing I’d been plagued by lingering thoughts about potential releases after his death. As a fan it’s a double edged sword – you want one last moment with someone that’s soundtracked your teenage years, but you don’t want to spoil your memory of them.

For the family there’s often necessary financial benefit, but it’s  a question of whether the rollout and promotion respects the deceased. They’d need to approve of label’s attempts to monetise the music, but frequently it leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

No doubt if executed in a tasteful and genuine manner posthumous albums can ease the mourning process for fans. They have potential to depict the artist’s thoughts, desires and frame of mind before passing, gifting you another new experience with them whilst simultaneously extending their legacy. While their family gains financial security and sees the joy their music can spread.

However, having seen a slew of posthumous albums disappoint both in quality and the exploitative nature of their delivery I’ve become cynical of these types of releases.

Music shared after the passing of an artist can bring closure, they can be a final celebration of those that birthed them, but there’s delicate margins and more often than not that line is crossed.

Primarily my main issue is the all too obvious cash grab from record labels. We’ve seen it with Tupac, who has released more albums after he died than before, with much of his unfinished material having been cleaned up and released with questionable features. Would Tupac have really used a cheesy Dido sample had he been alive?

The answer is a resounding “no”.

Tupac isn’t the only artist to have his incomplete works milked dry in the name of capital gain. More recently we’ve seen the problematic XXXTentacion’s unfinished music reworked and finished with numerous guest appearances.

Nowadays features have become a certified way to increase streams. A highly contentious example comes from the track ‘Falling Down’ from Lil Peep, that features XXXTentacion.

Calling out the collaboration on Instagram fellow GothBoiClique member Fish Narc said “Peep never heard the XXX feature.”

“He explicitly rejected XXX for his abuse of women, spent time and money getting XXX’s songs removed from his Spotify playlists, and wouldn’t have co-signed that song. Don’t listen to it,” he continued.

“This shit is people trying to make money off him. He never would have signed up for that, he did not like XXXTentacion.”

Lil Peep’s posthumous album rollout showed promise to celebrate his life in a fitting way. Peep was known to be picky about who he worked with and when the album was announced with no features it was welcomed by fans.

The collaboration with X, an artist he had never met was not played at the listening parties, yet low and behold ‘Falling Down’ was on the album when it dropped. If there was a blueprint on how not to do a posthumous release then this single followed it precisely.

It’s clear XXXTentacion’s team had no qualms pimping out his unfinished catalog for revenue. The most recent posthumous project ‘Bad Vibes Forever’ contained 25 songs and 22 features.

However, looking at the posthumous release of Leonard Cohen’s ‘The Goal’ it provides an example of how things should be done. The core ideas were laid down before he passed and he asked his son to complete the work. It respected the late artist’s wishes and sufficient time had passed so it didn’t feel like a scramble to put together half-baked ideas to cash in on the death. With this in mind other releases are very questionable.

When an artist dies suddenly there isn’t always the option for them to have planned posthumous releases like Cohen’s. However, Cohen’s album had a familiar hand to guide the process and it’s a similar situation with Mac’s album ‘Circles’. This is often a well received gesture.

Mac’s family said, “He had been working with Jon Brion, who after hearing some early versions of songs, cleared his calendar to help Malcolm fine-tune them.”

“After his passing, Jon dedicated himself to finishing Circles based on his time and conversations with Malcolm.”

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Circles. January 17.

A post shared by Mac (@macmiller) on

Even if some of the world’s greatest artists work to complete the unfinished pieces it wouldn’t come out how they want. Which poses the question that unless explicitly requested by the late artist before they die, should the work come out at all?

Michael Jackson’s producer Quincy Jones spoke of his posthumous album ‘Michael’ saying , “It should have stayed in the vault.”

The album came alongside a flurry of claims from his close family and friends that it wasn’t even his voice that featured on the tracks.

Quincy continued saying, “It seems everybody is trying to put everything out that they can with him. It’s all to make money. He wouldn’t have wanted it to come out this way.”

Fast forward to 2020 and Mac Miller’s parents are more unsure.

“This is a complicated process that has no right answer… We simply know that it was was important to Malcolm for the world to hear it.”

“One of the most difficult decisions in the process is how best to let people know about it – how to communicate meaningfully while keeping sacred what should be kept sacred.”

The lines are blurry, but Mac’s and Cohen’s estate shown it can be done. The musical legacy’s of Peep, Tupac and Michael Jackson have undoubtedly been exploited. The stench of corporate interests will forever linger around the content released after their death. The solution is simple; Respect the art or leave it untouched.