When young musicians die, their deaths can leave fans sad, confused, and longing not only for more music but also for closure.
The desire for closure is why we often meet posthumous albums with great anticipation. Still, few releases meet inflated expectations and give fans those final notes and words to bring them peace and comfort after the tragic loss of a favorite artist.
Unfortunately, many posthumous releases are the product of greedy record labels trying to capitalize on the spiking interest of a recently passed musician, with a half-hearted attempt to assemble a project filled with rough ideas.
2Pac’s Loyal to the Game LP, released in 2004, is produced entirely by Eminem, an artist Shakur never met. The iconic Detroit emcee and producer manipulated 2Pac’s vocals across the 13-track offering, shouting out G-Unit and Obie Trice, both of whom he selected for feature alongside 2Pac. Michael Jackson’s Michael, the singer’s first posthumous release, caused controversy when many of his family members questioned the authenticity of the vocals appearing on the record. They claim Michael isn’t the vocal artist featured on songs such as “Monster,” “Keep Your Head Up,” and “Breaking News.”
In 2017, Faith Evans released a collaboration LP, The King and I, with her late husband, The Notorious B.I.G., recycling vocals mostly from his legendary but small catalog, including an offensive re-working called “Ten Wife Commandments.”
When done right, though, a posthumous project can be a welcomed final chapter to an artist’s catalog that brings their fans closure. The most effective albums released after an artist’s death are those in which the artist’s estate or trusted collaborators put the final touches on a nearly finished body of work or compile a set of well-developed ideas from the late artist’s vault of unreleased material.
Below we’ll recap eight posthumous releases that not only gave fans more music to enjoy from an artist who died too soon but also added to their enduring legacy.
Selena — Dreaming of You (1995)
Despite being gunned down by an obsessive fan at the age of 23, Selena released four albums in her lifetime and quickly became one of the biggest Latin music stars of the ‘90s. The Texas-born singer, often referred to as the Queen of Tejano music, first built her fanbase in the Latin music markets, scoring a string of No. 1 hits in the U.S. on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs charts.
Before her death, Selena was slated to record her first album in English, which she and her label hoped would help her cross over and achieve success on the U.S. pop charts. After her passing, Selena’s family and record label released Dreaming of You, her first and final studio album, which includes the only four English-language tracks Selena recorded before her death.
Upon release, Dreaming of You hit No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, and the sales of Selena’s older albums skyrocketed in American markets, proving she didn’t need to perform in English to appeal to American audiences.
2Pac/Makaveli — The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (1996)
Thanks to a tireless work ethic, 2Pac famously had a massive vault of unreleased music available after his untimely death in September 1996. Following his murder, there have been six authorized studio LPs, not including group projects, compilations, and live albums. The best of this bunch is his first posthumous release, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory. The 7 Day Theory was recorded within a week and initially set to be an underground mixtape, released under Pac’s newly adapted pseudonym Makaveli, inspired by famous Italian war general Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli.
Following 2Pac’s death, Death Row Records opted to put out the recordings as a studio LP. The decision was likely a financial one, but it’s hard to fault the label as The 7 Day Theory features some of Shakur’s best material. In addition to the album’s overall eerie vibe and the conspiracies surrounding his death (“Suge shot me,”) it’s hard to imagine songs like “Hail Mary,” “To Live & Die in L.A.,” “Krazy,” and “Bomb First (My First Reply)” being relegated to a mixtape.
Notorious B.I.G. — Life After Death (1997)
The Notorious B.I.G.’s cinematic sophomore album, Life After Death, is a project that might surprise younger hip-hop fans because it was technically released posthumously. The double LP hit store shelves just two weeks after the rapper was gunned down during a trip to Los Angeles in 1997, at the age of 24. Life After Death was fully completed before Biggie’s death, meaning the artist had total control over the final body of work. Similar to 2Pac’s The 7 Day Theory, Life After Death is an eerie listen following Biggie’s murder, with songs like “My Downfall,” “What’s Beef,” and “You’re Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)” seemingly predicting his demise (not to mention the album title).
Life After Death is the best capstone to Big’s career because it came straight from Big, completing the morbid storyline that began on his 1994 debut Ready to Die. Unlike ‘Pac, Biggie had very few available and unreleased recordings at the time of his death. Every subsequent release after Life After Death—especially 2005’s Duets: The Final Chapter—has been an offensive cash grab.
J Dilla — The Shining (2006)
J Dilla famously completed his final album, Donuts, in his hospital bed and released the classic instrumental LP on his 32nd birthday, days before dying of complications from Lupus. The Shining, released six months after his death in 2006, was the Detroit beatmaker’s first posthumous album, and the first with vocals since 2001’s Welcome 2 Detroit, but he wasn’t able to complete it before his untimely passing.
