LIL PEEP WILL BE AN ICON (PART 2 OF 3)
I’m not sure if I will ever release parts 1 and 3. I wasn’t going to publish any of it at all but I’ve really wanted to put my thoughts out about PEEP for quite some time. I’ve been convinced he’ll be one of the most important artists of this current generation since I first heard his music in March of 2016. The discussion of PEEP here in part 2 ties into a larger story that involves a friend of mine who ended up at the crossroads of life after a disappointing, confusing, and dark series of events. This friend has given me permission to tell the entire story but I know it’s not the best thing for him at this time. I should be able to speak with him again in 3–4 months. If at that point he gives me the same approval, I may decide to release the other parts.
Now that it’s obvious PEEP is going to blow up (features in Fader, Pitchfork, Noisey, Cara Lewis is his agent, massively increasing buzz online), I’m pissed I didn’t put something out last year. Hope you still find this interesting.
LIL PEEP WILL BE AN ICON (PART 2 OF 3)
…at some point I reluctantly opened the link to the video he needed me to check out and the ensuing 30 seconds was a transformative experience in how I perceive the near future of contemporary music. I knew I was watching an artist who would one day be an icon. I knew I was listening to someone who would one day be a super star. I knew it was someone who would usher in a new wave of chaos that the mainstream would be too late to catch up with. The video was a clip of LiL PEEP performing live for the first time, in Tucson AZ. I sat there watching the video over and over and over and over. It was actually not until months later I found out that was Lil PEEP’s first live show which makes the impression it left on me even more poignant. It was shot on a camera phone and PEEP was performing BeamerBoy, a song you probably have heard by now but maybe not by the time I was first watching this clip in March 2016. It’s difficult to articulate what instantaneously struck me about it and why it made me jump to such brash conclusions. Even more frustrating is the fact the video seems to have disappeared off YouTube. I found a short recap video of the entire show which also featured Schemaposse (the collective PEEP was a part of at the time but is no longer affiliated with) artists JGRXXN and Ghostmane (also no longer a part of Schemaposse) but it’s not the same clip that was sent to me. The recap video does show PEEP performing but briefly and the associated audio track is not live. You don’t get the true essence of what was taking place during his set. It’s also difficult to explain my initial thoughts because starting that day I went on to listen to PEEP’s entire catalogue as well as keep up with all releases including Crybaby, Hellboy, Castles and Castles II (with Lil Tracy) and many other sporadically released tracks. The more I hear and see from him, the more I’m convinced my initial thoughts will become reality. I’m biased to my original opinion. What led me to make such a bold proclamation?
BeamerBoy is produced by Nedarb Nagrom. Nedarb is an insanely talented and underrated producer with a uniquely macabre style. He seamlessly blends obscure dark sounds with unexpected samples from bands like Silverstein and The Postal Service. The resulting instrumentals are always A1 but equally important is the fact they pair beyond perfect with PEEP’s voice, flow, cadence, and emotionally driven content. The BeamerBoy beat is no exception. PEEP and Nedarb are the modern day underground equivalent of Snoop and Dre circa 92–93. When the clip starts the first thing that can be heard is BeamerBoy’s signature intro. It’s an eerie riff that I can best describe as the Tales from the Crypt outro slowed down and met with 80’s synth. This riff is laid over the vibrating sound of an un-tuned acoustic guitar being obsessively half strummed (if it’s a sample, I am unaware).The beat is dark but hauntingly inviting. Visually, PEEP is standing there shirtless and motionless in the middle of the club. He’s a tall, thin figure. His forearms, hands, and neck are tatted up while sporting bright pink hair and clutching a wired microphone. For those few motionless seconds PEEP appears to be grappling with conflicting thoughts. He’s thinking too much. Do these people care about me? Do I really want to be here? How much money are we making? I hate my dad. I want to be a famous rapper. I’m not really a rapper, I’m something else. I want to blow up. I don’t want to blow up. I’m sad. I’m happy. I’m confident. I’m unsure. I’m suicidal. With a multitude of emotions and a microphone in tow, PEEP can’t escape the current situation if he wanted to. It’s too late. He’s the center of a ready-to-explode crowd that for those same few seconds intentionally remains pseudo-calm while preparing for the beat to drop. Unlike PEEP the crowd is not thinking too much. They’re just waiting for PEEP to lead them and when the beat hits…they go off. PEEP’s demeanor changes rapidly. Instinct takes over. He goes in. He attacks the wired mic that’s now pointed windscreen down over his face as he belts out “IM A MUTHA F&*$@# SCHEMA BOY, IM A DREAMER BOY, I LOVE A GIRL THAT DON’T EVEN F&*$@# NEED A BOY, BABY IM A BEAMERBOY, I NEED A BEAMER BOY.” He’s violently bouncing in unison with an audience he has now wrangled complete control over. Everyone is losing their damn mind. It’s a moment that anyone who has been to a lot of live shows would say can never happen often enough. It rarely happens during an artist’s first live performance. At the time I would not have known if it was his 10057th performance. I just knew what I heard was unique enough to reach critical mass. I knew I saw someone with the force of a super star and presence of an icon. I asked myself a question that I immediately found out the answer to. “Is the rest of his material this good?”. Yes, about 96.7% of it is.
