This week, hip-hop lost one of its strongest young talents. At 22:00 on November 15, Gustav Åhr, known to the world as emo-rap revivalist Lil Peep, was pronounced dead. The 21-year old rapper had been suffering from several severe addictions, and fell victim to overdose hours before performing for his fans in Arizona.
Peep was a core figure in the revival of the lo-fi and emo-rap subgenres, moving a wave of rappers and producers to express the darker, depressing elements of life through their artistry. He was a definitive inspiration for the grief-led tracks of artists such as XXXTentacion (I spoke to the devil in Miami, Jocelyn Flores) and $uicideboy$ (Kill Yourself Pt. 3, NEW CHAINS SAME SHACKLES), but also the lo-fi production of artists such as Idealism, jinsang and Joji. Through a fantastic string of mixtapes, Peep revived the sounds of Emo through his unique vocals and ear for production, producing a blend of hip-hop that was uniquely his.
To limit Peep’s legacy to his musical success would be reductive. Peep was a voice for those suffering from substance addictions and mental illness – for a generation of wearied, depressed, and drug-addicted listeners, Peep provided an essential source of empathy and grief. Through his work, he helped thousands of fans to feel less alone in the world, something that we should always be thankful for.
Alongside celebrating Peep’s influence and legacy, I’d like to offer a brief celebration and recommendation of his best work. Peep’s earliest works are arguably his most emotionally raw, and feature some of my personal favourites. The Way I See Things, from Peep’s Lil Peep Part One is a hazy, beautiful track, combining a relaxed guitar beat with grief-laced lyrics – “I got a feeling that I’m not gonna be here for next year, So let’s laugh a little before I’m gone”. Star Shopping, from the same tape, is one of Peep’s best and my personal favourite track of his. During the song, Peep desperately tries to explain his life’s failings, before turning to the stars for peace – “Look at the sky tonight, all of the stars have a reason / A reason to shine, a reason like mine and I’m falling to pieces”. Finally, I’d like to recommend Better Off Dying, a cut from Peep’s recent Come Over When You’re Sober. Here Peep’s unique formula truly shines – he blends the best of trap with an emo-inspired delivery, producing a song that’s upbeat, but still rooted in immense pain and disillusionment.
Whilst I’ve focused most of this piece on Peep himself, his death does raise questions as to the future relationship between drugs and hip-hop. Whilst many are calling for it, I believe it would be unrealistic to expect the glorification of prescription drugs to cease. Despite a continuing series of drug-related tragedies, Rappers such as Migos, Lil Pump and Future continue to praise the abuse of opiates, benzos and other prescription drugs. What we can hope is that this shows many of rap’s younger listeners the true dangers of substance abuse, and encourages society to treat those suffering from it with support and care. After the success of drug-praising tracks such as Gucci Gang, Mask Off and Money Longer, we need this message more than ever.
I won’t say too much more – nothing here can summarise the magnitude of Peep’s career and influence. On a personal note I’d like to thank you Gustav – for the inspiring, fantastic music you’ve created and for helping me and thousands of others through some of their toughest times. I hope that wherever you are now, it’s a better place.