Grappling with the loss of a musician is never an easy task. To articulate the pain felt when someone you never knew personally passes away is almost controversial–how can we compare what we feel to the way their loved ones must feel? In the wake of emo-influenced rapper Lil Peep’s shocking death, his fans are left searching for the right words to commemorate the 21-year-old.
Born Gustav Åhr, the Long Island native was best known for his ability to fuse the urgency and astuteness of contemporary rap with the cutting, raw sensibilities of emo music. Sampling the likes of Oasis and Avenge Sevenfold on his mixtapes “Crybaby” and “Hellboy” respectively, it was this keen ability to coalesce his many influences into one track that allowed him to rise to the forefront of contemporary pop music.
Though his music was released to much acclaim from sites like The New York Times and Pitchfork, it was his personal connection to so many that resonates in his passing. “In the short time that I knew you, you were a great friend to me and a great person. Your music changed the world and it’ll never be the same,” Post Malone wrote. “I love you bud. Forever.” Music producer Marshemello tweeted, “Peep was the nicest person. Hanging out with him, talking to him about music, the song ideas we were going to do together and touring was so amazing. Everyone will miss you man”. Charlie XCX, Pete Wentz and Travis Barker among countless others have joined in commemorating the young star alongside grieving fans worldwide.
Peep was remarkable in his ability to fearlessly push boundaries not only artistically, but socially as well. From speaking out against abuse, homophobia and hyper-masculinity, to starting an open conversation about mental health, Lil Peep used his platform to create a community and discuss issues that matter. His frankness was a gateway to connecting with his fans, providing a voice and a safe-haven for those in desperate need.
In discussing Lil Peep’s legacy, it feels like an injustice to not discuss the topics of mental health and drug addiction. Peep was very open about his battle with depression and mental illness. His lyrics very often delved into the topic of suicide (“I used to wanna kill myself/Came up, still wanna kill myself/My life is going nowhere/I want everyone to know that I don’t care.”), and he frequently accompanied Instagram posts with captions such as “When I die You’ll love me” and “I feel emptyyyyyy”.
In the scope of music history, the discussion about drug addition and mental health is lacking compared to the many young stars who have lost their lives to these relentless illnesses. Lil Peep is not the first to idolize the likes of Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse, eventually meeting the same harrowing fate as they did. The heartbreaking truth is that issues no matter how many young adults pass away from mental health and substance abuse related issues, we still as a society treat it as a choice. Too often do we confuse art as an expression of lived experience with the glamorization of the subject matter, refusing to approach addiction and depression as the serious illnesses they are. It is immensely difficult to process the loss of such a young talent, but it’s important to let Peep’s death spark a greater conversation about addiction and change our approach to understanding mental illness.
Tragedy strikes at the most unsuspecting times, and so often we find ourselves wondering what could have been done differently. In an effort to not dwell on the “what ifs”, it’s up to us to use Lil Peep’s heartbreaking death to ignite a wave of change in our understanding of mental illness and addiction. Peep’s experimental approach to music and ability to evoke a sense of both desperation and freedom was refreshing, but more importantly his genuine compassion and openness on topics such as suicide, depression and identity is profoundly impactful, paving the way to start an open discourse on mental illness in the music industry and beyond.
Image Source: Billboard