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The Death Clause

We’ve all heard of the 27 Club; a group whose suffering is so deeply romanticized that even their untimely deaths are somehow still associated with luxury and exclusivity. If you ask me, there is absolutely nothing glamorous about choking on your own vomit in a filthy tour bus, but I digress. 


I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the emphasis placed on the supposedly “legendary” act of dying young serves as a major distraction from the economic conditions that ultimately led to these artists’ demise. 


Enter the “Death Clause.” 


Also known as a non-performance or failure of performance clause, this legal framework was apparently first instituted during the days when the mob held the music industry in a chokehold. And although some argue that mobsters were nothing more than peripheral figures in the music biz, such debates draw attention away from the crux of the issue: even if the law sides with them, record labels build and maintain their wealth through practices stolen directly from the mafia’s playbook. 


The death clause essentially serves as an insurance policy designed to protect the bottom line should an artist die (a.k.a. cease to be profitable). Particularly notable is the fact that the payout on these policies usually exceeds the projected value of an artist’s career were they to remain living. 


With this in mind, can you guess what Michael Jackson, Lil Peep, Amy Winehouse, Janice Joplin, Kurt Cobain, and Pop Smoke all had in common? They were increasingly difficult for their labels to control. In other words, they’d be more useful dead than alive. 


Before you call me a conspiracy crackpot, I’d like to clarify that I’m not necessarily suggesting that major record labels literally pulled the trigger on these artists. It’s more nefarious than that; more subtle and indirect. The culmination of a thousand tiny papercuts, exacerbated by a pattern of willful neglect. In the words of Lil Peep’s mother, his label created the circumstances that led to his death by throwing him “onto stage after stage in city after city, plying and propping him up” with illegal drugs.


To add insult to injury, the same labels that routinely facilitate the environments in which young, vulnerable artists fade away from this world are raking in obscene amounts of money from haphazard posthumous albums released in the name of “preserving and extending their legacy.” 


Nowhere is the lack of respect more evident than the release of a collaborative track between Lil Peep and XXXTentacion. According to Peep’s family and friends, Columbia Records’ shameless money grab clearly violates the late artist’s values. In the words of Fish Narc, “[Peep] explicitly rejected XXX for his abuse of women, spent time and money getting XXX’s songs removed from his Spotify playlists, and wouldn’t have co-signed that song. Don’t listen to it.”


With this in mind, it brings me unbridled joy knowing that Anderson .Paak has a tattoo on his right forearm that reads: “When I’m gone, please don’t release any posthumous albums or songs with my name attached. Those were just demos and never intended to be heard by the public.”

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