The Ten Most Exploitative Posthumous Rap Projects
Being a dead rap artist isn't much fun. Whether The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac, or J Dilla, death has never seemed to do much to alleviate the constant pressure on artists to muster up new recordings to satisfy the bulging posthumous rap retail market. (In the hip-hop world, possessing a heart that no longer beats is no excuse for failing to produce music.) This week sees the latest addition to the ghostly sub-genre, with the release of Definitive Jux associate Camu Tao's debut solo album. But while that project, King Of Hearts, is a fittingly respectful one, pieced together from unfinished recordings by his friend and label boss El-P, most other notable up-from-the-grave albums are less honorable in intention and execution. Here's a rundown of the ten most prominent.
The Notorious B.I.G.
For such a gigantic personality, Biggie's back catalogue is thankfully svelte--which means most posthumous pillaging has come from Jay-Z 'homaging' chunks of the big man's lyrics in his own songs and P Diddy calling every rapper he works with the 'new' Big. But despite his final album, Life After Death, technically seeing a release after he was murdered in 1997, the suits up at Atlantic Records still managed cobble together a couple of cold-hearted cash-ins. Born Again was first up in 1999, which sticks to the proven rubbish formula of fusing unreleased vocal recordings with contemporary-but-uninspiring production and guest raps from anyone they thought might score them a radio hit (Snoop Dogg, Nas, Lil' Kim, and perennial go-to-guy for dead rapper projects Eminem). Then they repeated the trick in 2005 with Duets: The Final Chapter, this time drafting fellow ghost musician alumni Tupac and Bob Marley to the proceedings. The outcome of adding Bob's vocals to BIG's verse from "Suicidal Thoughts"--complete with the declaration, "I know my mother wished she got a fuckin' abortion"--is haunting, but only in a completely tasteless way.
The deceased Detroit producer can lay claim to the ultimate revisionist rap career. During his living days, Dilla was a mildly-acclaimed underground producer well on his way to securing a cult following and having a few famous friends to invite to dinner parties (?uestlove, Common, Q-Tip). But after passing away, he began to be hailed as a genius, and has cultivated a posthumous cottage industry that draws jealous glances from even Tupac's estate. Whether shilling ridiculously-sloganned t-shirts ("J Dilla Changed My Life"), inspiring Dilla-only club nights, or hawking tape cassette versions of projects previously only available overseas (Ruff Draft), it seems there's nothing the producer can't do, even in death. His most audacious move is Donuts, which lumped together 31 short, unfinished instrumental productions. Released a few days prior to his passing, fevered fans romanticized it as a revelatory peek into Dilla's raw creative process, though at times it dips into something closer to the type of muzak you'd expect to find playing in a hip-hop wine bar.
An unwitting newcomer to the world of hip-hop could be excused for thinking Tupac is simply the genre's most prolific presently recording artist, such is the nonstop, free-flowing nature of his post-death gravy train. Aided by a period of intense writing and recording that took place after he decided to give up his previous pursuits of being accused of sodomy and going to jail, 'Pac's post-death catalogue boasts a whopping eight albums - and that's not taking in the mass of shoddy compilations, mash-ups and mixtapes bearing his name. The Rose That Grew From Concrete, which sees Q-Tip, Mos Def, and Reverend Run recording 'Pac's original poetry, is the corniest of a bad bunch, but Tupac Resurrection takes the title as the lamest, being a turgid mix of Eminem production, 'Pac acapellas, and 50 Cent getting all respectful by using the platform as an excuse to chide his one-time midget enemy Ja Rule.
A protege of Bronx icon Fat Joe, medically-obese rapper Big Pun's hyper, rapidfire flow was a marvel to behold: His tricksy verse on "Twinz (Deep Cover '98)" is lauded as a hip-hop quotable to this day. After suffering from a fatal heart attack in February of 2000, Yeeeeah Baby, his second (already completed) album was released two months later. But the greatest hits set Endangered Species is the contentious one: royalties slated to be paid to Pun's widow, Liza Rios, were allegedly withheld by Fat Joe- a move which led to Rios unceremoniously auctioning off Pun's Terror Squad medallion.