Posthumous albums are tricky projects to navigate, as both a consumer and producer. The departed musical artists leave blueprints to construct new work from scraps of the old, often found in their previous releases, their relationships with people around them, and their hopes and wishes for a future that they won’t see.
In rap, a genre disproportionately affected by deaths of artists, posthumous albums are important commodities because they allow fans to reckon with an artist (at least) one last time before they can look forward to no new music. At that point, their messages become memorialized and we can only marvel at the potential found in their last projects.
This year, we’ve seen a glut of posthumous releases, from XXXTentacion to Mac Miller to Pop Smoke to Juice WRLD (who’s had the biggest selling release from any rapper so far.) We have compiled the best posthumous rap albums of all time and made a list based on the power and impact of the respective release. Check it out below.
Left Eye’s 2001 debut solo album, Supernova, was something of a misfire. It sold poorly overseas, so much so that it wasn’t even released in the United States. She had begun to work on new material and was set on remixing some of the tracks for a sophomore project, N.I.N.A., that was canceled because of her death. But Eye Legacy is the fully realized version of these songs, being the only posthumous project released from her. It features unreleased songs and remixed Supernova tracks with new artists. All of the snark and masterful post-TLC energy that she exuded was captured on this collection.
Chinx had that classic New York sound. Affiliated with French Montana’s Coke Boys crew, Chinx proved, throughout the duration of both the Cocaine Riot and Hurry Up And Die mixtapes series, that classic styles can still work. Flipping that on its head, Welcome to JFK was a glimpse of the future and what could have been achieved if he’d been given the time. He explored different realms of rap with ease, also showcasing the gruffness that made him a winner.
With tumbling flows and spitting lip violence, In Bank We Trust, Bankroll Fresh’s only official album, is zeroed in and to the point, largely devoid of features and a gritty showcasing of what makes Fresh, Fresh. It’s truly in Bank that we Trust.
Lil Peep’s Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 2 album came out a year after he died of an accidental drug overdose. In that gap of time, his legacy had grown immensely. His songs about sadness, alienation, and the loneliness that comes with depression, became anthems for people across the world who could identify with his maudlin music. By the time that Come over When You’re Sober, Pt. 2 dropped, his place in rap’s new pantheon of emo rappers was cemented. And for those questioning why, the LP backed it up. Over the course of eleven tracks, Lil Peep explores the darkest of the human soul without nary a voice to support his descent (the deluxe edition has two tracks with one feature each: XXXTentacion and iLoveMakonnen). Put together by his mother, Liza Womack, producer Smokeasac, and others, it contained that unique Lil Peep blueprint that feels very genuine.
At the time of his death, Eazy-E was working on a double album, Temporary Insanity. When he passed away from complications due to AIDS, Str8 off tha Streetz of Muthphukkin Compton was formed based on various song scraps and leftover verses with the help of NWA’s DJ Yella. It lionized the aesthetic that made his albums so bold and garish, as well as elevating his feud with NWA and those that surrounded it. But at the same time, there’s an eternal feel to it: its final track, “Eternal E,” touches on topics like police brutality which is still an issue, nearly 30 years later.
Five years after his death, The Jacka’s legacy was fully reckoned with for the release of Murder Weapon. Bringing in many of his collaborators and artists of a similar ilk like Freddie Gibbs, Killah Priest, Styles P, and more, it’s a posthumous album that makes sense, showcasing the vehement cadence that makes The Jacka someone to reckon with. It may have taken a little time to get together, but Murder Weapon was definitely worth the wait.
Legends Never Die is the sendoff that feels perfect, largely because of how close to death that his subject matter often reached. His unflinching honesty on songs like “Wishing Well,” where he ponders how close his life is connected to pills, elicit chills and showcase to the extent just how large of an artist that he was becoming. Though he may not be here anymore, the emotions that he confronts on Legends Never Die will always remain relevant — especially when we look in the mirror.
Pimp C’s untimely death in 2007 was a crushing blow for UGK. Pimp was around for most of UGK 4 Life’s recording process, meaning that his larger-than-life, sneering, and braggadocious personality make it onto the LP in its most genuine form. And due to that, both Pimp C and Bun B manage to give the UGK mythos a proper send-off.
UGK 4 Life is comprised of Pimp C and Bun B’s legendary world-building, built around a feature list that features not only Snoop Dogg and E-40, but Ronald Isley and Akon amongst others. Together, they created a necessary resolution to the group’s long and storied career.
