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The Evolution Of The Posthumous Rap Album

Backseat Freestyle
The Evolution Of The Posthumous Rap Album
By Jayson Rodriguez • Issue #25 • View online
Welcome to Backseat Freestyle. This is my weekly hip-hop newsletter I send out every Friday focusing on one big thing that happened over the past seven days. I also include links to what I’ve been listening to, reading and watching. If you’re a subscriber, thank you for your continued support. If you’re arriving to this issue by way of forward, LinkedIn or social media, please subscribe below. With that said, let’s get into it….
(Editor’s Note: The newsletter has become inconsistent lately as I’ve been onboarding to a new project I’m working on. Next week I’ll resume a weekly tempo; that’s a better experience for all of us. Also, unrelated but deserves a shout: we have our first BF sponsor…)
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Pop Smoke // Credit: "Got It On Me" (Vevo)
Pop Smoke // Credit: "Got It On Me" (Vevo)
Front Seat
This is what’s driving hip-hop this week….
Pop Smoke’s second posthumous album arrived today in a bit of a surprise. Assembled from unfinished songs and propped up by guest appearance, these types of projects usually are more mixed bag than anything. But when I listened to Faith, it was a rewarding experience. He felt more centered, where last year’s Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon was encumbered by a duty to honor Pop’s potential. It can never be easy to put together something like these projects. The second time around, however, did something much different than the first. Which got me thinking about the (too) many posthumous albums that exist in hip-hop. And the changing nature of just what they provide.
Back Seat
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. 
Music, reads, podcasts and videos (music and more) I’m checking for. [From the past two weeks…]
This Pop Smoke Faith album feels like it would have come out before Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon if this world was more just; it’s more referencial to his crew and background where his proper debut was the primed to launch his legend. Both are good listens, but I’m enjoying this new one a lot (Rick Ross, Pusha/Pharell and most of the guests brought the goods). [Listen]
Trippie Redd and Lil Uzi Vert are making movie end credits music with “Holy Smokes.” [Listen
Maybe not a song of the summer contender but it’s definitely summer theme music: Bia x Nicki Minaj “Whole Lotta Money.” [Listen]
Same for Rico Nasty’s “Magic” record. [Listen]
The cover art for Tainy x Yandel’s Dynasty album (out now) just might inspire my next newsletter issue. [Listen]
My brother Stalley got another collection of ride out music, check out his latest Gone Baby, Gone. “Dreamy Eyes,” the title track and “Smoke Break” are early favs. [Listen]
This type of Bad Bunny record, in “De Museo,” is what I wish Drake collab’d with him on instead of a blatant attempt like “MIA “ but they had to do what they had to do instead. [Listen]
I put something together on Tyler, The Creator’s album that I didn’t finish in the shape I wanted to for a newsletter but if things work out like I think they will it’ll be the rap album of the year. Then I’ll publish what I had in mind. Call Me If You Get Lost is a great showcase for Tyler and he has a particular knack for how he put this project that doesn’t get acknowledged enough. But his weaponizing Gangsta Grillz for a different agenda was brilliant. [Listen]
Very cool approach to a story by GQ: MGK sits with a high school classmate who reviewed one of his first mixtapes, the noted journalist Wesley Lowery. [Read]
Dame Vs. Jay part 2 (part 3?) feels like it’s gonna get uglier sooner rather than later. [Read] Related: Backseat Freestyle: You Down With NFT? [Read]
This Saweetie profile is excellent because it puts the lens on her being both successful and unfinished while also humanizing her without dimming her light. [Read]
Lil Nas X has an introspection about himself in real-time that is unmatched; check him out in this Sunday Times mag deep dive. [Read]
Mac Phipps paroled. [Read] Related: NPR’s Louder Than A Riot podcast has been all over Mac’s case. [Read/Listen]
I’m high on Alamo Records and surprised UMG parted ways; Sony’s new acquisition (via a stake) is a fortunate gain. [Read]
Speaking of acquisition, Buzzfeed scooped up Complex. [Read]
Also Complex, they teamed up with Spotify Originals for a limited podcast series on Pop Smoke. (Disclosure: I’m going to be executive producing a pod for Spotify’s in-house studio unrelated to this project but we both gang green so thought you should know.) [Listen]
Most fun music video of the month (year? @ me and tell me), Bas’ “The Jackie” featuring J.Cole and Lil Tjay. Related: My man Anik Khan makes a cameo in Bas’ visual and he also has his own clip that premiered today, “Man Down.” He has an impressive project on the way. [Watch] [Watch]
I’ve long appreciated how purposeful IDK is about his work. This long-play visualizer for his album, USEE4YOURSELF, is a good reminder of that trait. [Watch]
The lineup Daddy Yankee put together for Súbele el Volumen” is crazy. It’s like Jay-Z putting out a record with Kendrick Lamar and Ty Dolla $ign as the features and produced by the Neptunes. Myke Towers and Jhey Cortez join El Jefe for a high-octane video that could double as the next Fast & Furious movie. [Watch]
21 Savage and Metro Boomin’s “Brad New Draco” music vid features 360 Reality Audio if you watch with headphones. Try it. @ me if you enjoy. [Watch]
Lot of chatter about this Pooh Shiesty, Rubi Rose, Flo Milli and 42 Dugg XXL Freshman cipher is about what Coi Leray did (or didn’t do) in hers, but Rubi Rose held it down (so did Lekeyah in hers) and Flo Milli went ham with her super Flo flow. [Watch]
“Vax That Thang Up” is a damn anthem I don’t care what anyone has to say. [Watch]
Backseat Freestyle is written and produced by Jayson Rodriguez for Smarty Art LLC. If you have any comments, questions or want to discuss sponsoring a newsletter issue, feel free to email me: And follow me elsewhere:
Twitter: @jaysonrodriguez
Instagram: @jaysonrodriguez
YouTube: jaysonrodriguez
YouTube: smartyartllc
Podcast: coming soon
Tips/coffee/beer via Venmo: @jaysonrodriguez
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Jayson Rodriguez

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