Big L to 2Pac: 10 Memorable Posthumous Rap Albums

By Chris Yuscavage

Rappers don’t die.

Well, let us clarify that. Thanks to their discographies, rappers live on through their music long after they pass away and leave the earth. If you don’t believe us, try walking through Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, N.Y. on a Saturday afternoon without hearing a single Biggie song or cruising through Los Angeles on a Sunday afternoon without hearing a neighboring car playing 2Pac. It’s damn-near impossible.

But what’s even more astounding is, even in the afterlife, there are plenty of rappers who have released albums featuring brand-new music. Unlike other genres of music, rappers tend to record dozens—sometimes even hundreds—of songs when they’re recording an album, meaning there are plenty of extra joints left on the cutting room floor when they’re finished. And when a rapper passes away, many of those songs reemerge to help continue that rapper’s legacy.

The latest example is Big L. More than a decade after his death in 1999, L’s family recently announced that they’re planning on releasing his second posthumous album, The Return of the Devil’s Son, at the end of next month. The first single, “Zone of Danger,” even leaked out to the Internets last week. So RapFix took a look back at 10 of the most memorable posthumous rap albums of all-time. Some were good, others not so much, but they all helped rap fans remember their fallen heroes.

The Artist: Notorious B.I.G.
The Album: 1999′s Born Again
The Result: Before the guest-heavy Duets: The Final Chapter dropped in 2005, there was Born Again—the last collection of new, full B.I.G. songs (the aptly-titled Duets featured new verses but few completed Biggie tracks). Not surprisingly, it was nowhere near as strong as B.I.G.’s first two solo albums but it did give birth to the vicious “Dead Wrong,” featuring Eminem, and breathed more life into B.I.G.’s legacy.

The Artist: 2Pac
The Album: 1996′s  The 7 Day Theory
The Result: Many rap fans consider ‘Pac’s 1996 double-album, All Eyez On Me, his best work ever, but The 7 Day Theory, which he recorded until the alias Makaveli was just as strong, if not stronger, than that project. It was the last official studio album he recorded, but his estate has gone on to record eight more posthumous records as well.

The Artist: J Dilla
The Album: 2006′s The Shining
The Result: Though Dilla didn’t live long enough to complete The Shining, Detroit producer Karriem Riggings completed the legendary producer’s sophomore album for him after his death. Featuring Busta Rhymes, Pharoahe Monch, Common and more, it was highly-acclaimed despite the fact that he didn’t have a hand in finishing it.

The Artist: Eazy-E
The Album: 1995′s Str8 off tha Streetz of Muthaphukkin Compton
The Result: Eazy originally intended his second full-length LP to be a double-disc, but he passed away from AIDS in early 1995 before he had to chance to finish it. Though there are still rumored to be unreleased tracks from the recording sessions for the album, it was well-received and added to Eazy’s legacy as a West Coast rap pioneer.

The Artist: Big Pun
The Album: 2000′s Yeeeah Baby
The Result: Just two months after his death in February 2000, Pun’s final studio album—which he completed before his death—was released. A second posthumous release, 2001′s Endangered Species, also gathered together most of Pun’s most memorable appearances and featured the Ashanti-laced hit single, “How We Roll.”

The Artist: Pimp C
The Album: 2010′s The Naked Soul of Sweet Jones
The Result: Big L isn’t the only deceased rapper releasing a posthumous album this year. A Pimp C posthumous album was released earlier this month as well. Featuring production from Boi-1da, Trill Entertainment’s Mouse and Jazze Pha as well as guest appearances from Drake, Chamillionaire and, of course, Pimp’s former partner-in-rhyme Bun B, it served as a well-deserved send-off for the legendary Southern rapper.

The Artist: Mac Dre
The Album: 2008′s Dre Day: July 5th 1970
The Result: One of the pioneers of hyphy music in the Bay Area, Mac Dre’s accumulated more than a dozen solo releases now. His last posthumous one, released in July 2008, is more than just a bunch of unreleased tracks, though. It features guest appearances from a handful of rappers that were influenced by Mac during his life.

The Artist: Ol’ Dirty Bastard
The Album: As-yet-unreleased A Son Unique
The Result: This is the only album on this list that hasn’t been released yet, but it’s still worth a mention. Recorded in 2003 and 2004, it was scheduled to be released by the Dame Dash Music Group and featured the single, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” featuring Macy Gray. It’s been pushed back repeatedly, but if you look hard enough, most of the songs from the album are available on the Web.

The Artist: Camu Tao
The Album: 2010′s King of Hearts
The Result: He may be the least known rapper on this list, but underground rapper Camu Tao was supremely talented both on the mic and behind the boards. Hailing from Columbus, Ohio, he was signed to indie label Definitive Jux and released a handful of solo and collaborative projects before succumbing to lung cancer in 2008. His final album, King Of Hearts, was uncompleted at the time of his death but his labelmates helped resurrect it into a presentable project.

The Artist: Big L
The Album: 2000′s The Big Picture
The Result: The Return of the Devil’s Son isn’t L’s first posthumous project. Shortly after his death in 1999, Rawkus Records reworked some of the music he was working on prior to his death and released The Big Picture, which featured guest appearances from 2Pac, Fat Joe, Kool G. Rap and Big Daddy Kane. Even after his death, L—and everyone else on this list—used a posthumous album to show that he could still get live on the mic.

What is your favorite posthumous rap album of all-time? Tweet us at @MTVRapFix or tell us in a comment below!