I didn’t know Gustav Åhr, aka Lil Peep, but I did see him just over two weeks ago, on Halloween at New York’s Highline Ballroom. It was a wonderful, communal night, but one that seemed tinged with melancholy. It was his birthday — he was turning 21 the next day, Nov. 1 — and I ended my write-up of that show for Billboard by saying that there’s “lots more to look forward to before Lil Peep turns 22.”
Maybe that was naïve on my part. After all, Peep made no secret of his depression and his drug use. His first album and current tour were titled Call Me When You’re Sober, and he was particularly fond of Xanax, a great drug for making people feel momentarily better but which, like most of them, in the end just papers over the pain. How many times have we seen artists wear their addictions and their issues on their sleeve and you hope against hope that they’ll make it to the other side? Sometimes they do and you breathe a sigh of relief. But too often they don’t.
We don’t know the details of how Peep died, and it’s certainly less important than the simple, heartbreaking fact that he is gone. He wasn’t fond of being called a “Soundcloud rapper” — partly because his reach went far beyond any one platform, and because in recent months he transcended rap and sang more often than not. And he seemed ambivalent about the single most-quoted assessment of him, when Pitchfork last year tagged him “the future of emo.” Whatever future he had — and damn it seemed bright — that’s gone.
As we mourn this young artist who found a sweet spot between emo and hip-hop and made it his own, here is some of his best material. Listen to these Lil Peep songs and see what made so many love him so much.
Lil Peep – “Beamer Boy”
A 2015 track with an infectious hook that never failed to get the crowd going at his live shows, it may be Peep’s simplest video: nothing more than our hero smoking a spliff, and conspicuously not sharing it with the guy next to him. Peep undercuts the moodiness of the track with self-effacing titles like “Why you acting so weird?,” “What u mean,” “I Gotta Chill” and “Sheesh.” As a mark of how long ago this one was shot — late 2015 — much of Peep’s familiar ink is missing, including the “Crybaby” tattoo over his right eye that came to be his signature.
Lil Peep – “Gym Class”
Sentimentality and nostalgia for a high school relationship punctuate this track accompanied by a rooftop video. There aren’t many people who can make a line as raw as “Shawty look like a porn star/ I know she love me cause she fuck me in her sports car” and make it sound sweet.
Lil Peep – “White Wine”
“More wine, more wine, baby pour another cup” Peep sings on this trap track with frequent collaborator Lil Tracy. By this time—2016—his videos were still homespun, but increasingly artful. And in a sad foreshadowing, who’s on the wall behind him? Amy Winehouse.
Lil Peep – “Girls” ft. Horsehead
Compellingly weird, this video finds a stoned, neon-clad Peep with an eclectic collection of goth girls, an outré hotel room and live flamingos. It’s impossible to choose one Lil Peep song among his prolific output that is the single greatest fan favorite, but “Girls” would be a serious contender for that title.
Lil Peep – “Benz Truck”
If you were a late arrival to the Peep party, you might have discovered him earlier this year via this video, partly shot in Russia. “Iced out teeth with an iced out whip/ With the limousine tints you can suck my dick,” he raps, while looking more stylish than ever, in a green and pink faux fur coat.
Lil Peep – “Awful Things” (ft. Lil Tracy)
What people didn’t talk about often enough was Peep’s sense of humor. But it’s on view in this darkly absurdist high school-set clip, released only three months ago. Peep — no fan of school — dons the khakis and the polo, does detention and is forced to write “I WILL NOT NOD OFF IN CLASS” on the chalkboard. There are pill bottles on the car floor (Peep was nothing if not honest), a red light bathroom hookup, a giant hot dog, self-immolation, hellfire and a happy ending. This track from Come Over When You’re Sober (Pt. 1) became a sing-along anthem, and pointed toward where Peep seemed to be going — decidedly emo, in the tradition of his formative heroes like Brand New and Good Charlotte. “RIP Peep you helped me through the hard times” wrote one YouTube commenter after his death. The tragedy is that he couldn’t make it through his own.
Lil Peep – “The Brightside”
If you only watch one Lil Peep video, watch this one, for one simple reason: he’s smiling. Released over the summer as a prelude to his first album, it captures him on tour in Europe, goofing around in an airport, mugging with an M&M, hugging fans, at times positively beaming. It warmed your heart and made you think he might be taking his own advice in the song: “Just look at the brightside.” Even if true happiness was fleeting for Gustav Åhr, let’s remember him like this. Rest in peace.