The Most Shameless Post-Death Exploitations Of Musicians

By Jake Paine

Music fans know the old adage: “death sells.” Sadly, just as in film, literature, and the visual arts, when musicians leave us, their albums and merchandise tend to leave the stores, selling faster than ever before. With children, record labels, band-mates, spouses and downright strangers as culprits, here are some especially unique, rather shameless exploitations of rockers like Kurt Cobain, rappers like Biggie and Tupac, divas like Whitney Houston, and more.

Sublime: When surviving band-mates go about it ‘the wrong way’

Tragically, Bradley Nowell never witnessed Sublime’s 1997 mainstream breakthrough. The Long Beach band’s self-titled debut was released nearly seven months after the front man’s heroine overdose. In the days that followed, management claimed that remaining members Eric Wilson and Bud Gaugh would not perform under the Sublime name. They didn’t. Instead, they formed “Sublime With Rome” when Rome Ramirez took on vocals and guitar in 2009. A Top 10 debut followed two years later. Shortly after, Gaugh exited the band, apologizing to legions of angered and hurt fans, and admitted, “In hindsight, I would not have used the name.”


Ol’ Dirty Bastard: Sometimes the apple falls a bit conveniently close to the tree

The outspoken co-founder of the Wu-Tang Clan was a true original. When Ol’ Dirty Bastard, a/k/a Russell Jones died from a drug overdose 10 years ago this month, the Clan and millions of fans felt the absence. O.D.B.’s twenty-something son, donning the name Young Dirty Bastard, has been dressed, styled, and vocally manipulated into the part of his late father. With promised reality TV shows in tow, Y.D.B. carries litany of gripes against the handling of his father’s image, estate, and memorial.


Gar Samuelson: Mini promotions in Megadeth

In the realm of thrash-metal drumming, Gar Samuelson is revered as one of the greatest. The New Yorker with Jazz training was a core addition to L.A. Metal mainstays Megadeth in the early 1980s. Gar’s drumming on 1985’s Killing Is My Business…And Business Is Good and 1986’s Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? helped drive Dave Mustaine’s band to their first platinum plaque. However, Samuelson was fired from the band in early 1987 for alleged substance abuse. Quickly after Gar’s 1999 death from liver failure, the now massively popular metal band modified, remixed and remastered their breakthrough, and threw a simple dedication to their bygone drummer, just in time for cross-promoting a DVD/live album.

Eazy-E of N.W.A: Honoring your father and finding work at the same time

Following the 2Pac holograms at 2012’s Coachella, other deceased rappers’ management and family members wanted in on the technological opportunity. For 2013’s Rock The Bells’ Bone Thugs-N-Harmony set, the final hit-making discoveries of Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, reportedly needed Eazy. To match their 1996 video hit “Crossroads,” which included Wright’s posthumous image, Bone teamed with their former label, and Wright’s estate to use three of his children, two of whom are Rap hopefuls, Lil Eazy E and E3 to make up their father’s build, voice, and face. All of these items were turned into a virtual visual display that allowed Eazy E to share the stage with Bone Thugs, and the N.W.A icon’s family and idle label to be accounts payable, 17 years after the star died from complications due to AIDS.


Michael Jackson: Wanna be clickin’ something? Not this time

In death, Michael Jackson was still the King of Pop. Holograms, This Is It rehearsal theatrical releases, albums, merchandisers and of course, Epic and Columbia Records have profited from since MJ’s 2009 death. However, cyber-criminals took aim on the June 25 affair with a Malware rampage across the globe. How did these reportedly Philippines-based hackers obtain all this cyber security breaches? They generated a pop-up hours after Jackson’s tragic death from drug overdose. While Google and TMZ went down from traffic surges, these heartless thieves were some smooth criminals.


J Dilla of Slum Village: The talented Mr. Hamilton…goes wrong

The Slum Village co-founder known as J Dilla is often championed by the likes of Kanye West, Nas, and Common. Not a Grammy award winner or platinum artist, the Detroit native Dilla has nearly become a household name for his thumping rhythms, pulsating instrumental tracks, and role as a quiet conduit, in graces with Daft Punk and A Tribe Called Quest alike. Several years after James Yancey’s 2006 death from a blood disease, an emerging rapper who never met Dilla, Charles Hamilton told the press that his Interscope Records-backed, The Perfect Life would give the musician (whose tracks he was regularly giving away for free) an executive producer credit. Friends and fans of Dilla took umbrage against the early twenties MC. The result: The Perfect Life never released, and soon after, Hamilton lost popularity and his deal.

Kurt Cobain: Smells like mean-spirit

Nirvana’s indelible charm had a great deal to do with their Everyman approach to songwriting and their public image. In the midst of the Seattle band’s rise to uber-stardom, vocalist and leader Kurt Cobain took his life in April of 1994. Cobain’s widow, and Hole front woman Courtney Love became forever attached to Kurt’s band mates Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic. With 75 million albums sold, Nirvana went from unassuming grunge band to a conglomerate, seemingly (and tragically) overnight. Upon the formation of Nirvana, LLC—a notion that in principle is upsetting to a Nevermind die-hard, Love became entrenched in a battle with her late husband’s band mates when she reportedly alleged that they deserved smaller shares in royalties, due to their limited roles in the band, and outright abilities. The remaining members countered, asking Cobain’s estate for a new advisor to the fledgling company. Settling out of court in 2002, Dave Grohl’s more than 10 million albums sold with Foo Fighters show Courtney, while merchandising, licensing, and music sales continue to drive revenue for Nirvana, LLC.

