Russell "Ol' Dirty Bastard" Jones died from a drug overdose on November 13, 2004. This week sees the arrival of his first posthumous release, Osirus: The Official Mixtape.
This is not unusual. Tupac "2Pac" Shakur's Don Killamunati: The Seven Day Theory was released on November 5, 1996, almost two months after he died from multiple gunshot wounds on September 13. Life After Death hit stores on March 25, 1997, less than three weeks after Christopher "The Notorious B.I.G." Wallace suffered the same fate as his rival Shakur. Today, the two artists are specters that linger over us like good saints -- or guilty consciences.
Amaru, a record label set up by 2Pac's mother Assata Shakur to release her son's music, issued Loyal to the Game this past December 18. It went straight to number one on the Billboard charts. By now, it is accepted wisdom that 2Pac was a workaholic who recorded hundreds of tracks in the several months between his release from prison in September 1995 and his death. But the music on Loyal to the Game didn't resemble those original songs. Instead, they were remixed by an army of topflight producers, chiefly Eminem. It's the same tactic Amaru has used for most of 2Pac's later work; the only release to feature new songs was R U Still Down? (Remember Me).
The people who purchase 2Pac's postmortem material, eager to discover more about his life, aren't hearing the same beats he heard when he laid down his raps, just his voice. No one seems to mind. Eight years after his demise, he has long been recast into a near-perfect image of our liking, rather than the "rebel for the hell of it" both celebrated and castigated during his lifetime.
This is a relatively new trend. After John Coltrane passed away in June 1967, his wife, the great pianist Alice Coltrane, issued several of his recordings with newly added strings and sound effects and was roundly criticized by the jazz community. But hip-hop fans usually don't have the same qualms about their heroes. All we need to hear is evidence of their existence; historical accuracy is not required.
2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G. are functional, everyday gods. We resurrect them so they can play with our new heroes 50 Cent ("The Realest Killers") and Nas ("Thugz Mansion [N.Y.]"). But they continue to walk among us because of their commercial viability, and it is this problem that now faces the caretakers of Ol' Dirty Bastard's estate.
Osirus: The Official Mixtape isn't an "official" release. Eighteen tracks deep, it sounds like a demo tape of the album ODB was working on. That release is now in limbo. According to allhiphop.com, Def Jam issued a statement noting that ODB was released from his contract. Dame Dash, whose Roc-A-Fella label was recently purchased by Def Jam, told MTV that he was going to put it out himself. Complicating matters, ODB wasn't a hot property when he passed away. Though much beloved by his fans, his prime years were eaten away by drug use and well-publicized psychotic episodes. Before he was consumed by his addictions, he managed to release two rambling tours de force, Return to the 36 Chambers and Nigga Please. His third album, 2002's The Trials and Tribulations of Russell Jones, was just scraps and pieces cobbled together by his managers; unlike 2Pac's patchwork discography, it failed to make an impression on the charts.
Osirus can be rough listening. With the exception of its popping (if slightly dated) "Pop Shots," a collabo with DJ Premier, its songs are murky and unformed, sorely lacking in memorable hooks or punchlines. Its chief asset is ODB's hoarse, slurred presence. Even at his most unfocused and clouded, he managed to leave a powerful, lasting impression.
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