EDITORIAL – Jadakiss once flippantly quipped in his 2001 hit single “We Gonna Make It” that “dead rappers get better promotion” from record companies. But posthumously released albums shouldn’t always be considered cash grabs by fans and critics.
It’s difficult to please fans of the deceased because posthumous LPs obviously lack creative input from the late artist. Despite the difficult process of putting the project together, many of these albums have bloated tracklists, beats that sound flat, recycled verses from the late artists or too many guests appearances that figuratively bury the artist deeper in their grave.
But some LPs released after the artist’s death actually turn out to be solid representations of their vision. With high quality production and fitting guest verses, the posthumous release can a valuable addition to one’s discography.
One of the latest examples of a posthumous success story is Pop Smoke’s Billboard chart-topping album Shoot The Stars, Aim For The Moon, which was executive produced by 50 Cent. Pleasing fans and critics alike, the project managed to hit reach No. 1 on the chart for the second time in October following its July release.
With Pop’s album in mind, check out the list of the 12 best posthumous rap albums to be completed after an artist’s death.
UGK – UGK 4 Life
Before Pimp C passed away in December 2007, UGK had reached their apex. The Texas duo’s double album Underground Kings debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart behind their classic single “Int’l Player’s Anthem (I Choose You)” featuring Outkast. Following Pimp C’s death, Bun B and others helped orchestrate one final album, UGK 4 Life in 2009. Behind its only single, “Da Game Been Good To Me,” UGK 4 Life was thick with West Coast, South and R&B contributions including Snoop Dogg, Too $hort, Akon, Boosie Badazz, Ron Isley, Dungeon Family’s Sleepy Brown, Goodie Mob’s Big Gipp, 8Ball & MJG, and E-40. Production comes from Mannie Fresh, Mike Dean, Cory Mo, Steve Below and the late Pimp C. UGK 4 Life ended their legendary run as one of the Third Coast’s greatest to ever do it.
2Pac — R U Still Down? (Remember Me)
After a legal battle with Death Row Records following Tupac Shakur’s death in 1996, his mother Afeni Shakur took the reins of her immortalized son’s legacy by putting out his sixth album R U Still Down (Remember Me?) on her imprint Amaru Entertainment (named after 2Pac’s middle name) in November 1997. Amaru was established to handle his posthumous releases since he left behind a barrage of unreleased tracks that didn’t make the cut for his albums Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., Thug Life: Volume 1 and Me Against the World. 2Pac’s second multi-platinum double album R U Still Down? (Remember Me) sold 4 million copies within a month of its release. The album’s biggest singles were “I Wonder If Heaven Got A Ghetto” and the gold-selling “Do For Love.”
J Dilla — The Shining
In the 2013 documentary “Our Vinyl Weights A Ton”, which covers the seminal indie label Stones Throw Records, Questlove of The Roots called J Dilla Hip Hop’s “Dalai Lama” and its spiritual leader. When the beatmaking magician lost his life to lupus in February 2006, Hip Hop artists and fans felt a void that could never be replaced. Dilla’s third studio album The Shining was released on BBE Records in August 2006, but the Slum Village co-founder had only completed 75 percent of it before his death. Thanks to the finishing touches of his friend Karriem Riggins, the final result was a 12-track breakthrough album with Black Thought, Common, Busta Rhymes, R&B crooner Dwele, Guilty Simpson, Madlib and Pharoahe Monch commemorating the late legend. It was a wide range of b-boy flare (“E=MC2”), neo-soul euphoria (“So Far To Go” and “Love”) and cosmic instrumentals (“Over The Breaks”) to cement his legacy.
Gang Starr — One Of The Best Yet
DJ Premier ended Gang Starr’s storied history on a positive note when he produced the acclaimed duo’s seventh LP One Of The Best Yet in 2019. Almost a decade after Gang Starr’s orator Guru passed in April 2010, Preemo dug deep in the crates and channeled Guru’s spirit to create the album. Premier applied the Jazzmatazz architect’s vocals recorded from his 7 Grand label to his own production and orchestrated an authentic Gang Starr LP. Songs like “Bad Name,” “Hit Man” and the lead single “Family and Loyalty” featuring J. Cole proved the duo still sounded great and sent them out on the right note.
Pop Smoke — Shoot The Stars, Aim For The Moon
The rapid rise and murder of Pop Smoke is arguably rap’s biggest story of 2020. Pop’s posthumous Shoot The Stars, Aim For The Moon features rap’s biggest names including Quavo, Lil Baby, DaBaby, Future, Roddy Ricch and more. Powered by the seductive mandolin-laden single “The Woo” featuring Roddy Ricch and 50 Cent. Pop’s double-tracked gravel vocal drawl and brevity in his hardcore lyrics flourish over a thunderous bass whomps and sputtering beats. It solidified Pop as New York’s most popular rap export of the new decade, but sadly he’s not around to enjoy his success.
