COMMENT: Record Labels Are Unethically Profiting Off The Deaths of Rappers
In the midst of an opioid crisis, coupled with ongoing violence in poorer communities that continues to prove fatal, the hip-hop community is losing more of its members than ever before. Major record labels are making no effort to hide their intentions to cash in on it, as hip-hop retains its title as the most lucrative musical genre of the moment. In the last 18 months, the hip-hop community has seen numerous major releases from artists subsequent to their passing. A popular example of this is Columbia Records’ decision to release two albums from Lil Peep since his tragic passing in November 2017 after an accidental Fentanyl overdose. ‘Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt.2’ was the first of the two releases, which was accompanied by a collaborative lead single with XXXTentacion titled ‘Falling Down’.
It is well-known that the two artists were never acquainted, and Lil Peep reportedly distanced himself from XXXTentacion and his ‘Bad Vibes Forever’ crew after allegations of domestic abuse were brought against the Florida rapper in late 2017. Whilst XXXTentacion had written and recorded his verse intentionally for this song with Lil Peep, the project only came to light in the almost-immediate wake of his death, with neither artist ever approving, or even knowing of, an official release. Close friends and collaborators of Peep were quick to speak out against Columbia’s decision to release the song at all, let alone make it the lead single for his next album, but the money train rolled on and the song was released, along with a somewhat awkward remix by Travis Barker, because there’s always money to be made. The release and rollout of ‘Falling Down’, as well as ‘Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt.2’ begs the question; would this have happened if they were both alive? Columbia Records’ decision is more than enough to make people raise eyebrows at a business which threw together two artists on a single, when neither of them truly consented to it in life, and would have likely opposed it, were they given an option.
In June 2018, XXXTentacion was shot dead in Florida at the age of 20. Immediately after, Empire Records stated their intent to release the remainder of his catalogue, and in November of the same year, his first posthumous album titled ‘Skins’ was released. Standing at 10 tracks with a combined runtime of 19 minutes, critics and fans alike were quick to believe that Empire Records had simply thrown together what were essentially minute-long instrumental and vocal loops that XXXTentacion had not yet finished and repeated them for 1-2 minutes. Nevertheless, fans were left satisfied as it was the first true glimpse into
XXXTentacion’s catalogue since he released ‘?’ in March earlier that year. However, the label saw the money they made off the posthumous release and were tempted into releasing more. ‘Skins’ was followed up by a collaborative tape with his ‘Members Only’ group named after XXXTentacion and put on his Spotify page to generate more streams. A 1-year anniversary deluxe edition of ‘?’ that included voice memos, instrumentals, and of course, lots of merchandise quickly followed. XXXTentacion’s camp later teased a documentary before unveiling a ‘museum’ in his honour, which included framed outfits of his, baby photos and, for some reason, the BMW i8 in which he was murdered.
In the face of what can only be described as well-deserved backlash, XXXTentacion’s label and estate announced the final album to ever be released under his name; ‘Bad Vibes Forever’. The final album was an unabated failure, registering as his lowest-selling project of all time, selling nearly 20% fewer units in its first week of sales than his debut album which he released over two years prior. It was also his worst-received album critically, with critics bashing his label for filling in the blanks all over the album with 21 guest features littered across 25 tracks. Even the most diehard of fans felt alienated by Empire’s avaricious tactics, and whatever legacy XXXTentacion left behind was somewhat tarnished by label executives who tried to recoup their losses on a multimillion-dollar record deal cut short by tragic circumstances.
With the recent passing of Juice WRLD (pictured below) in December 2019, eyes from across the music community are focused on Interscope Records. Fans are begging friends of the late rapper to ensure his catalogue is treated respectfully, and it is safe to say Juice WRLD deserves more than to become another artist who, even in death, has their material and image used by industry players to cut their losses. How Interscope deals with this could be a turning point for the music industry. Artists shouldn’t have to plan for their own death, but they may feel encouraged to do so, and you can see why.
Nico Murphy – Music Writer