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Music shouldn't be released by dead artists, who no longer have a say in what they're producing.

Rapper Jarad Higgens’ most recently released single called “Righteous,” may be part of a new album reported to be coming soon with the name “The Outsiders.” Higgens, more commonly known as Juice Wrld, died about six months ago on Dec. 8, and it’s unclear if he had any say in whether or not he wanted this music to be released with his name attached to it. It’ll be his voice coming through the speakers but maybe not with his consent. 

Right now, many college students can say that at least one of their favorite musicians has died an early and tragic death within the last few years. The list of these artists is long, mostly rappers and mostly because of drug abuse and addiction, just like Higgens. Whether or not this is a new trend caused by the increase of drug abuse and mental health issues, it's a real problem that many fans of current popular music have to deal with. 

When an artist dies well before the peak of their popularity and success, the record companies, producers, managers, studios and everyone who would have greatly benefited along with the artist are left empty-handed. These people are now forced to make a decision about how, if at all, to continue the career of their lost talent. 

The posthumous release of music is the act of putting out songs or albums under an artist’s name after they’ve died. In past decades, it seems to have been done on a case-by-case basis with some artists’ careers stopping right before they died and some artists having a few new projects released after their deaths. 

It’s usually done rather innocently by releasing projects that were already finished or close to it, but it’s shifted to a much darker way of doing it that involves digging through unused or discarded bits of audio to create something entirely new that mimics the artist’s official work. It’s not a new concept and neither is the abuse of it, but it’s getting much worse, especially in a time where so many massive artists are suddenly passing before the age of 30. 

In the current state of the music industry, it’s become almost mandatory to prolong the careers of the dead for as long and as possible, creating a steady flow of new music that simulates a discography in which they never died at all. This includes new albums releasing every year or so, singles dropping from time to time and even appearances and collaborations on other artist’s music. Some artists now have large fractions, even near majorities, of their musical career taking place years after they stopped breathing.

One of the most telling examples of the new abuse of this morally questionable business practice is what happened to the career of XXXTentacion. He died on June 18, 2018, at only 20 years old. Today, he has four albums released in his name, but two of them —  half of the albums released during his professional career —  were released after he died. 

It gets worse. 

The first two albums he released were “17” and “?,” which have a combined total of 29 songs, but the two albums released after his death total at 35, with “Skins” having 10 songs and “Bad Vibes Forever” having 25. That’s 29 songs released on full-length albums while alive and a sickening 35 released after his death. Depending on how you count, either half or more of the material put out by this artist was done without his input, consent or creative control. Who knows if he would’ve been happy or even OK with the music being released under his name?

The quality of this posthumously released music strongly suggests that it was never meant for public listening. Each is entitled to their own opinion of how this music sounds compared to when he was the one actually making it, but when the objective numbers on popularity and awards are compared, the difference becomes obvious. On his first two albums, the ones XXXTentacion controlled creatively, he racked up a total of one triple-platinum certification, three double platinums, seven single platinums, three golds and one silver. These are all absolutely incredible achievements that only could’ve been earned by someone truly talented. 

Then there are the other two albums released posthumously that collected a combined total of one gold certification. Not one each, but one total. That’s only a comparison of certifications, though. When we compare the sales of these albums, we see that the two albums he released while alive total at around214,000sales, while his two posthumously released albums only total at around 70,000sales

Posthumously released music might not always be a bad thing, but the way the music industry is currently abusing the increase of early deaths in musicians to make more money shouldn’t be something we’re OK with just because we want to hear more of our favorite artists after they’re gone. It’s wrong, diminishes quality and is disrespectful to their memory. If we really wanted to honor them, we’d let them and their art rest. 

Evan Holden is a freshman political science major. Contact Evan at holdened@dukes.jmu.edu.