New York-bred rapper and singer Lil Peep died of a suspected drug overdose last night in Tucson, Arizona. He was only 21.
Peep’s radically genre-bending sound was influenced by any number of angsty alt-rock bands of the past 25 years, but also the sonics of 2010s trap rap, and his first handful of mixtapes and EPs in 2015 and ‘16 proved divisive. The title of a Noisey piece succinctly summed up the controversy: “Is Lil Peep’s Music Brilliant or Stupid as Shit?”
Soon, though, Peep would regularly receive serious praise, with Pitchfork proclaiming him “the future of emo” this past January. The dubious term “emo rap” has recently been applied to newcomers like Lil Uzi Vert, XXXTentacion, and Trippie Redd, but Peep smashed those two musical worlds together more overtly than any of them, delivering full-throated rock vocals more often than he rapped. Meanwhile, Peep’s honesty as a lyricist -- writing about depression, suicidal thoughts, and substance abuse -- helped him secure a growing cult fan base.
Peep released his debut album, the well-received Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 1, in August, and at the time of his death, two of his music videos recently passed 10 million views on YouTube.
Here are six songs that collectively demonstrate Peep’s uniqueness -- and his lost potential.
The lead single from Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 1 is a relatively subdued moment. Less in-your-face than many Peep songs, it demonstrates Peep and his producers’ overlooked flair for subtlety, with the beat fluidly morphing as Peep plays around with his flow.
“Awful Things” ft. Lil Tracy
If I had to bet on one Peep song to posthumously become a chart-certified hit, it’s “Awful Things,” the single most potent example of Peep as a rock singer. With its huge chorus, it almost justifies the music press’ occasional comparisons between Peep and Kurt Cobain – though no one would ever mistake those trap drums for Dave Grohl.
“White Wine” ft. Lil Tracy
Peep collaborated regularly with Virginia Beach rapper and singer Lil Tracy (the son of Digable Planets/Shabazz Palaces member Ishmael Butler and R&B singer Coko). But where Peep’s chorus dominated “Awful Things,” “White Wine” is a more balanced display the two rappers’ chemistry.
Peep’s songs often transform based on their own internal logic. “The Brightside” starts with a palm-muted guitar progression, adds rolling hi-hats and finger snaps, and eventually explodes into a fist-pumping chorus.
The thrash-metal riffs and electronic drums of this standalone single is rooted in the noisy sound that launched Brooklyn duo Sleigh Bells to indie fame in the early ‘10s. But unlike Sleigh Bells singer Alexis Krauss, a reliably sugary-sweet presence, Peep is in an even darker and more intense headspace than usual here.
You wouldn’t describe many Lil Peep songs as “pretty,” but in certain spots, “Kiss” is exactly that, featuring some of Peep’s cleanest singing as well as serene guitar picking. As the track adds and subtracts other elements, it grows gloriously disjointed, the sound of a promising artist who wasn’t about to run out of ideas anytime soon.
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