Lil Peep: the story of the late 21-year-old dubbed “lo-fi rap’s Kurt Cobain”

Gustav Åhr passed away on November 15, 2017

When he died last night (November 15) at the age of 21, Lil Peep’s potential and popularity were in the ascendent – as they had been for years. Just prior to the release of his debut album ‘Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 1’, the then-20-year-old said David Bowie was his “biggest inspiration”, Frank Ocean “my musical idol,” and divisive rapper RiFF RAFF “a role model”. He added: “I’d love to be the new Kurt Cobain.”

The impact of his two-year music career was huge, as the musicians Peep himself looked up to have made clear. Diplo tweeted: “Peep had so much more to do… he was constantly inspiring me.” Post Malone said: “Your music changed the world and it’ll never be the same.” Fall Out Boy‘s Pete Wentz wrote: “Lil Peep forever.” RiFF RAFF tweeted: “He had such a bright future… He was fearless and unfazed.”

Peep was born Gustav Åhr in Pennsylvania and grew up in Long Island, New York. His parents, who split in his teens, were both Harvard graduates turned teachers. He told The Times: “I always got good grades, I just didn’t go to school much. I didn’t like it. They let me do my diploma from home, but I always knew I was destined to do something creative, so I didn’t care.”

Aged 14, he started getting tattoos, and alongside his blossoming music career he became a hugely recognisable Instagram star thanks to his face tattoos, which included “Get cake, die young” and the title of one of his songs, ‘Crybaby’. Thanks to his unique look he was invited to the catwalk at fashion weeks in Paris and Milan and he was recently shot by renowned photographer Mario Testino for V Magazine. “They all say the same,” he told The Times. “That I’m edgy.”

“Of course it’s as much about image as music,” he continued, “but you could say the same about rock stars of the past. They were characters. David Bowie is my biggest inspiration. Pretty much the only thing that stayed the same with Bowie was his eyes. Everything else constantly changed, from his sexuality to his songs.” Peep nonchalantly came out as bisexual in August.

A member of Schema Posse and GothBoiClique crews, Lil Peep released his first mixtape in 2015: ‘LIL PEEP PART ONE’. He followed this with an EP called ‘Feelz’ and another mixtape, ‘LIVE FOREVER’ in the same year. More EPs followed in 2016, notably ‘Crybaby’ and his breakthrough, ‘Hellboy’, which preceded the release of his debut album proper, ‘Come Over When You’re Sober Pt. 1’ in August 2017. His music videos for hits such as ‘White Wine’, ‘Awful Things’ and ‘Benz Truck’ each had millions of views on YouTube.

Peep’s music came to him easily – “It takes me like five minutes to make a whole fucking song,” he told The Fader this year – and this music blended collaged elements of trap, emo, grunge and southern rock. He sampled artists such as Radiohead and Brand New, and wrote frank lyrics that centred on drug use and mental illness.

His 2016 track ‘OMFG’ contains the line: “I used to wanna kill myself, came up, still wanna kill myself, my life is goin’ nowhere, I want everyone to know that I don’t care“. Asked about the song in a Pitchfork interview he commented: “Yeah, it is serious. I suffer from depression and some days I wake up and I’m like: ‘Fuck, I wish I didn’t wake up’ … I realized it was just myself — it’s a chemical imbalance in my brain. Some days I’ll be very down and out, but you won’t be able to tell, really, because I don’t express that side of myself on social media. That’s the side of myself that I express through music. That’s my channel for letting all that shit out.”

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