Photo: Kristyna Archer
“The Kurt Cobain of Lo-Fi Rap.” “The Future of Emo.” “Gustav Elijah Åhr.” However you may remember Lil Peep, it is difficult to deny what he meant to both music and culture. In his short time on earth, Lil Peep released two albums, one posthumously on Nov. 9, as well as a slew of mixtapes and EPs. Despite his limited discography, which only spanned the course of three years, Lil Peep left a lasting cultural impact and void that is still felt by his legions of fans a year after his death. For a host of kids, Lil Peep was not just a critically-acclaimed vehicle for the next wave in emo, but a voice who touched upon the very real pain that comes with just existing in today’s day and age. In honor of Lil Peep, his life, his legacy, and the influence he continues to exert a year after his death, we look back at rise of Lil Peep.
Born Gustav Elijah Åhr in Allentown, Pennsylvania, to two Harvard graduates, the way in which Lil Peep recounted his upbringing was what you may expect from an artist championed as a pioneer in the next wave of emo. In what was to be one of his last interviews, he shared that his childhood was largely defined by drug abuse and apathy. Raised by an absent father and his mother Liza Womack, who Åhr on more than one occasion has referred to as his best friend, the to-be sadboy icon’s early life likely didn’t differ much from that of most of his fans.
The dreary, near-permanent fog of Long Beach, New York, served as the melancholic backdrop of Åhr’s school days. He may have rarely attended school, dropping out of high school in favor earning his diploma via online classes, but he did receive good grades throughout his entire time in school, including landing on the dean’s list for the one semester he tried his hand at college. It likely was not the case that Åhr was a kid who viewed the world as a monotonous grey, dropping out of school for the pure sake of it. Rather, he likely viewed the world as a myriad of colors and possibilities but did not see that potential reality reflected in the confines of Long Beach or a textbook.
Photo: Almost Decent
Like many kids of his generation, Åhr was a self-proclaimed loner that would find a sense of kinship not in his immediate surroundings, but in the music and the respective underground community he found scouring the Internet. Intent on making his own mark on the scene and not being just a spectator, Åhr would get his first face tattoo at the age of 17 (a broken heart below his left eye) as a means to motivate himself to pursue what, at-the-time, was a budding rap career. Shortly thereafter, he would move to Los Angeles under the pseudonym Lil Peep–a name inspired by his Mother, who referred to him as “Peep” throughout his whole life.
Lil Peep’s move to Los Angeles was not met with immediate fame and success, going in and out of homelessness while living on Skidrow. It was not until he met Florida rapper Craig Xen, who he originally first spoke to online, that Lil Peep’s vision began to take form. Alongside fellow Florida rapper Ghostemane and Memphis producer JGRXXN, the four of them would form the collective Schemaposse.
Photo: Jonathan Weiner
It was surrounding this time that Lil Peep would release his first mixtape, 2015’s Lil Peep Part One, which was quickly followed-up his first EP, Feelz, and the sophomore mixtape, Live Forever. The series of releases, with their influences in post-hardcore and southern rap, began making traction online and would result in Lil Peep’s first live performance in Tucson, Arizona, in March 2016. A year later, in November of 2017, Lil Peep would be found dead in his tour bus before a headlining show that was set take place in, again, Tucson, Arizona.
Musically, the rise of Lil Peep was meteoric to say the least. In the matter of just over a year, he went from SoundCloud rapper to one of the most contentious and applauded figures in music. Releasing two more mixtapes, Crybaby and Hellboy, following the breakup of Schemaposse and linking up with the rap collective Gothboiclique, the latter release would earn Lil Peep his biggest break yet. Racking up plays in the millions on SoundCloud and Youtube, Hellboy would serve as the catalyst to bring the SoundCloud rapper out of the underground and on his first-ever solo tour across the US, ‘The Lil Peep Show.’
The end of ‘The Lil Peep Show’ would see Åhr emigrate to London, following a fallout with Gothboiclique. During his time in London, Lil Peep would record Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 1, Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 2, and Goth Angel Sinner, which was to be followed by his first world tour. The tour started in the UK in Sept. 2017 and abruptly ended in November in Tucson, Arizona, following an accidental overdose of fentanyl and Xanax.
The untimely death of Lil Peep sent a ripple throughout the music community, as artists, fans, and critics poured out messages and tributes to the late rapper. The void left by Lil Peep was and, to this day, is felt by the way people continue to rabidly consume his music. The artist’s fanbase and popularity exploded following his death, earning Lil Peep his first entry on the Billboard Hot 100 for the single “Awful Things,” from Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 1. More than a year since his death, and fans new and old alike still avidly worship Lil Peep and the music he left behind as a new age gospel of emo.
The artist currently racks up over 17-million monthly listeners on Spotify. His posthumous release Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 2, which was released earlier in November and debuted in the top five of the Billboard 200, still sounds like it is brazenly charting a new path in emo, despite being recorded over a year prior. Lil Peep was and remains a visionary pioneer in the next wave of emo.
In spite of his death, the story of Lil Peep continues to unfold. His mother, and aforementioned best friend, is currently busy overseeing a number of her late son’s posthumous releases. Family-friend and arthouse film visionary Terrence Malick is in the midst of executive producing a documentary about the late rapper. Lil Peep’s sound and influence are felt in the music of artists such as Juice WRLD, who penned a tribute to Lil Peep and XXXTENTACION in his song “Legends.” Most of all though, Lil Peep lives on in the hearts and playlists of a new generation–a generation affected by his vulnerable and unapologetic music.