Big L — The Big Picture
Harlem natives often vouch for Big L as the greatest off-the-dome freestyle MC and most influential storyteller from their block. The D.I.T.C. lyricist’s breakthrough single “Put It On” did that for his borough a decade before Jeezy did the same for Atlanta in 2008, leading to Big L’s stellar 1995 debut album Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous. But his career journey was cut short when he was shot to death in an unsolved murder in February 1999. Over a year later, the skilled wordsmith’s posthumous album The Big Picture was released and eventually earned a gold certification. It had a hefty production lineup of New York’s Hip Hop elite including DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Ron G and Lord Finesse with guest verses from Terror Squad duo Fat Joe and Remy Ma, Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap and more.
Juice Wrld — Legends Never Die
Emo rap was already popular when Juice Wrld emerged in 2017. But his melancholic, Sting-sampled single “Lucid Dreams” and its memorable breathy chorus skyrocketed the Chicago native to superstardom and took that subgenre to another level. His musings about pills, the darkness of street life and depression while living a party lifestyle made him a star, but his demons caught up to him when he died from a drug overdose in December 2019. Despite his relatively short run, he quickly earned legend status among his fans. His posthumous Legends Never Die LP, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in July, reached 2 billion streams in the U.S and proved he’s gone but not forgotten. The album was constructed from a reported 2,000 songs he left in his vault, producing the singles “Smile” featuring The Weeknd and the Marshmello-assisted “Come & Go.”
2Pac – Better Dayz
The large number of recorded vocals 2Pac left behind was a largesse for the worthy beatmakers and collaborators called to be on his posthumous projects. His eighth studio album and fourth posthumous release Better Dayz gave his diehard fans plenty to look forward to after his loss. Released in November 2002, the album’s biggest single was the neo-soul acoustic guitar gem “Thugz Mansion” featuring Nas and R&B heavyweight Anthony Hamilton. There was also a reunion with Shakur’s Brooklyn friends Smif-N-Wessun (listed under their former name Cocoa Brovas) and Buckshot of Boot Camp Clik on “Military Minds.” Better Dayz was a double album sporting a formidable production bill such as DJ Quik, Johnny J, Jazze Pha, Frank Nitty and E.D.I. of Pac’s group Outlawz. It also had guest verses from R&B stars Mya, Ron Isley and Tyrese.
Mac Miller – Circles
Before his death in September 2018, Mac Miller was like rap’s version of Russell Crowe’s character in the Academy Award-winning A Beautiful Mind. The late Pittsburgh rapper and producer extraordinaire was battle-tested by his personal bouts with drug addiction and a deep love lost from his romance with Ariana Grande, but it was all masked by his ability to effortlessly shell out brilliant music. On his sixth studio album Circles released in January, Jon Brion — known for his critically acclaimed production work with Fiona Apple and — brought the same emotional resonance and buoyancy to match Mac’s public persona as rap’s greatest experimentalist. Behind its singles “Good News” and “Hand Me Downs,” Circles debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart. The album encompassed a wide range of Hip Hop, funk, emo rap, soft rock, R&B, indie folk, pop and lo-fi ’80s synth keyboards to help cement his legacy.
The Jacka – Murder Weapon
The Jacka’s posthumously released album Murder Weapon has a dubious title because he was killed in February 2015. But what isn’t questionable is the 13-track opus came filled with tough-as-nails lyrics from the Bay Area artist and a list of top-notch guests. Freddie Gibbs, Style P of The LOX, Curren$y, Berner, Paul Wall and Wu-Tang affiliate Killah Priest all bring musical justice to the Mob Figaz rapper’s loyal fans and those who caught onto him long after in 2020.
Pimp C – The Naked Soul of Sweet Jones
Pimp C’s The Naked Soul of Sweet Jones reinforced why he was an important figure in Hip Hop culture. He had a Sunday morning Baptist preacher’s swag, with street credibility to the nines and verbally hit hard with slick cadences as if he had a .400 batting average in the MLB. The UGK legend’s third solo album and first posthumous release on Rap-A-Lot Records was a proverbial how-to for the next generation of rap’s superstars across the map (Check A$AP Rocky’s lyric “I’m the trillest one to do it since Pimp, nigga hands down” on his 2015 hit single “Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2”). The LP was filled with soulful, jazzy and trap-centric beats from UGK producer Cory Mo, Boi-1da, David Banner, Jazze Pha and Mike Dean to name on the production credits. Standout cuts include album opener “Down 4 Mine,” “Go 2 War” and “Midnight.”
Sean Price – Imperius Rex
Sean Price, the Boot Camp Clik star, was only four tracks into his final album Imperius Rex before his shocking death in his Brooklyn home in August 2015. Sean Price’s wife Bernadette and his Duck Down Records comrades finished the mission he started on Imperius Rex, releasing it in August 2017. There is a litany of guest spots on the album including Buckshot and Rustee Juxx plus beats from The Alchemist, Harry Fraud and Nottz. Also, standout assists from MF DOOM on “Negus,” Method Man, Raekwon, Smif-N-Wessun and Sean’s Heltah Skeltah partner Rock on “Clans & Cliks,” and the bar-storming joint “3 Lyrical P’s” featuring Styles P and the late Prodigy of Mobb Deep make Imperius Rex one of the go-to albums of Sean P’s catalog.