From Prince to Joy Division: 10 of the best posthumous albums

The best records from those lost too soon, including a heavyweight hip-hop opus, a collection of intriguing demos and a haunted swansong

Prince (2019)

This week’s Welcome 2 America is the third posthumous Prince album to emerge since his death in 2016. Perhaps the most intriguing, however, is Originals, a collection of Prince’s original demos of songs later made famous by other artists (Manic Monday, Love… Thy Will Be Done, Nothing Compares 2 U). A tantalising glimpse into a restless genius’s artistic process.

Janis Joplin (1971)

Recorded quickly a month before her death and released three months after, Joplin’s second solo album captures both her startling vocal prowess and electric live energy. Her cover of Cry Baby nearly implodes under the weight of her passion, while Me and Bobby McGee slowly blooms from country hoedown to blown-out blues-rock throat-shredder.

Aaliyah in 2001.
Aaliyah in 2001. Photograph: Jim Cooper/AP

I Care 4 U
Aaliyah (2002)

The mismanagement of the late R&B superstar’s legacy – you won’t find her songs on streaming platforms, for example – has been the cause of much frustration for fans, so this grab bag of hits and previously unreleased songs has gained extra value. It’s worth it alone for the Timbaland-produced banger, Don’t Know What to Tell Ya.

Dreaming of You
Selena (1995)

The Texas-born Latin superstar had started to record an English-language crossover album – a process cut short when she was murdered in 1995, aged just 23. Dreaming of You features songs from those nascent sessions, including the Madonna-esque title track and the David Byrne-assisted God’s Child (Baila Conmigo).

Mac Miller (2020)

Started as a companion piece to 2018’s revelatory album Swimming, Circles was completed after Miller’s death in 2018 by producer Jon Brion. While both albums talk starkly about the rapper’s depression, it’s the hints at hard-fought optimism that give Circles an extra jolt of tragedy.

J Dilla.
J Dilla. Photograph: Mass Appeal

The Shining
J Dilla (2006)

Detroit producer and rapper J Dilla started The Shining from his hospital bed using just a digital sampler and a small record player. Following his death from a cardiac arrest in 2006, the album was completed by collaborator Karriem Riggins, gliding from soft neo-soul to hollowed-out rattle.

TLC (2002)

After rapper Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez’s death in April 2002, her bandmates continued working on their fourth album, using a mixture of new Lopez verses and a cappellas from sessions for her solo albums. Despite its patchwork nature, its multiple highlights – from Girl Talk’s soulful swagger to the twitchy R&B of Dirty Dirty – are augmented by the likes of Timbaland and the Neptunes.

Ian Curtis.
Ian Curtis. Photograph: Steve Richards/Rex/Shutterstock

Joy Division (1980)

“This is the way, step inside,” intones Ian Curtis on Closer’s opener, Atrocity Exhibition, its post-punk skeleton adorned with primitive percussion and sinister art rock flourishes. It sets the scene for an album that oozes claustrophobia, Curtis’s sepulchral lyricism augmented by Martin Hannett’s haunted production. Its release came just two months after Curtis’s suicide.

From a Basement on the Hill
Elliott Smith (2004)

By 2000, Elliott Smith’s jet-black lo-fi had been given a polish. It couldn’t mask his inner turmoil, however, with the stop-start sessions for its follow-up haunted by drug-related paranoia. Completed after his death in 2003, songs such as Pretty (Ugly Before) and Twilight showcase Smith’s ability to transform pain into something approaching beauty.

Life After Death
The Notorious BIG (1997)

Biggie’s second and final studio album was released 16 days after his murder. A heavyweight double album, it zig-zags between detailed, bloody noir (Somebody’s Gotta Die), feud anthems (Kick in the Door) and, in the shape of Hypnotize and Mo Money Mo Problems, enduring commercial highs.


Michael Cragg

The GuardianTramp

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