Editor's Note: On November 16, news broke of Lil Peep's tragic passing at the age of 21. The following profile deals with very frank admissions by the artist and author of substance abuse and depression and may be triggering for some readers. If you or someone you know needs help in combatting addiction or depression, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones.
If you’re in the U.S. you can call directly at 1-800-273-8255 Readers in the UK can call the Samaritans at +44 (0) 8457 90 90 90.
Backstage at the O2 Academy Islington in London, Lil Peep is standing in just his blue Calvin’s declaring that he’s “Definitely on drugs.” His tall and pale frame is emblazoned with a puzzle of ink work that includes his infamous gothic font 'Daddy' chest tattoo, the curling 'Cry Baby' above his right eyebrow and the giant 'L☹️VE' across his belly; they’re not so subtle indicators of Peep’s character: the humorous nihilist with a heart.
Born in 1996 as Gustav Åhr, the self-styled 'ugly, cute and dying' 'GOTH ANGEL SINNER' (as his Instagram and Twitter bios respectively describe him) has been making a name for himself with his benzo-fueled angsty emo-rap-rock that’s heavy on the three d’s - depression, drugs and death. The Peep I meet today is the "Benz Truck (гелик)" version, drawling words, almost comatosed. He’s clearly exhausted from touring and promo, which goes some way to explaining why he’s so maxed out right now but, to be frank, I’ve also never interviewed anyone that seems to be this high before (at one point he leans his head back and closes his eyes and I’m pretty sure he’s fallen asleep).
Originally from Pennsylvania but raised in Long Island by his mom (his dad walked out of the picture when Peep was very young), he dropped out of Long Beach High School and finished his diploma at home through computer courses that he says his mom - a first grade teacher - mostly completed for him. Peep’s philosophy on school is in line with the Rick Sanchez approach to education, Peep says that “If you don’t like it, drop out.” He started getting his face tattooed to make sure he “Wouldn’t ever be working behind a desk somewhere.” Peep ran away to Los Angeles when he was 17; things were fucked up but music and his crew Gothboiclique - a collective of like minded individuals, including his bff Lil Tracy, who make mellow emo rap - were his salvation.
The Lil Peep hype is a no brainer. Between his music, his look and his attitude, he’s a triple threat-perfect package for instant intrigue and controversy. The army of Peep worshippers queuing outside tonight’s venue quickly dispel any misconceptions that the Peep phenomenon is purely confined to the virtual world. But that’s no surprise to him.
“I always knew that it was going to happen, and it happened so quick because it just comes very easily to me,” Peep casually explains. “Not to be that guy but it’s just so easy, I can do all this stuff in my sleep, it just comes naturally.”
Having totally sold out his first tour and now this current second tour of double capacity venues, Peep says that in places like Russia, “It’s insane, I’m like Justin Beiber out there. Russia is also one of the biggest scenes for metal and shit like that, dark shit, and everyone’s listening to hip hop nowadays,” he further breaks down. “The dark spin I put on it - on some of my music, not all of it - is very appealing to them. When I look at my insights, my statistics and shit, it shows me I’m definitely most popular in Russia. The fact that they show me so much love means a lot to me.”
In both his music and in interviews, Peep has been open about his mental health struggles with anxiety, suicide attempts, and drug use and abuse. Asked when he last cried, he says “I cry a lot, I get stressed out, I get overwhelmed,” but he thinks he’s gotten used to the pressure he’s now under and that “attention is dope” but only if you’re using it for the right reasons. “There’s no point in getting a bunch of attention and you know, wasting it,” he muses, “You got to do something important with the attention you get.”
Peep seems to speak genuinely from a place of deep sincerity when it comes to mental health issues - particularly when he’s tweeting stuff like, “I used to not have friends. Be patient don't kill urself there's people who u love that u don't even know yet.” But the really confounding thing is that this sincerity and openness often comes with a side order of 'LOL' that also works to undermine it. It leaves you questioning whether or not you’re being trolled. Perhaps Peep laughs about things like suicide because that’s all he can do, maybe the LOL is just a gut reaction to personal suffering. Laugh or die.
“I’m just a weirdo. I just put LOL because I’m like... If I’ve tweeted ‘I want to kill myself today LOL,’ that’s probably because I was laughing at myself because I wanted to kill myself because I’m a loser. I’m not trolling anyway, I go through a lot of shit and all the shit I write about in my music is real.”
Case in point is his recent coming out as bisexual. Peep tweeted, “yes I'm bisexual,” with no real context or follow up on the declaration. When I ask if it was a genuine coming out he says, “I think people knew before and they were like ‘yeah we know bro.’” The nonplussed disclosure is refreshing; maybe it’s not a big deal to Peep since he seems to take life as though he’s got nothing to lose. It’s cool that he hasn’t courted controversy and tried to capitalize on coming out (see the much-blogged about controversy around Tyler, the Creator’s Flower Boy album), though in this case you might feel he should own the importance of it.
Do people read too much into the things he says? “I wake up and I’m like what the fuck is this shit? And I have to delete all these horrible things I’ve said and I’m like what am I talking about?” Does he regret doing that kind of thing? “I don’t regret anything ever. No regrets.” What about the people that don’t get what he’s about? “Keep trying.”
LSD, acid, mushrooms and weed are Peep’s preferred drugs, although he says “Weed's not a substance it’s just a beautiful plant.” At one point he was taking more than 20 Xanax a day to deal with anxiety, but now he’s down to just one to help keep him steady as “regular old peep.” He says no one has ever had to intervene when he’s started abusing drugs, instead he goes cold turkey and uses weed because ”Weed is all the help you need in this world.”
Latest release Come Over When You’re Sober Part I is just the tip of the Lil Peep release schedule iceberg. He’s got Come Over When You’re Sober Part II in the bag (both parts were recorded at the same time, Part II is a bit darker), a collaborative album with Makonnen finished and another in progress with Fish Narc. He’s been cooking up something with Clams Casino and The BasedGod himself, Lil B, wants to work with him. All this and he remains unsigned, taking a page out of Chance the Rapper’s music business playbook.
“I didn’t take my music seriously because I didn’t like it, and now I like it so I take it very seriously... I’m not signed to a label, I just have really good management. Every label ever is fiending for the Peep right now. I need $15 million, then we can talk, that’s my starting price.”
Then there’s the Lil Peep look. Today he rocked up shirtless in a glittering Wan Hung jacket, his hair a dirty pink mohawk. He looks like the human embodiment of a MySpace profile. He’s been shot by Mario Testino, walked in shows at Milan Fashion Week for Marcelo Burlon; Tumblr is awash with pics of him in MXDVS garments and he’s even starting his own clothing label. It seems like Peep is fast tracking his way to becoming a style icon. Does style cost money?
“No, I said this in an interview with GQ already, now you can get the best style or whatever at fucking Walmart and the gas stations and shit. That’s where they have the dopest shit. It’s what you do with it, if you have confidence in what you’re wearing.”
As we wrap up our brief chat - because Peep is on strict orders to rest his voice after going hard on stage in Manchester the night before - I ask him what his spirit animal is. “Oh, I’m a monkey. I was a monkey in a past life. I don’t know what kind of monkey I was, all I know is I was a monkey. I’m a hundred percent positive.”
A monkey with a penchant for face tattoos and downers that is.
For more of our interviews, read our chat with Kali Uchis right here.