Why do posthumous pop star albums receive so much attention? Rock and R. and B. are rooted in the blues, and a significant number of the most acclaimed early blues singers led dangerous lives?and the outlaw allure of their lifestyles increased the appeal and popularity of their music. Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Bessie Smith are just a few blues performers who met with tragic, premature ends. In the early 70s, the early deaths of Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison (all died at the age of 27) gave rock fans three more musical martyrs. Today, when a rock or rap star meets with life-ending tragedy, it's almost a legitimizing event#151;it confirms that their lifestyles were as perilous and as on-the-edge as the performers that founded the music.
The mainstreaming of DJ culture has also given record companies a new way to profit off of old songs#151;by remixing them. Elvis Presley, who died in 1977, recently scored a worldwide hit with a remix of his song "A Little Less Conversation," which first surfaced in his 1968 movie "Live a Little, Love a Little"; Bob Marley, the reggae superstar who died in 1981, received significant video airplay in 1999 for a duet with Lauryn Hill that was stitched together long after his death.
A few of the recent posthumous releases and remixes have been excellent (notably the Marley/Hill duet) and Aaliyah's album could be something that is a great solace to her fans. But can a fallen artist's legacy be sullied by the release of substandard fare? In 1928, just a year before his death, Blind Lemon Jefferson put out a song entitled "See That My Grave is Kept Clean." It's a wish that the music industry would do well to heed.