2Pac: Making some ‘changes’ to history for the sake of politics

Towards the end of his life, an incensed, highly confrontational Tupac Shakur was fiercely outspoken against Jay Z, Nas, and even his onetime collaborator, Dr. Dre. Years later, while Dre has performed “California Love” with a toned down, quite amicable ‘Pac hologram at Coachella, Nas recorded to unreleased 2Pac vocals in the form of 2002’s Top 20 hit “Thugz Mansion.” Mixed into multiple versions, the collabo between the two foes (Nas alleges an olive branch extended in Central Park just days before 2Pac’s 1996 murder) appeared on platinum albums by each artist. As this went down, ‘Pac’s friend and onetime boss, Suge Knight, released a years-late video for 1996’s “All About U,” deliberately replacing Snoop Dogg with a soundalike new Death Row Records artist, Top Dogg. To boot, Knight has long alleged that he has unreleased material that 2Pac recorded against Snoop.


Whitney Houston: When my love is not your love, and you write a book telling the world about it

In the wake of Whitney Houston’s shocking 2012 overdose, television and radio were flooded with tributes to the soaring vocals and far-reaching talents. In less than a year after the heartbreaking news, Houston’s mother Cissy—also a Grammy Award-winning vocalist— penned a memoir, Remembering Whitney: My Story Of Love, Loss and The Night The Music Stopped. In the book and in media surrounding the publishing, Cissy bemoaned her daughter’s marriage with ex-son-in-law Bobby Brown. In the days that followed Houston’s death, the New Edition star, who was reportedly the beneficiary of Houston’s assets, exclaimed his mourning for his ex-wife on stage, leaving in the middle of performing, and subsequently canceling the tour. At Houston’s funeral, Brown left before the service began. Whitney Houston’s death has prompted a family tug-of-war.

Elliott Smith: ‘Say yes’ to every posthumous offer on the table

Thanks in large part to his musical inclusion in the film Good Will Hunting, Nebraska native Elliott Smith became a poster-child for indie rock in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Smith’s sparse, evocative, and heartfelt music thrived in film, bringing much-deserved attention to his five studio albums and extensive studio work. Elliott’s music is remembered for its powerful inclusions in The Royal Tenenbaums, American Beauty, and the Academy Award-nominated spot in Good Will Hunting. Following Smith’s jarring 2003 suicide, his estate hastily licensed personal, pained works to the likes of Gossip Girl, Heroes, and American Pie Presents: The Book of Love.


Jim Morrison: People are strange, when they’re trying to sell the concept of iconic cool

The Doors’ Jim Morrison was a complicated artist, who often sacrificed potential sales and popularity for the sake of poetry and music. Following Morrison’s 1971 overdose, the singer/poet’s popularity skyrocketed. On the heels of Oliver Stone’s Doors biopic starring Val Kilmer, a very different sort of rocker, Bon Jovi, made an artistic decision to attach their video to 1993’s “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” to Morrison’s French gravesite. Not only perceived as a possible disrespectful move to the ‘60s rock legend, the tie-in occurred amidst declining Bon Jovi interest, and a Doors renaissance.


The Notorious B.I.G.: When “hell hath no fury” meets “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”

In the days following The Notorious B.I.G.’s 1997 murder, the Brooklyn rapper’s wife Faith Evans joined his close friend and boss Puff Daddy on the Grammy Award-winning, triple platinum single, “I’ll Be Missing You.” The very next single from Puff Daddy & The Family, “All About The Benjamins,” featured Big’s longtime girlfriend and mistress, Lil’ Kim. With a host of opportunities and increased fame following her lover’s death, the fellow Junior M.A.F.I.A member took things a tad too far in 2000’s The Notorious K.I.M. album. Although the effort garnered platinum status, critics attacked Kim for shoving the narrative into her catalog to boost sales, validation, and interest in the rap kitten.

Nat King Cole: Sometimes it really pays to pretend

With a strong solo career dating back to the mid-1970s, Natalie Cole’s popularity started to wane a decade later. After ending her longtime tenure with Capitol Records, the gold plaques stopped coming and dwindling chart positions got to the singer. For 1991’s Unforgettable…With Love, Natalie Cole attached herself to some of the biggest hits of late father, Nat King Cole. The resulting sessions gave Natalie her best-selling album of her career, and put Nat King Cole on Pop/Top 40 radio for the first time in almost four decades. Technology afforded many father-daughter collaborations to come, as Natalie attached herself to the iconic catalog of a music immortal.


The Blues Brothers: The Blues Brothers’ brother who best plays ‘Minnie The Moocher’

Years before the 1980 John Landis film, John “Jake Blues” Belushi and Dan “Elwood Blues” Aykroyd’s love of electric blues birthed The Blues Brothers. The duo performed regularly, and recorded a #1 album for Atlantic Records, with a host of famed musicians, ranging from Paul Schaffer (Late Night With David Letterman) to members of Booker T & The M.G’s. Following a blockbuster film, upon Belushi’s 1982 overdose, the band did not stop.  Just as he stepped into the Saturday Night Live cast, John’s younger brother James put on the Ray-Bans and stepped in as “Zee Blues” to begin touring with Aykroyd and the band in 2003.

[Photo: Getty Images]