The Return of Lil Peep

The Return of Lil Peep

From the streets of Long Island to Echo Park, hip hop's newest talent is more than just a stage name.

From the streets of Long Island to Echo Park, hip hop's newest talent is more than just a stage name.

Photography: Mario Testino

Styling: Nicola Formichetti

Text: Alex Frank

11/16/17: We are deeply saddened to see the news of Lil Peep's death this morning.  Photographer Mario Testino took notice of the rapper during a performance and specifically asked to shoot him for V with stylist Nicola Formichetti. His talent and star quality radiated from the first moment he appeared on the scene.

First Access Entertainment CEO Sarah Stennett, whose company partnered with Peep in early 2016, has issued a statement on the rapper's death. “I am shocked and heartbroken. I do not believe Peep wanted to die, this is so tragic. He had big goals and dreams for the future which he had shared with me, his team, his family and his friends. He was highly intelligent, hugely creative, massively charismatic, gentle and charming. He had huge ambition and his career was flourishing.

I have spoken to his mother and she asked me to convey that she is very, very proud of him and everything he was able to achieve in his short life. She is truly grateful to the fans and the people who have supported and loved him.”

He will be dearly missed. 

This article originally appeared in V109. 

Shortly after we’ve sat down for an hour-long interview in New York City, Lil Peep spots a small spider on the floor by his foot. “I don’t want to kill you, spider,” he whispers to the ground as he notices the creature crawling dangerously close to his Adidas sneakers. “But I will if I have to.” These are exactly the kind of ominous words we’ve come to expect from Peep in his brief career. The artist, originally from Long Island and now based in Los Angeles’s Echo Park neighborhood, has filled an entire songbook with lyrics about desperation, depression, and even death. In the process, he has been heralded for being open and honest about the pains of being a person, a cult rock star for disgruntled teenagers everywhere, and the future of emo.

“I can’t be normal. I’m probably bipolar,” he says. As he speaks, he hides his face—tattooed with, among other things, the word “Crybaby” above his eye—and purple-and-pink dyed hair behind the yellow hood of a sweatshirt. “I always make music as an art—it’s never been a product for me. I don’t care what people think of me. I don’t even care what happens to me.”

Peep, born Gustav Åhr, has made no secret of the depression, drug use, and numerous attempts to commit suicide that have plagued his short life, and he sees this angst as the fuel for every song he creates. Truthfully, there has never been music that sounds quite like Peep’s: a fresh blend of the straightforward lyricism of rap paired with the earnest emotion of emo. That sound is best captured in his full-length project from last year, the appropriately titled Hellboy. Naturally, he tells me that it’s all instinct. “I’ve never made a song sober. I get high on everything and anything, except for heroin and crack. It feels good to get fucked up with my friends—that’s the only thing that feels good right now. I do uppers and downers for the same reason: They get me through the day,” he admits candidly. “I’ve tried to kill myself with drugs a couple times, I’ve overdosed. It takes me a couple days to wake up. Everybody who cares about me wants me to do therapy, but I just can’t do therapy.” He insists defiantly that making music and doing interviews like this—in which he airs out his issues—is all the therapy he needs.

Contrary to his outrageous appearance and deep nihilism, he has a fragile, boyish mien in person. And his hands—capped by long, dirty fingernails, which he doesn’t cut because they make it easier to break up marijuana and because they’re “creepy”—shake as he talks, even when he’s hitting his weed vape to calm his nerves. He keeps his back turned to me throughout most of our conversation. His life is upsetting to hear about, almost to the point that you want to reach out and hug him or offer help, but he’s well aware that his troubles have had the effect of making his songs ring with honesty and empathy. He says he hasn’t come up with a genre label for his work, but if he had to call it something, it would be “emotional hip hop.” He explains, “It’s just hip hop that’s drawn influence from alternative music. I would put a lot of Future’s songs in that genre, too.”

Perhaps fame has always been in the cards for Peep. He tells me that he chose to tattoo his face to the point of extremity years before he even released songs as a way of ensuring he could never pass in polite society. “I had my tattoos when I was super young. I made the decision that I’m not going to be a regular person. I can’t work, I can’t have a job,” he says. He stops and twists his body even further away from me, looking down at the spider that has crawled uncomfortably close to his shoes, and then makes a point of squishing it dead beneath his feet. “I don’t even want to be alive, so fuck that. I’m just going to be a crazy person.” He had a troubled childhood, always feeling like an outsider, but declines to discuss further specifics of his upbringing. Although he hints at childhood traumas, he doesn’t divulge exactly what they were, other than that his sadness started early and hasn’t let up. “There’s things I don’t really want to talk about. Stuff happened when I was young. Growing up where I grew up, the people I was surrounded by—besides my family—didn’t have a good effect on me.”

His father, who is Swedish, left home when he was young and his hippie mom did the best she could to raise him in suburban Long Island, even letting him be homeschooled when he had to leave school because of depression. He ran away to Los Angeles at 17, and music saved him. He makes all of his songs from a computer in his house and has about 10 of his friends crashing on his floor every night. “I could be dead. Shit could’ve turned out way different. The fact that I became Lil Peep helped all that. I know what could’ve happened, and this is a better alternative,” he says.

He’s had surprising overnight success, complete with sold-out shows everywhere from New York to Moscow, a city where he has become popular quite quickly, perhaps, he thinks, because the bleak day-to-day of Russian life is a fertile context for his music. This renown has sustained him, but it also comes with its own set of issues: “I feel like I’m in wonderland now. People use you. They’re not really your friend; you think they’re your friend. There’s a point where you don’t want to meet anyone. I’m just going to let the world chew me up and spit me out and see what happens. It’s like I got swept up by a wave and I’m rolling around underwater. And eventually the water will calm and I’ll be able to catch a breath of air.”

Peep has some short-term goals aside from just staying afloat, including the release of a new album in the near future and achieving his dream of walking in a Jeremy Scott fashion show, a designer whose high-octane Pop Art collections share color sensibilities with Peep. He describes his personal style (aptly) as “acid and mushrooms and punk rock.” He’d like to make enough money to support his family financially, too. At the time of the interview, he had recently reunited with his girlfriend, Layla, whom he met on the set of his video for “Girls.” He perks up when he scrolls through his Instagram messages to show me the numerous girls who send him naked pictures, telling him how much they love him. “I don’t have a filter and I never will,” he declares. “That’s why people like me: Celebrities have to care, and I don’t care at all.” But surely he must care about something, anything? “I care about animals,” he admits, before remembering the small murder he’s just committed right in front of me. He smiles, but there’s the weight of sadness behind his smirk. “Except spiders.”

TOP AMI
Credits: Hair Christiaan grooming Isamaya Ffrench (Streeters) Set design Peter Klein (Frank Reps) Executive Producer Kat Davey Production Fabio Mayor Traveling Producer Philip Bode Production Coordinator Naomi Martin Digital technician Jakob Storm Photo assistants Patrick Roxas and Gaspar Dietrich Stylist assistant Marta del Rio Set design assistants Mateus Lages, Alex Perweiler, Dylan Lynch Post-production Liam Black Location Canoe Studios Catering Lemons & Olives

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