There have been so many talented artists that died far too young, many of them barely reached their peak, but were still widely popular. Look at these artists and tell me their fame and influence wouldn’t have changed music entirely had they not passed at such an early age:
- Ritchie Valens (17)
- Aaliyah, Buddy Holly (22)
- Selena (23)
- Notorious B.I.G. (24)
- Tupac (25)
- Otis Redding (26)
- Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse (27)
- Hank Williams (29)
Those are just people under 30! I will admit though, it is difficult to measure when one is truly at their “peak”. And although I said it above, I feel like that term gets thrown around a lot in music and sports. Two popular responses I got from the question above were Freddie Mercury (45) and Whitney Houston (48) and while I would have really enjoyed seeing them release more music, how much more were they going to give? Absolutely they died prematurely, but in my opinion, they were at or had already reached the height of their career.
CE contributor Chris put it like this: “artists who died prematurely, that are collectively regarded as all time greats, kind of died at an opportune time.” After pondering that that may have been an overly cynical take, he elaborated, “imagine if Lady Gaga died in 2012. She put out 3 albums full of bangers from 2008-2011. She really hasn’t done much since (not counting A Star Is Born). People would’ve said the same thing – she was this amazing musical artist who influenced so many others… imagine what she would’ve gone on to do. But the answer is just an album with Tony Bennett.”
One artist that a few people answered, and who was definitely on the up, was Nipsey Hussle who was gunned down in March at the age of 33. Truthfully, I don’t know any songs by him, but have heard nothing but good things, so I should probably check his stuff out soon.
Other notable artists I would like to highlight are Big Pun (28), Ronnie Van Zant (29), Stevie Ray Vaughan (35), and Marvin Gaye (44). But I am going to highlight two that are definite answers for me and Ryan has one of his own.
Matt: Sam Cooke started in a gospel group called the Soul Stirrers, but went on to become one of the most prominent R&B/Soul singers in history. In everything he sang you can hear the pain or joy that he’s effortlessly singing about. His style and ability would honestly have lasted him a lifetime. He could sing anything from gospel to r&b to “pop” and if you need proof listen to “I’m Gonna Build Right On That Shore“, and “Twistin’ the Night Away” and even listen to what he does to the country song “Tennessee Waltz“!
In 1964, months before his death at the age of 33, Cooke wrote and released maybe his signature song, “A Change is Gonna Come”. This song, in my opinion, single-handedly earns him the title, the “King of Soul”. And if he did that in his final year who knows what he would go on to deliver? There’s no denying he was super popular and influential across the country while alive, but I have a hard time believing his career was even remotely close to the end.
Matt: The Harlem rapper was only 24 when he was shot and killed having only released one album, Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous. If I were to select one song from that album that really showed what Big L had to offer it would be “MVP“. He could be dark and gangster, but also positive, conscious and radio friendly. His second album, The Big Picture, was slated to be released in 1999, but was pushed back due to his death and ultimately posthumously released in 2000. Listen to “98 Freestyle” from that. L was getting big during a time (late ’90s and early ’00s) that was really up for grabs as far as who was at the top of Hip-Hop/Rap.
Aside from being a lyrical giant (while only standing 5’8″), what makes me really think his career would have been massive is his associated acts:
- Fat Joe (featured on “The Enemy”, “Triboro”)
- Kool G Rap (featured on “Fall Back”)
- Ma$e and Cam’ron (members of the Harlem rap group Children of the Corn, which Big L founded)
- Jay-Z (was nearly signed to Roc-A-Fella before his death; see freestyle below)
- Nas (fellow NY rapper quoted as saying, “He scared me to death. When I heard that on tape, I was scared to death. I said, ‘Yo, it’s no way I can compete if this is what I gotta compete with.'”)
And he influenced future rappers including one who said, “He really inspired me to be clever and witty. My early stages of rapping, I was basically trying to be like Big L—trying to be a super raw MC. That’s what he really inspired in me: to always keep that MC factor about myself and about my music.” That future rapper was…
Ryan: When asked what musician I would resurrect to have a longer career my mind immediately jumped to Mac Miller because his untimely death still owns a ton of real estate in my mind almost a year later.
Mac was an artist that started blowing up at a very young age which is why I think people are surprised to find out he was only 26 when he passed. From his time making mixtapes in high school to his Grammy-nominated album Swimming, we saw him grow as a musician and as a person. Of course his first few projects have a lot of sentimental value, but I really think with each project he released he got better, and Swimming was proof of that.
If he was brought back to life we could see the insane tour I’m sure he had planned for the album. We would’ve been able to see some more creative music videos to coincide with the project. And we would’ve seen him make even better albums and collaborate with all the artists that respected him so much. He was arguably the most promising rapper in the game after Swimming dropped and it was heartbreaking to see all that potential disappear. As many artists that have passed that I wish could’ve lived longer this is the one that hit close to home for me for sure. Huge RIP.