Robbing the grave?

Consider this post more of a question than a statement.

With one of my former employers announcing this week that there is a new Michael Jackson album coming, it got me thinking – Is this exploitative of his death?

It would be easy to answer “yes.” But this isn’t such an easy question. We all jumped every time we heard about new 2Pac music. Even years after his death. But a lot of us didn’t even the same reaction to new Biggie music. And it isn’t because we were bigger Pac fans. So what is it? How come some posthumous releases seem like they are giving fans what they want, and some seem like they are robbing the artist’s grave?

Let me start with one bit of clarity. I am not talking the releases that follow almost immediately after their deaths and were clearly completed (or close to it) when they passed – such as Makaveli, Life After Death, The Big Picture, and Yeeeh Baby. I’m talking about unfinished recordings completed by people that never even met these artists, or songs unearthed many years after they died.

I pose a few possibilities. For one, with Pac, his mother Afeni has been involved with most of the “official” releases – working with Interscope and some other companies. Many fans have been cautious and critical of the releases that she wasn’t connected to, especially ones that Suge and Death Row attached their name to. And the same note, Michael’s family isn’t involved in these decisions at all – just his “estate” is. The people chosen to represent him postmortem and whose main goal is to try and settle all his debts. But what about Biggie? Despite claiming to be his best friend, many feel that Puffy has spent the years since Biggie’s death trying to capitalize on his talent.

There’s also the fans, especially die-hards, initial reactions to the music itself. We all want to hear more, but we want to believe it represents the artists we loved. Again, for some reason, we haven’t been as critical of Pac’s posthumous music, but the Biggie’s albums, specifically Duets, seemed to have been slapped together to get something on the store shelves. That is the concern with Michael. Following his death, many people and artists close to him were interviewed. And they all emphasized what a perfectionist Michael was. So, with so much time since his last album, is there a reason these songs were never released? Did Michael not feel they were ready for the public? And if he did indeed feel that way, then are they spitting on his grave by releasing these? Forget the issue of whether or not they are all legit songs, as his family is arguing. ON the 2CD version of This Is It there were a few demos included. We all heard them and were amazed at MJ’s talent when he was just demo’ing and laying down the groundwork for a track. But was he spinning in his grave knowing that these demos that never should have left the studio were now heard by millions?

But this is also where we are all hypocrites. If the songs aren’t good, we want to yell and scream and say corporations ruined their legacies, but we still want and need to hear every note. There’s a new Big L album in the works, and I can’t wait to hear it. And when Eazy-E passed, I was fiending for Str8 Off The Streets Of Muthaphukkin Compton, and was disappointed when it was reduced from a double disc to single. And now, whether it’s Pun, Big L, Pac, Biggie, Eazy-E, Dilla, Camu Tao, Eyedea, Unseen, or Michael Jackson (and many others I probably forgot), I want to hear it.

It’s a tough question, with no right answer. As fans, especially in today’s era of all access and overabundance of media, we want to hear everything we can. If Pac freestyled 4 bars in to some dude’s tape recorder 20 years ago, we want to know. But since they aren’t around to decide for themselves, someone else is weighing the pros and cons, and deciding what we get to hear. And their motives will always vary. I strongly believe Afeni wants to keep Pac’s legacy alive and make his fans happy, and that is why she has helped release so much of his music. But I honestly don’t know how I feel about what Puffy has done with Biggie’s music and what MJ’s estate is doing with his. I understand that he left a lot of debt behind, and they want to try to get rid of it. And with the business the way it is now, MJ is one artist who is guaranteed to sell. And I do support more Big L music coming out. As part of D.I.T.C., he had a close knit group of talented artists and friends that I trust to complete his material competently and in a way he would be happy with. Plus, with his passing before he really got the recognition he had coming, it is a benefit to be able to expose his music to more people and continue to grow his legacy.

So that’s my opinion, whatever it is. I’m still torn. So sound off in the comments. Tell me how you feel about it, and feel free to try and convince me of your opinion.

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