The genre of hip-hop music has a serious problem: artists are dying too young. In the last year, fans have had to say painful goodbyes to beloved artists, such as XXXTentacion, Lil Peep, Mac Miller and countless other, lesser known rappers. On Sept. 27, Peep’s record company released the song “Falling Down” featuring XXXTentacion and the song has racked up an astounding 160 million plays on Spotify. Peep’s label released a full length album of his work on Nov. 9 and XXXTentacion’s label recently announced a forthcoming album to be released on December 7, releasing the lead single “BAD!” on Nov 9. Hip-hop fans will be delighted to hear their favorite artists’ voices again, but this also brought up the question: Is it morally correct for record companies to make profits off of their artists’ posthumous, pre-recorded songs?
The controversy surrounding posthumous music releases affects a wider audience than just hip-hop. However famous artists like Amy Winehouse and Prince have all had albums released by their record companies after their deaths. Prince is the most recent victim of this cash-grabbing epidemic, with several unreleased recordings being made public in Sept. 2018. The albums “4ever” and “Anthology 1995-2010” were both released after the legendary singer-songwriter’s death in April 2016 and immediately faced backlash from critics. While they were advertised as collections meant as a tribute to the late artist, they consisted mostly of either some of his greatest hits that were slightly remastered, or the incoherent scraps of studio recordings from decades ago. Nevertheless, three different record labels were able to make profit from these releases.
It is often said that today’s rap industry is a producer driven game. The actual artists credited with the music are just the cover stars of their songs and in reality, have very little to do with the final product of their songs. This creates a situation in which all the producer’s need to make a song is some of the artist’s vocals and their own talents to make a catchy beat. Since the artist’s death was made so viral, everyone is going to listen to the song, whether they were a fan during his life or not. This enables the producer to make millions in profits. In a cynically ironic way, an artist’s death has become the ultimate publicity stunt. The sad truth is that an artist’s fanbase is almost guaranteed to expand after his or her death, so while it may mark the end of the artist’s life, the record labels can still exploit this new found popularity and transform it into big bucks.
Fans of these hip-hop artists have differing opinions on whether or not music should be released posthumously. Senior Cole Woods shared his view on the subject.
“I think it is alright if people release dead artists’ music. The artists were working on the music so that their fans could listen to it, and the fans want it. If the people who release the music were working on it with the artist, then it is not a problem if they are making money off it,” Woods said.
Senior Sophia Cummings wants a different approach to how an artist’s posthumous releases are treated.
“I think record labels should be able to release music from artists that have passed, but they should not make money off of it. The music should be more for the fans and not just about making profit. If an artist recorded music to be produced anyways, I do not think there is a problem with releasing it because it is probably what they would have wanted. It is also just nice for fans to have extra mementos to remember their favorite artists by,” Cummings said.
Whatever your opinion is, it is likely that posthumous music will continue to be released until the record labels have squeezed every cent out of the musicians they signed. Whether or not the music should be released is an issue of morality more so than law. Most contracts have it written in the fine print that they reserve the right to release music after the artist’s death. And seeing as most fans are eager to hear more music, there is little reason not to. In these sensitive and difficult moral questions, the easiest option is to just follow the money.