The B Side: Let artists’ unfinished work rest in peace
Controversial rapper XXXTentacion’s newest project, Members Only, Vol. 4, was released on Jan. 23—just in time for his 21st birthday. The project features verses from the rapper himself along with many features, yet there’s one small detail about this album that shouldn’t be overlooked—XXXTentacion died on June 18, 2018.
Member’s Only is not the musician’s first posthumous release—XXXTentacion’s label also released an album titled Skins on Dec. 7, 2018. While there are not many reviews out for his Members Only, Vol. 4 release, Skins received overwhelmingly negative reviews from critics—a contrast from his projects released when he was still alive. Drop-offs like this are why I believe record labels should stop releasing posthumous albums.
Posthumous releases are not uncommon in other areas of art. Books, music, movies, and more are often released after the artist behind them dies. Sometimes they are well-received, such as with famed poet Emily Dickinson who became well-regarded with the posthumous release of most of her poems. But in the case of musicians like XXXTentacion—who died while awaiting trial for domestic violence charges brought forward by his former girlfriend—it only serves to hurt their “artistic” legacy and to benefit the record label.
XXXTentacion’s first posthumous release, Skins, faced negative criticism from music critics because the album appeared unfinished. His first album, 17, scored a 6.5 out of 10 on the music site Pitchfork, while Skins earned only a three out of 10. Sheldon Pearce, the author of the Skins Pitchfork review, wrote that Skins is “the worst-case scenario for a posthumous release, not only devoid of meaningful ideas and moving music but making little to no case for its existence in the process.”
Along with his two posthumous albums, the late rapper also appeared as a feature on many big album releases after his death, such as Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter V and even the compilation album for Marvel’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse soundtrack. XXXTentacion is rumored to appear on multiple upcoming albums, including projects from Kanye West and Isaiah Rashad, according to XXL Magazine and Hot New Hip Hop.
With the release of unfinished material and multiple posthumous appearances, these releases do not honor the rapper’s legacy, but rather attempt to squeeze as much cash out of XXXTentacion as possible.
Don’t get me wrong, not all posthumous releases are bad. Columbia Records, the label for hip-hop artist Lil Peep, released the album Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 2 after his death in 2017, and the album was well received—Pitchfork gave Pt. 2 a rating of 7.2 out of 10, while Pt. 1 received a 7.3 out of 10.
Posthumous releases do not accurately represent the artist because of the artist not creating it themselves. The label may not have released certain parts of an album because the artist wanted to cut those parts out. World-renowned pianist and composer Frédéric Chopin wrote shortly before his death in 1849 that he wanted all of his unfinished and unpublished work to be burned because he saw the pieces as “unworthy for the public.”
The only case when a label should release posthumous albums is if the artist dies after the completion of the album but before the release date. In this case, the artist saw the album through and signed off on everything, which means it is a truly accurate representation of their art. If a record is finished and not released because the artist doesn’t want to, their record label shouldn’t just release the album after their death in an effort to make more money.
I’m no fan of XXXTentacion by any stretch, but, as a lover of music and art, it is sad to see an artist’s musical legacy tarnish because of his label releasing unfinished albums and verses without his direction. When an artist dies, let their unfinished work go with them to the grave and appreciate them for the art they did release while alive.