For a variety of reasons, I have long been fascinated with the posthumous careers of artists. In general, I consider myself a somewhat morbid person who has an intense interest in the influence of death on life, and this native morbidity has been encouraged by a life that has been spent wrestling with various forms of death and various results of death. Today, though, I would like to consider a somewhat narrow topic within this broader interest and look at the most notable posthumous musical careers that have ever existed. The thought came to me while I was looking at the songs which were and which were about to be locked for the 2020 YE Hot 100 list that a strikingly large number of those songs were posthumous releases. As of right now, here are the following songs that I know of to be posthumous releases that are or likely will very soon be on the top 100 hits for this year:
Bandit – Juice WRLD f/YoungBoy Never Broke Again
Godzilla – Eminem f/Juice WRLD
Suicidal – YNW Melly f/Juice WRLD
Songs about to be locked:
For The Night – Pop Smoke f/Lil Baby & DaBaby
Come & Go – Juice WRLD & Marshmello
The Woo – Pop Smoke f/50 Cent & Roddy Rich
Mood Swings – Pop Smoke f/Lil Tjay
And possibly one more that may end up making it:
Wishing Well – Juice WRLD
To have seven or eight posthumous songs on a 100 song YE chart is quite a notable achievement. It should be noted that while 2020 may end up holding the record for posthumous entries on the Year-End list, it is not as if there have not been plenty of such songs earlier. Numerous songs have hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 posthumously. Most notably, it has been done by Otis Redding (“Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay”), Janis Joplin (“Me & Bobby McGee”), Jim Croce (“Time In A Bottle”, as well as top ten hits “I’ve Got A Name” and “I’ll Have To Say I Love You In A Song”), “John Lennon (Just Like) Starting Over” (along with top ten hits “Woman,” “Watching The Wheels<' and "Nobody Told Me." Some years have had a few YE songs posthumously–John Lennon had three such hits in 1981, and 2003 featured posthumous hits by 2Pac and Aaliyah with "Miss You," "Come Over" and "Thugz Mansion." Still, it is quite notable that instead of just one song that succeeded posthumously, 2020 has offered multiple cases where an artist has had considerable YE success despite not being alive to promote their music.
It would make sense that this sort of thing would be a 2020 phenomenon. The phenomenon of isolated success posthumously for a short time is by no means a new thing at all. As noted, we have posthumous hit songs going back to the 1960's and 1970's. It does appear rare, though, that an entire album or more or unreleased material has been given a full release strategy by a music label to contribute to an artist's overall legacy despite the fact that they cannot tour live or visit radio stations or do those promotional tasks that encourage hits. Again, it is not exactly unheard of, as full-album promotional efforts with multiple hits, and even multi-album efforts, happened for such artists as diverse as Jim Croce, John Lennon, the Notorious B.I.G. 2Pac, and Aaliyah. This year, though, we have managed to see multiple posthumous albums with solid release strategies that allowed for multiple hits, and the beneficiaries of that appear to be Juice WRLD and Pop Smoke, both of whom will end up with at least three YE hits that should cement a solid legacy for both artists, even if their passing was untimely. In a year as focused on death as 2020 has been, it is not surprising that in a year where a lot of artists have been hindered from promotional efforts that no longer being alive to promote at all does not represent a significant liability. Let us hope that this does not become a trend, though.