Respect my mind or die from lead shower.
Way back in 2005, when I was an editorial assistant at Vibe
magazine, I was assigned to write an album review for what was to be Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Roc-A-Fella debut, A Son Unique
. Even before he passed, there were battles between multiple parties and ODB was being pulled in a lot of different directions. That he had passed and had an album in the works, meant a lot of things. But at the time I wrote a straight-up review
, giving the project four out of five stars and moved on. It was an impressive album and Dirty pulled from his charisma and his innate musical skill to assemble an LP that was worthy of his talents. In the years that passed, though, I sometimes wonder if A Son Unique
was widely released (it’s available on YouTube
) would it have impacted his legacy any…more? Different? At all?
We’ve been treated to posthumous releases in hip-hop before, obviously. 2Pac and interested parties made a cottage industry of it, from Death Row’s Makaveli album to his mother helming later releases like R U Still Down, not to mention countless Makaveli bootlegs. (I copped Makaveli parts 2-5, myself.) The album titling, montage videos and release of visuals recorded before his death (“I Ain’t Mad at Cha” chief among them) helped to bolster Pac’s image as a tragic hero, of sorts.
These collections rarely enable closure, so what do they do for fans exactly?
Since that time, unfortunately, there’ve been too many posthumous releases to name: Biggie, Mac Miller, Bankroll Fresh, Juice WRLD, Big Pun and Big L, etc.
The projects range from already completed works, like DMX’s recent album, Exodus, to pieced-together works like Pop Smoke’s second posthumous project, Faith, which arrived today.
These collections rarely enable closure, as Complex
’s Andre Gee wrote
just last year.
What, however, do they do for fans exactly?
There’s a desire to see (or hear, rather) an artist’s output reach a nadir to freeze them in time and project a would-be path, perhaps. Last year’s Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon by Pop Smoke showcased where the rapper was heading. Big crossover records, sizzling bangers and more polished songwriting made it easy to understand the rapper’s gifts and where he was heading if his life wasn’t tragically cut short at 20.
X, on the other hand, had an album that celebrated his achievements and provided us a second chance to root for him, particularly in the wake of his battle with drugs that intensified over the years and ultimately took him from this earth. It was the sequel to his successful Verzuz appearance. The thought was that we could see him age gracefully, less encumbered by his demons.
When I listen to Faith, it feels like Pop is more alive than ever.
There was an interesting comment from 50 Cent as he was doing press for Pop’s album last year, where he spoke about how finishing the set could help Steven Victor, who had signed the young rapper. Fif posited that it was an opportunity for Victor to remember his fallen friend and perhaps modulate his mourning to be more wistful instead of aching. They certainly gave it their all and the reception to it is reflective of their efforts.
When I listen to Faith, it feels like Pop is more alive than on his previous album. A weird assessment, I know, but a feeling I have while listening nonetheless. It’s heavy on the guest side, but with his many references to his crew and his upbringing, it feels like something we would have heard before his proper debut arrived had this world been more just. It has shades of him sharing his story. His mother opens the album and she’s doing press in support of it this time around. Maybe a less cynical take on the second LP is that it’s less a cash grab and more a vehicle for his mother’s continued mourning. Or even just a second chance to give a final impression, a task no one is truly ready for considering you can’t expect to engage in the exercise.
These types of albums are never easy to stomach, especially when you hear lines like Big Pun ad-libbing “I just lost 100 pounds I’m trying to live!
” Or listen to a deeply reflection Mac Miller on Circles
and think to yourself: this kid was just starting to pull it all together. Or even Big L finally getting the chance to be pushed by a major after ruling the underground for years.
But more important than closure, the posthumous album provides a continuing memory. At best, a chance for collaborators (and these projects are always loaded with features) to groupthink an artistic bent that was started by the main artist. At worst, an emptying of the vault by those who were in the studio before, say, an acquiring company purchases the material and attempts to finish the feat.
Whatever the case may be, what we can only hope for is a chance to guess what Chinx or Juice WRLD would have done next and these albums pull listeners closer from what their favorites did to the idea of next.
So that after a final statement, we have that in our mind everytime we hear one of Mac’s records or stumble across a Pun video on YouTube.
Keeping our ears open allows our hearts to never close.