A week after dropping his third album “Welcome to O’Block” and finally receiving national recognition for his talent as a storyteller, Chicago Drill rapper King Von was shot and killed outside an Atlanta night club in the early hours of Nov. 6. Von is the only the most recent of many tragedies to damage the hip-hop community in the past few years.
The recent trend of young artists in the genre passing away began in Nov. 2017 when punk-rock trap rapper Lil Peep suffered a fatal overdose. The tragedies started to stack when controversial rising superstar XXXTentacion was shot several times for a designer bag in his home state of Florida in June 2018, and with the overdose of hip-hop’s fun younger brother Mac Miller less than three months later.
The industry mourned again when Nipsey Hussle was murdered in March 2019. His death came less than a month after losing his first Grammy nomination for best rap album, having spent the better part of a decade and a half releasing music independently without mainstream recognition. Given Hussle’s revered legacy in the game, his death shook the industry harder than any of the others and inspired several tributes including “Letter 2 Nipsey” by Meek Mill and Roddy Ricch, “Nipsey Blue” by Snoop Dogg and “The Marathon Continues” by Dave East.
The year 2020 has been extraordinarily unique in hip-hop. Given the circumstances of the pandemic that prohibit touring, the artists that have had the most success this year are unfortunately no longer with us. Following their extremely brief moments in the spotlight, the sudden passing of Juice WRLD and especially Pop Smoke propelled interest in their music to heights unseen by the others who recently passed. Since their albums were released in the first two weeks of July, followed up by the deluxe version of Smoke’s album on July 20, both Smoke’s project and WRLD’s new album remain in the top five of the Billboard 200 chart four months later. WRLD’s previous albums “Goodbye and Good Riddance” and “Death Race For Love” also saw dramatic spikes in sales following his overdose, meanwhile, Smoke received heavy criticism for his mixtape “Meet the Woo 2” sounding too similar to the original project. Smoke unfortunately didn’t live long enough to smell the flowers WRLD already got a taste of from his first two albums.
The victory laps WRLD and Smoke experienced with their posthumous albums haven’t been the case across the board. Going all the way back to The Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac, posthumous projects have had an often negative association. While some artists like Peep and Miller leave behind enough material to piece together complete ideas, in other cases, record labels are only cashing in on any remaining threads of ideas they have to work with. XXXTentacion’s legacy in particular was considerably tarnished by the release of his two posthumous albums “SKINS” and “Bad Vibes Forever,” each obviously incomplete and paling in comparison with the albums he released while he was alive.
The worst part about posthumous music is we never know when it’s going to be the last time we hear from an artist. The extended silence from Hussles’ camp regarding new music should come as a bittersweet comfort to fans who can rest easy with confidence that any music released will be both complete and compete with anything Hussle released in the past.