Dilla reportedly completed eight of the album’s 12 songs at the time of his passing. His mother, Ma Dukes, enlisted fellow Detroit producer and trusted friend Kareem Riggins to finish the project, which featured collaborations with Common, Black Thought, Dwele, Pharoahe Monch, Busta Rhymes, D’Angelo, and others. The Shining is Dilla’s best posthumous album and is notable for featuring several songs with Dilla singing and rapping, including the classic “Won’t Do.”
Amy Winehouse — Lioness: Hidden Treasures (2011)
Amy Winehouse only had two albums under her belt when she died of alcohol poisoning in July 2011 at the age of 27. In the years following the release of her breakthrough 2006 LP, Back to Black, Winehouse’s struggles with alcohol became widely discussed in the media, often causing her to cancel shows. In 2011, she planned a comeback tour and an album later that year. But she withdrew from the tour after only a handful of shows, including one in Serbia where the crowd booed her offstage, which reportedly caused her to try and give up drinking. Winehouse died a month later, with only two songs recorded for her third LP—a song about her ex (“Between the Cheats”) and a collaboration with Nas called “Like Smoke.”
Winehouse was never able to finish recording the third album. Still, her estate appointed her two closest collaborators—producers Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson—to piece together unfinished songs, demos, and alternate versions for a posthumous compilation, Lioness: Hidden Treasures. “If the family had felt this album wasn’t up to the standard of Frank and Back To Black, we would never have agreed to release it,” her father, Mitch Winehouse, said in a press release announcing Lioness. “We believe it will stand as a fitting tribute to Amy’s musical legacy.” The record wasn’t on the same level of quality as the two LPs Winehouse released during her lifetime. Still, the release gave fans special moments—including an emotional cover of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You” and a raw, stripped-down rendition of “Tears Dry On Their Own.”
Lil Peep — Come Over When You’re Sober Pt. 2 (2018)
Lil Peep connected with his fanbase because he was extremely vulnerable and genuine in his music. Peep sported face tattoos and colorful hair, similar to many of his contemporaries who found success in the SoundCloud rap era of the late ‘10s, but his material about substance abuse and depression carried more weight and sadness—even before his tragic death at age 21. Peep released his debut LP, Come Over When You’re Sober Pt. 1, only months before overdosing on a tour bus in November 2017. The project showcases Peep’s evolution, with stronger vocals and sharper writing over more fleshed-out hip-hop/emo/pop-punk production from his previous work.
Come Over When You’re Sober Pt. 2 was primarily recorded at the same time as Pt. 1 and is produced mostly by Smokeasac, who handled duties on his debut. Smokeasac, who was appointed by the late rapper’s mother to finish the project, said he felt like Peep “was guiding [him] the entire way through” the album. While the posthumous album isn’t nearly as focused as Pt. 1, standout cuts, including “16 Lines,” “Runaway,” and “Life is Beautiful,” are some of Peep’s best work.
Gang Starr — One of the Best Yet (2019)
Gang Starr was already one of the most respected rapper-producer groups of all time when Guru died of complications from cancer in April 2010. By that point, hopes of a reunion with DJ Premier had already long passed, as the two hadn’t worked together since 2003’s The Ownerz and were not on speaking terms during the final years of Guru’s life. So when Premier announced One of the Best Yet in October 2019, fans had reasonably low expectations for the posthumous release. While not entirely on the same tier as the group’s six LPs, the album still gives fans a few more great Gang Starr tracks, with a handful of quality Guru verses and some of Preem’s most inspired production in years.
Premier began working on the album in 2016 after he secured 30 unreleased Guru vocals, and he succeeded in crafting a tried and true Gang Starr album by sticking to the formula that made them one of the best duos of the ‘90s. “I go in with that attitude that he’s in the room and that we’re doing it the way that we’ve always done our formula,” he told Rolling Stone. “The only difference this time is he always wrote to my tracks; this time, I had to write to his vocals. The formula never changed, and it always worked for us. So I wanted that same approach to happen with this process.”
Mac Miller — Circles (2020)
When Mac Miller died in September 2018, he was still coming into his own as a musician, learning how to use his many talents most effectively. Miller released Swimming, his best and final LP, a month before his tragic death. Swimming was a somber and thoughtful record that felt even darker after his death, and despite its brilliance, it left fans with more questions than answers. But in early 2020, his family announced a posthumous LP, recorded concurrently with Swimming, titled Circles, which he references on “So It Goes”: “My god, it go on and on. Just like a circle, I go back where I’m from.”
Swimming producer Jon Brion took on an impossible task: completing the demos Mac left behind. Circles is about as good of an album it could be, considering Miller wasn’t around to finish it. It features Miller at his most vulnerable, and while not nearly as concise as The Divine Feminine or as dynamic as Swimming, it gives fans much-needed closure after his tragic death.
The worst posthumous albums are unnecessary and add nothing to a deceased artist’s legacy. But as soon as I heard the opening lines of the album, I thought to myself, I’m so happy this album exists.