Posthumous releases have been a central topic in art ethics, most notably after a consistent wave of deaths plagued the hip–hop industry back in 2018. The discussion has covered many artists, from Juice WRLD and Lil Peep to Amy Winehouse and Tupac Shakur. One of the largest figures in the debate has been Mac Miller, who passed away in Sep. 2018, shortly after the release of his fifth studio album Swimming.
Last year, Miller’s estate dropped Circles, a companion album to 2018's Swimming and a project that was mostly finished at the time of his death. Last Friday, the estate re–released Miller’s 2014 mixtape Faces to streaming services. In both cases, his posthumous output stands out among other releases in that vein. Miller's estate continued his legacy not through a haphazard release of unearthed or unfinished material, but through releasing content that was clearly intended for the public.
A counterexample of this approach is Pop Smoke's album Faith, released in July of this year. Arguably, the project can be read as a cobbling of unpublished material, since the album included a plethora of collaborations to make up for the lack of Smoke himself. Some of the artistic decisions seem like an odd fit for Smoke’s aesthetic, such as the bubbly Pharrell production on “Spoiled” or the slow and guitar–led “8–Ball”; some seem completely off base (check “Demeanor,” a dance–pop track with Dua Lipa). Those choices made more sense when a friend of Pop Smoke alleged in August that the creation of Faith emptied Smoke’s vault. There was no more music to release, every piece of his career laid bare.
One project yielded no creative control to the artist, while the other was helmed by the artist up until their death. Between these projects' releases, Anderson .Paak delivered a clear message about his stance on music after death when he revealed a tattoo that read: “When I’m gone please don’t release any posthumous albums or songs with my name attached. Those were just demos and never intended to be heard by the public.” Those “demos” could always be touched up by outside sources before being brought to the public, but did .Paak consent to that? And, at that point, whose music is it?
In an industry where artists have been repeatedly used by executives as commodities, the respect of an artist’s wishes seems less and less important when postmortem music is released. Many posthumous albums have a sense of crudeness and disorder, making them feel more like cash grabs than respectful additions to a discography and a legacy. However, Miller’s estate has done a good job of tastefully dropping projects after his passing. Both releases after 2018 are cohesive and refined. While Faces isn’t a posthumous project in the realest sense, its re–release still voices respect for the wishes of its artist.
The re–release of Faces doesn’t just come as a gift to longtime fans—it also recontextualizes one of Miller’s darkest and most vulnerable projects. Someone who hasn’t yet heard the mixtape might be surprised at how many times he references or talks about his own death. The album’s opening track “Inside Outside” even opens with him saying, “I should’ve died already.” It’s a dreary, beautiful, and extensive listen—clocking in at around 90 minutes—with a surprising emotional prescience.
Of course, the posthumous debate will continue. Amy Winehouse’s father recently spoke of new music, sources around Juice WRLD’s music have mentioned a trilogy of albums set to begin their release later this year, and SOPHIE’s brother has mentioned reaching into SOPHIE's vault to deliver tracks to fans. As the postmortem music machine rolls on, there should be clarity brought to artists’ wishes and intentions. Mac Miller’s releases seem like the right way to go.