Even though he spent a very short time doing what he loved, Lil Peep had a major impact on modern rap — and will be forever remembered for his contributions to hip hop music the world over.
As the co-founder of Guin Records, I have always taken a particular interest in artists and rappers who “go against the grain,” so to speak. I actively look for new musicians to add to the label by searching for hip-hop artists trying out new things. This is one reason why I find the story of Lil Peep so fascinating — and devastating. He lived a short life, but he used his enormous talent to reshape youth subculture and define the genre of emo hip hop with unique, heartbreaking lyrics and a one-of-a-kind style.
It’s hard to believe that the world lost a talent like Lil Peep so young. Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Lil Peep (whose birth name was Gustav Elijah Åhr) lived a life plagued by substance abuse and mental illness. Even from a young age, Lil Peep struggled to socialize, but he found a certain degree of comfort in music and various online communities.
Some argue that these aspects of his life helped inspire the rapper’s unique mixture of emo rock and hip hop lyrics, but they arguably led to his premature death as well. In any case, there’s no denying that the artist known as Lil Peep will live on through his emotional and retrospectively tragic music.
A Rising SoundCloud Star
Lil Peep began uploading his songs to the SoundCloud platform in 2014 when he was just 18 years old. A series of mixtapes — many of which featured fellow artist Lil Tracy — helped Lil Peep quickly gain an online following. However, his rise was somewhat unexpected, as his style stood in stark contrast to the lyrics and beats of many of his contemporaries.
After moving to Los Angeles, Lil Peep struggled to maintain housing, crashing with various rappers and friends he met online. During this period, the young rapper founded a musical collective known as Schemaposse. Soon after, he released his first mixtape, Lil Peep; Part One, on SoundCloud. The mixtape gained thousands of listens in its first few days, prompting the artist to release a series of popular singles, including “Star Shopping” and “Beamer Boy.”
By 2016, Schemaposse had broken up, but Lil Peep’s popularity was still on the rise. He had his first live performance in Tuscon, Arizona, that same year. Soon after, Lil Peep formed a new LA-based collective called GothBoiClique. His meteoric rise eventually drew the attention of more traditional record labels, with First Access Entertainment serving as an investor and mentor for his work.
In 2016, Lil Peep released one of his most popular mixtapes to date, Hellboy. It gained millions of listens in its first few weeks on SoundCloud. The following year, Lil Peep led his first solo tour across the United States, which proved to be a major success. Though he would soon depart from GothBoiClique over creative differences, Lil Peep emigrated to England, where he continued to make music and plan the future of his music career.
He released his first studio album, Come Over When You’re Sober, Part 1, on August 15th, 2017. After its release, Lil Peep began his first world tour in England before traveling to Germany and eventually the United States. Tragically, this tour was cut short by Lil Peep’s sudden death. Authorities ruled the death an accidental overdose of Fentanyl and Xanax.
Lil Peep’s Legacy
Lil Peep’s musical career lasted just three years, but he managed to amass millions of fans and help create an entirely unique sub-genre. Though Lil Peep was often grouped together with other “Mumble Rappers” like Lil Pump and 21 Savage, his style diverged in a number of important ways. First and foremost, Lil Peep’s lyrics often addressed his own demons and struggles with mental illness directly.
Like many of his songs, Lil Peep’s first known single, Latitude, spoke directly to teenagers experiencing similar mental and identity crises:
you should look at yourself in the mirror sometimes,
and say: “Look, what am I doing? Why, why am I this way?”
Though emo pop music had largely fallen out of fashion by the mid-2000s, Lil Peep’s emotional lyrics and catchy verses helped revive the emo music scene in the early 2010s.
It also synthesized two youth subcultures — emo and hip hop — that had been largely separate for years. Many of his songs struck a chord with teens suffering from depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental illness. On one of his most popular songs, OMFG, Lil Peep sang:
I used to wanna kill myself
Came up, still wanna kill myself
My life is goin’ nowhere
I want everyone to know that I don’t care
As Lil Peep rose to fame, other emo rappers followed in his footsteps (and perhaps influenced some of his work), including XXXTentacion and Juice Wrld. Sadly, all three rappers passed away in their early 20s, leaving other artists to pick up where they left off.
Like many artists who pass before their time, Lil Peep became even more popular after his death. Some of his unreleased music was distributed posthumously and was met with overwhelmingly positive reviews.
Other rappers in the emo hip hop and trap scene have paid tribute to the late artist, while his signature lyrics and fashion continue to influence youth subcultures around the world.
So, what really happened to Lil Peep? The truth is that he was a tortured soul who struggled to find his footing, even after he had reached international success. Lil Peep spent years fighting tooth and nail to make it, only to have his inner demons and the stress of becoming an international star cut his life short. While millions continue to mourn the talented young artist, we can all take solace in the fact that Lil Peep’s music will live on forever.
Originally published on Medium.