The past five years has seen more posthumous hip-hop albums released than any music fan would like. Young rappers have been passing at an alarming rate for a plethora of different reasons–from shootings to drug overdoses–resulting in a slew of albums containing unreleased material being released. While some of these new records feel disingenuous after the demise of their artists, others are well-produced efforts giving fans one final chance to hear their heroes on wax.
With a host of posthumous albums having been released over the past 30 years, here is a look at 10 of the best.
Mac Miller – Circles
A companion piece to his previous album Swimming, this 12-track release finds the ever-introspective Mac Miller coming to terms with his issues and trying his best to move forward with his life. Sonically, Miller incorporates elements of hip-hop, lo-fi, pop, indie-folk and emo-rap. He also trades rapping for singing on most tracks, creating a chilled, washed-out vibe that suits his emotionally charged lyrics.
Pop Smoke – Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon
The death of Pop Smoke rocked the hip-hop community. The 20-year-old was seen as one of the genres brightest sparks, but his flame was tragically blown out before his career even got started. Executively produced by his idol 50 Cent, Shoot for the Stars, Aim For The Moon was a massive critical and commercial success. The deluxe version contains a whopping 34 tracks and features from the likes of Drake, DaBaby, Roddy Ricch, and Young Thug, illustrating just how respected the up and comer was.
Gang Starr – One Of The Best Yet
Arriving 10 years after the death of vocalist Guru, One Of The Best Yet is a fitting send off for one of hip-hop’s most respected outfits. DJ Premier crafted the beats and dug deep into the hundreds of unreleased audio tracks recorded by Guru to craft a cohesive Gang Starr album highlighted by fan favourites Family And Loyalty and Hit Man.
Tupac Shakur – The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory
Tupac’s first and best posthumous album is a hard-hitting slice of West Coast gangster rap. Introducing Pac’s new alias, Makaveli, The 7 Day Theory is a much darker album compared to the star-studded All Eyez On Me and features Pac taking shots at everyone from Biggie and Nas to label mate Dr. Dre and industry executive Jimmy ‘Henchman’ Rosemond. While disliked by critics when first released, retrospectively it has received the praise it deserves and stands as Pac’s final “fuck you” to his haters as he accepts death is coming for him.
Juice WRLD – Legends Never Die
There have been two posthumous Juice WRLD albums released since his death; 2020's Legends Never Die and last year's Fighting Demons. While both pay respect to his talents, it is hard to look past Legends Never Die as his true final album. Topping the charts in eight countries (showing how popular he was), the record finds Juice detailing his demons on tracks such as the Ronny J produced Conversations and the heartbreaking Wishing Well.
DMX – Exodus
Earl Simmons spent his entire life battling substance abuse and after years in the hip-hop wilderness finally looked set to make a triumphant return with his eighth album Exodus. But it was not to be, with the rapper known as DMX sadly passing from a heart attack just months before the album’s release. Packed full of guests (Alicia Keys, The Lox, Nas, Snoop Dogg and even Bono) and produced by old friend Swizz Beatz, Exodus is a dark, at times bleak look at death and loss, two things DMX was all too familiar with.
Lil Peep – Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 2
Released a year after he died of an accidental overdose, Lil Peep’s sophomore album doubles down on gloomy themes revolving around death, heartbreak and addiction. Peep almost seems to prophesise his downfall on the album, rapping about his co-dependency to drugs and mental struggles. What makes this album even more personal and sincere is the lack of features. Put together by his mother Liza Womack and long time production partner Smokeasac, this 11 track LP cements Lil Peep as one of emo-raps true pioneers.
J. Dilla – The Shining
Even before his death, J. Dilla was regarded amongst the hip-hop fraternity as one of the greats. The producer and rapper was on another level and his passing was a devastating blow. This was softened somewhat by the release of his third album The Shining. 75% complete at the time of his death, producer Karriem Riggins was put in charge of posthumously finishing the album. He achieved this and The Shining was hailed a classic and helped confirm Dilla’s legacy that still resonates today.
Big L – The Big Picture
Widely regarded as one of the best freestyle rappers in the game, Big L was cut down in his prime after being shot nine times in a drive-by shooting in Harlem. Praised for his lyrical ability, L had already begun recording The Big Picture when he was tragically murdered. Finished by his manager Rich King, L’s sophomore record contains production from the likes of DJ Premier, Lord Finesse and Pete Rock and guest verses from Fat Joe, Kool G and Big Daddy Kane. It is a worthy showcase of L’s skills.
The Notorious B.I.G – Life After Death
Along with 2Pac, The Notorious B.I.G.’s death left a gaping hole in the hip-hop world, with his final album a clear sign of the talent he possessed. Released just two weeks after he was brutally gunned down in March of 1997, Life After Death is a phenomenal album displaying Biggie’s incredible wordplay as he merges mafioso rap with executive producer Puff Daddy’s pop influenced style. A stone cold classic that still sounds as fresh today as it did when first released 25 years ago.