To say that Big Pun was at the peak of his success would be a lie — but he was well on his way to. Just two days before his death, he canceled a performance on Saturday Night Live with Jennifer Lopez and Fat Joe. So when Yeeeah Baby came out after his death, it was a reminder of his absurdly high ceiling. His flow had been slowed down because of his health issues, but it was still Pun in top form — delivering a charismatic blend of player-smooth rhymes and viciously violent threats. He avoided cliche collaborations, which many presumed wouldn’t be the case because of “Still Not A Player’s” crossover appeal, and kept things honest and true to the heart with appearances from Remy Ma, MOP, and precious few others.
The death of Pop Smoke still hurts. The 20-year-old rapper had so much more of the rap industry, and life, to conquer with his one-of-a-kind voice, charisma, and aesthetic. So when 50 Cent stepped in to help get this project together, fans rejoiced because Pop Smoke looked up to 50 Cent and his career, and there were many similarities. While it’s not perfect — there are a lot of guests — Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon is Pop Smoke’s enduring message based on the aesthetic that we’ve seen so far.
Optimistic, introspective, and unorthodox, Mac Miller’s Circles is the parting message of a man who understands life’s ebb and flow. The album is the unfinished half of Swimming, the diaristic, haunting LP that dropped a month before his death. And while Swimming battles with detoxifying his mental capacity, Circles is about reckoning with what’s inside his brain, realizing that it’s okay to not be okay. The album was put together by producer Jon Brion who finished up Miller’s final body of work with a loving ode to perfection.
Being one of the most technically-gifted lyricists of his time with only one album out, the underground fervor for Big L was at its peak before his death. He was in the process of signing to Roc-A-Fella shortly before his death, planning to take his career to the next level with the release of The Big Picture, an album he’s started working on in 1997. But his sudden death in a drive-by shooting left his manager Rich King to piece together the pieces of the project so that it would hopefully make sense to fans.
Not only did it make sense, it has become one of the most well-received posthumous projects in rap’s history. Big L’s flow and voice control on underground classic like “Ebonics” and “The Heist” make the anxiety-inducing moments in his expertly crafted stories hit even harder, showcasing a potential that continues to keep his name in the conversation of the best rappers ever.
In the months leading up to his death, Tupac was in a maelstrom of controversy, largely stemming from both Death Row Records and Bad Boy Records being at each other’s throats. His sudden death in a drive-by shooting closed his story on an abrupt note, but his first posthumous album, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory — which came under a new alias, Makiavelli — opened up a new chapter, one obsessed with revenge and systematic inequalities.
When he was in prison Tupac reportedly not only studied The Prince by Machiavelli, but also Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. His militant manner of bringing his beefs to The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory is strategic and plays into the album’s ongoing presence as one of Tupac’s definitive works. Decades later, Tupac’s legacy remains through one of his crucial projects.
When J Dilla died from complications related to lupus in 2006, The Shining wasn’t yet completed. While he was in the midst of receiving treatment at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, he still had a fourth of a way to go. Upon his death, frequent collaborator Karriem Riggins helped to orchestrate the remainder of the LP and bring it together. The finished product has become nothing short of legendary.
Lush, soulful, and heavy, The Shining is a water-tight collection of Dilla’s one-of-a-kind instrumentals — but it isn’t a beat tape. Busta Rhymes, Common, Pharoahe Monch, and other legends illuminate these beats with dizzyingly tight verses suited for the occasions. But, over the course of these runtimes, the voices fade into oblivion as the snares, bold horns, and kazoo orchestra make it unquestionably clear that Dilla’s a legend.
For as gargantuan as his imprint on hip-hop is, it’s hard to believe that Life After Death was just Notorious B.I.G.’s second album. He was gunned down in March of 1997 and the LP was released a little more than two weeks after his death. Under the new circumstances surrounding its release, Life After Death was both the best of Biggie’s work, and the most depressing for what it suggested: that he was the star that many thought he could be if given more time.
Revenge, sneaky sex, and a ridiculously violent side stories, Life After Death has it all across its 24 tracks. Today, that would be considered unnecessary bloat to materialize extra streams but for Biggie, at the time, it was necessary to pack the climax and conclusion into the new LP. He was a mafioso kingpin and girlfriend-slayer, unafraid of death as he constructed a universe that revolved around him. It’s often debated whether hip-hop climaxed around his run in the 1990s, and, listening to Life After Death, you can understand this reasoning.
Trey Alston is a Virginia-based writer for Pitchfork, Complex, and MTV News.
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