On Halloween night, rising underground rap artist Lil Peep was celebrating his 21st birthday at the Highline Ballroom in Manhattan with a performance for fans. Less than three weeks later on Nov. 16, Lil Peep was found dead in Tuscon, Arizona, the cause possibly an overdose of Xanax, one of the many drugs plaguing the mumble rap community.
“Is the art intertwined with the drugs? Sure,” Martin Zeiler, Long Island folk artist and producer otherwise known as “Ugly Perfection,” said. “But that doesn’t mean it’s gonna be tainted by it in the first place. It doesn’t make it better, it adds context to the music.”
Lil Peep, known to some as Gustav Åhr from Long Island, was a walking canvas, and not just because of the copious amount of tattoos that he sported, like “crybaby” inked across his forehead in cursive. He was an artist full of creative energy and stories to tell. His emo-trap fusion sound captivated elements of boyish charm, intense energy and a sincere display of pure Generation Y desolation.
And like many artists with intense energy, Lil Peep was not afraid to discuss his drug addictions in his song. He frequently references his addictive use of cocaine, ectasy, and Xanax.
In “The Song They Played (When I Crashed Into The Wall),” Peep sings, “I don’t wanna die alone right now, but I admit I do sometimes / These drugs are callin’ me, do one more line, don’t fall asleep / This is the song they played when I crashed into the wall / This is the girl I told that we could have it all.”
With this small verse, Lil Peep’s addictions, desires and depression are laid out on the table. It’s almost Cobain-esque. On a surface level, his music was simple in execution. However, the powerful messages and raw emotion beneath the lyrics were anything but.
Word of Lil Peep’s death has struck a chord with many music fans. In light of the deaths of Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell, there has been a growing increase in the dialogue regarding mental health in the music industry. The most notable example of this is probably Lil Uzi Vert, who announced that he would be taking a break from the casual use of pharmaceuticals.
It’s good to see the culture take these baby steps toward improvement, but one also has to ask how long it is going to last for. BigHeadOnTheBeat, Lil Peep’s producer, has been sober for 19 days as of Nov. 26.
Why is Lil Uzi Vert’s absence only temporary? As tragic as Peep’s passing is, it only makes it more important that the culture, as a whole, faces the reality that has plagued it for God only knows how long.
The marketing and glorification of mental illness and addiction within art, particularly music, is not new or specific only to mumble rap, also known as SoundCloud rap. Rampant drug use has been an issue in the entertainment industry at large for decades. Prime examples of this are Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and The Doors.
Today, however, it is becoming less and less subtle as we go deeper down the rabbit hole. For example, Swedish-born rapper Yung Lean’s entire aesthetic is based around his drug use.
In “Gatorade,” Yung Lean sings, “Cut their wrists and lay ’em down gently / Leopard colored backseat in my Bentley / Relently I pop two pills too many / I don’t give a f— I brought plenty.”
This emo drug-suicide glorification is apparent in all of his promotional images and music videos. Like Yung Lean, Lil Peep capitalized on his own vices, perpetuating the culture.
“The average plebeian will experience Lil Peep and learn from it, but I don’t think the culture at large is going to change,” Zeiler said. “ASAP Yams died from lean, and that was equally as heavy. I hope that people take Lil Peep’s experience and learn from it. Don’t let yourself slip. Everybody is worth their life. Everybody.”