With Tupac Shakur's fourth posthumous album, "Until the End of Time," entering the national sales chart at No. 1 last week, and another double album of his work expected in November, it's more clear than ever that death is no deterrent to selling records.
In fact, with hip-hop suffering the loss of more stars in the prime of their careers than other pop music genres in recent years, marketing the music of deceased rappers has become a grimly regular task for record labels. The Notorious B.I.G., Big L, Eazy-E and Mausberg are some of the other hip-hop artists who have had albums issued after their deaths.
Interscope, which handles Shakur in association with Amaru Records, has the advantage of access to more than 150 unreleased songs he left behind when he was killed by unknown assailants in Las Vegas in 1996. The rapper, who recorded under his 2Pac moniker, had also filmed many videos before his death, and his image remains alive in such movies as "Poetic Justice," 'Juice" and "Gridlock'd."
The late Big Punisher did not record nearly as prolifically as Shakur, but he is the latest due for a big posthumous push. Last week, Loud Records released the second album to come out since the Bronx-based rapper died in February 2000 of heart failure. "Endangered Species" will have to compete with the Eminems, Dr. Dres, Nellys and OutKasts of the world, all of whom are able to tour, conduct interviews and do the other work of promoting an album.
'It's harder to promote and work him because we don't have a lot of live footage," says Steve Rifkind, Loud's chief executive. "We're doing animation and will use whatever B-roll [existing taped interviews] we have."
The label will issue an animated video for the collection's first single, "How We Roll." Plans for the other two singles Loud wants to release in support of the album have yet to be finalized.
In part to compensate for the shortage of promotional tools, Loud decided to include all of the album's lyrics in the CD booklet-a rarity for a rap release. The idea is to emphasize one of Pun's biggest assets-his remarkable ability to string together loads of words without sounding jumbled.
"This album is a tribute to him, but it's also to show people how lyrical he was," says Sean Cane, director of A&R for Loud and co-executive producer of "Endangered Species." 'His flow was really intricate, which is why we've got all of the lyrics written out. Pun was one of the best. You'll really feel that after you get this album."
Big Pun's first posthumous album, 2000's "Yeeeah Baby," which sold 800,000 copies, was nearly completed when the rapper (whose real name was Christopher Rios) died. "Endangered Species," on the other hand, features a number of collaborations between Pun and top-tier guests that appeared as B-sides or as tracks on other artists' albums. There are also six unreleased songs.
Like the Notorious B.I.G.'s posthumous "Born Again," which included several previously available songs and had guest appearances by Eminem, the Cash Money Millionaires and others, "Endangered Species" benefits from appearances by some of Big Pun's admirers. Noreaga and Fat Joe deliver testimonials on the album, while Swizz Beatz, Rodney Jerkins and Buckwild are among those whose production prowess shines on the new collection.
'We got love from most people," Cane says. "Pun had a lot of fans in the industry and people that really liked him as more than just a rapper. People were willing to put in what they could."
Pun, unlike most rappers, was known as a comedian and prankster. His humor was also evident in his videos, which often poked fun at his obesity and highlighted his charm.
It was his recordings, of course, that earned him the most respect. Whether rapping about his affinity for women of all nationalities on "Still Not a Player" with R&B singer Joe or ripping through a brutal display of braggadocio on "Fire Water" with Fat Joe, Armageddon and Raekwon, Big Pun was one of the few hip-hop acts who was respected for both his radio songs and his street selections.
"He represents the artists who do both the commercial and the hard-core," Cane says. "There have only been a few guys that could do the hard-core, underground record and then the club records. It's a theme of the album that many people can't do it, and it's also what he wanted to call his second album before he went with "Yeeeah Baby." 'This is a genuine album that came from him."
The six new tracks on "Endangered Species" are among the last of his unreleased songs, according to Loud Records' Rifkind.
"If someone finds 50 more songs of his, we'd put them out if they were hits," he says. "But this is really the only album that we're going to put out. These are records that just hadn't gotten cleared [when he died], but we're not going to be putting out an album every 18 months or every two years. We're not going to ruin his legacy. Pun was a friend."