Lil Peep, One Year Later

A year removed from his passing, Dean Van Nguyen reflects on the emo-rap star.
By    November 18, 2018

Dean Van Nguyen can take you there, but baby, you won’t make it back.

Lil Peep’s existence was short and chaotic. But within that brief span, he delivered a 160-second distillation of his electric star quality. Like many Peep cuts, “Benz Truck” rides a sinister and muddied guitar line that sounds snatched from the 1990s alternative rock canon. The instrument highlights the half-lucid vocal style that made him an instantly quotable hook machine.

Spitting classic rap braggadocio about limousine trucks and iced-out whips, Peep name-dropped his GothBoiClique to signify a brash show of strength, but simultaneously applied it to an androgynous emo-rap that defied traditional hip-hop norms. Even the reference to his full rap name “Little Bo Peep,” played like an act of genre subversion. Meanwhile, the video operated as an exhibition of guerilla filmmaking. You’ll never get Hype Williams-sized budgets these days but you can wear a synthetic pink and green fur coat and stunt in front of The Kremlin.

The news of Lil Peep’s death—a year ago last week—broke a lot of hearts but it didn’t immediately break mine. I hadn’t heard much about him before he died, but in his wake, the Gustav Ahr’s music became impossible to ignore.  

“Benz Truck” was the first to enter my orbit. From there, I began to investigate the far corners of Peep’s short but prolific recording career. Here was a magnetic young kid flexing like a pop star but sounding like a doomed prophet. I dragged his best numbers onto a playlist with little thought or reason, often clicking play when I didn’t know what I wanted to listen to. I’ve probably spun more of his music than that of any other artist in 2018. A year of Lil Peep to soothe the soul.

Lil Peep’s music could be as unvarnished as his videos. A lot of his songs feel unfinished, the fidelity is scuzzy, and the choruses are either not quite there yet or nonexistent. Even singles like “Benz Truck” and “White Wine” have space for a bridge, an extra verse, or both, as though he signed off on tracks quickly to move onto his next burst of creativity. Peep could be goofy and churlish too. A line such as “Girls, like it on my dick,” from the song “Girls,” is an oafish bout of immaturity. As an artist, he had space to grow.

But to polish Peep’s music would have been to strip away some of its resonance. He left a discography that boasts its own kind of perfection—a reminder that art doesn’t have to be flawless if it channels something inherent to the human spirit. Just 21 when he died, Peep had the natural ability to evoke the internal pain that cuts through the chest cavity of everyone from teenager up. He lived to an age when our bodies reach adulthood but few of us hit mental maturity—depicting this gulf between underdeveloped emotional fortitude and grown-up experience. Like his idol, Kurt Cobain, a generation earlier, an army of young followers found something soothing in the rapper’s penetrating portrait of post-adolescence.

I think about Peep’s young life and my own in parallels. I was an awkward kid, uncomfortable in my own skin, subdued in a school system that was more about trying to survive day-to-day than flourishing. Lots of kids back then saw their existence reflected in Cobain’s songwriting, but not me. Yet into my thirties, I feel a connection with Lil Peep. Our experiences were undoubtedly different—I’ve never wrangled with the same kind of drug addictions. But his best songs—the dysfunctional relationship tale “Save That Shit”; the numbing insight into addiction “White Wine”—offer weighty depictions of youth, relationships, mental health issues, and trenchant lessons for adulthood that I can’t turn away from. It’s as though Peep’s music has been sketched onto tracing paper. Place his songs over my own life and the two don’t sync up but the hard borders and brash colours underneath can easily be seen. They make for a distinct collage.

As a teenager, all I wanted to be was transparent. I didn’t ask for nice things if they meant I’d be noticed. Instead, I hid in the kind of casual wear tracksuits all Dublin boys my age wore. To go with the threads, I also sported a mask of personability to avoid being picked on—another weapon in my mission of blending in. There was comfort in the pack and any risk to my place within that space made my anxiety skyrocket. Peep could encapsulate similar worries. Take a song like “Problems.” Peep admits spending “a lot of time in the background,” delivering the line with a haziness that feels like he’s disappearing into the walls. Later, when he sings, “You know I got my problems/ Know you got yours too,” the power of his performance makes it easily applicable to every stage of life since, when an infinity amount of troubles stack up and the weight of being alive presses down on your shoulders.

Though his music frequently covered mortality, I never got the impression that Peep wanted to die. He just understood that committing suicide and not committing suicide aren’t binary opposites. It’s ok to flirt with dark feelings; there’s an appeal to death. Kids understand the intrinsic pain of being alive more than anybody. They also know that things might not get better. They didn’t for Peep, who died from what is believed to have been an accidental fentanyl-xanax overdose. It’s a tragedy that feels extra pronounced because he has helped so many people deal with their own demons. I wish I’d had Peep to lean on when I was a kid, but even today, his understanding of pain helps me deal with mine.


Posthumous releases are an uncertain thing but the just-released Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 2  might be Peep’s definitive full-length. It’s a record that encapsulates his writing style, the punch of his performance, and ability to find those hidden emotions that lurk in the deepest crevices of your id. Peep didn’t play guitar and relied on the core tenets of beatmaking to provide his sonic landscapes. The strummed chords and nice melody of “Falling Down” and “Sunlight On You Skin,” basically two sides of the same song and present here in bonus tracks, further connects him to Cobain. Kurt’s spirit lingers on rap kids too young to catch “Smells Like Teen Spirit” first time around. Just ask Denzel Curry.

A song like “Life is Beautiful” is so effective because it reminds us of the thin line between functionality and tragedy. Peep lays out some of our deepest fears: a doctor delivering a mortal diagnoses; a family member dying violently. He switches between seeing life as desperate, comical, and hopeful, finally imagining a sad, lonely death to call his own (“There comes a time when everybody meets the same fate/ I think I’ma die alone inside my room”). Life is beautiful, he reconciles, before slipping away into the darkness. Peep didn’t die to remind us of this beauty. He lived to let everyone know that it’s ok to accept life’s gloaming too.

More than a decade further along in my journey than Peep made it to, I find him teaching me new things about the curse of the human condition and it’s extremely comforting. Peep didn’t live long enough to fully see through whatever he viewed as his purpose as an artist but he did more than enough. Another in a long line of greats who helped a lot of young people live but didn’t survive themselves.


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