Stop right now. If you’re already familiar with LiL PEEP’s music and have heard BeamerBoy, think about the first time that intro played. You wanted to keep listening. In a world where the barrier to entry for being a “creator” of art is so low and we are inundated with artists of all disciplines vying for our attention, how often does a song stop you? How often does a piece of art refuse to relinquish your attention? The answer is almost never. If you haven’t heard BeamerBoy, go listen to it with an honest and open mind before reading further…What were you thinking during the first 35–40 seconds of the track? I’m not interested in you agreeing with my claim that PEEP will become an icon. I don’t expect you to have the same immediate conclusion that I did. In that regard, I don’t care what you think. What I do care about is your admission that at the very least you were held captive by this song. Even if you listened through and thought the content wasn’t in your taste, you couldn’t hit stop. For an artist to accomplish that today is magic. Today we only pay mind to that which emotionally or symbolically draws us in. This doesn’t mean you have to like BeamerBoy. It doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to your own opinion and taste in music. It doesn’t mean you have to think PEEP is a prolific writer. What it means is I will give you 1000 try’s to write a more captivating hook and I promise you won’t. You can’t. I remember hearing Charlamagne Tha God defend his opinion as to why Drake should rap more in his songs. Ultimately he described one very important aspect of what makes certain artist’s music stick. He said something to the effect of, “when Drake raps he says stuff I haven’t heard before.” In an off the cuff comment on VladTV he verbalized something I’ve often talked circles around in an attempt to explain one of the major reasons certain art gains traction. He obviously didn’t mean what he said in the wordplay sense because there are plenty of ridiculously skilled technical rappers out there who consistently put hundreds of words together that we haven’t heard paired before. I believe he meant it in the sense of creative representation. When he raps on a track, Drake has the ability to present thoughts and emotions in the form of lyrics we have not heard a resemblance of in any other song or by any other artist that came before. I don’t know if it’s intentional or not but this is exactly what PEEP does and it’s one of the major reasons his music works. “I LOVE A GIRL WHO DON’T EVEN F&*$@# NEED A BOY”. What artist have you heard present a similar verbalization when describing their anxiety over a relationship? One could argue PEEP is actually just stating the fact he’s into an independent woman. In either interpretation the point I’m trying to make still works. No one has said what he is saying, the way he is saying it, in the context he is saying it in. This principle is woven throughout all of PEEP’s music. Take the internet hit “Star Shopping” for example, “LOOK AT MY FACE WHILE YOU TALKIN TO ME CUZ WE ONLY HAVE ONE CONVERSATION A WEEK. CAN I GET ONE CONVERSATION AT LEAST?”. You can’t tell me you haven’t felt like this at least once, probably around the time a significant other was curving you and it was time to accept it’s over. He’s describing relatable thoughts and emotions in a way that’s simple yet original. That line is quotable and unique to PEEP’s overall style. I’m sure some will be thinking, “A fifth grader could have written it!”. I will give you 1000 try’s to write something more captivating. You won’t. You can’t.
That’s what I was waiting to hear. It’s the gatekeepers of music journalism collectively banging their fists on the table while screaming the names of every 90’s and early 2000’s emo band. “This has all been done before!”. No it hasn’t. It’s not the same. Yes, PEEP is influenced by a lot of those bands and by the emo wave of that time period. However, other than penning content which contains emotional vulnerability, there is no parallel. No one listens to LiL PEEP and says “…that sounds like something Chris Carrabba would have written.”. His style is his own. I don’t know how or really if it should be classified but it’s definitely not “modern emo”. Also, PEEP’s self loathing turns to bragging at the drop of a dime, sometimes within 2–3 bars of the same verse. This is uncharacteristic of traditional emo music. We are drawn to artists who openly express such a dichotomy because our tendency to think and act on either end of a spectrum depending on our mood is something that makes us human. While many of our iconic artists have displayed a mind state at odds with itself from song to song (see 2Pac: “Keep Ya Head Up” followed by “All About U”) , PEEP is liable to switch up multiple times in the same track. He once tweeted “I’m depressed but I’m lit.” It’s not a song lyric but it perfectly exemplifies the natural duplicity that permeates a lot of his music. On a recent song with Florida underground artist Kirb La Goop, PEEP flows “… struggle with my habits I don’t struggle payin rent.” This half humble, half bragging honesty is another part of what makes PEEP’s writing his own.
By itself, singing or rapping something original or even “deep” does not make you worth listening to. It definitely doesn’t mean you’re talented either. The difference maker is when we can sense genuineness behind your words. Whether it’s done consciously or subconsciously, us listeners know if what we’re hearing rolled out naturally when you put pen to paper or if it’s something you’ve forced. It’s also worth mentioning that simple lyrics can be effective under the right circumstances. PEEP may often sing or rap like he’s wandering lonely around a Long Island mall or locked in his bedroom commiserating with himself over grievances some might find trivial. However, the thoughts and emotions he conveys have a genuine quality that’s impossible to fake. I don’t say the following lightly or with any degree of sarcasm…PEEP is genuinely sad, depressed, and in his own words, suicidal. Thankfully he creates music as an outlet to alleviate the crippling emotions. In turn, what he is thinking and feeling becomes palpable for the listener. When this happens we’re hooked. It doesn’t matter if an artist is singing about depression and anxiety or their love for the Sunday Farmers Market. If your music can make me relate to and empathize with what you’re going through, even if it doesn’t fit any part of my life story, then you’ve just gained a fan. This is something artists who don’t gain traction get wrong. They make music that tells the story of someone else out of fear their own life isn’t interesting enough. Here is a big secret that no one else will tell you. It doesn’t matter if your life is boring. It doesn’t matter if you feel like a nobody. Just be genuine and your fans will find you.
How does all this equate to ascertaining PEEP will one day reach iconic status?
Where does this leave us?
There are two more important parts of PEEP’s catalyst. First is the character he created for himself and second is the general architecture of his music. I do realize the idea of him “creating a character” sounds contradictory when considering my diatribe about the genuine quality of his art. I’ll explain.
Nowadays displaying a tatted up face, wearing huge snow boats with multi colored pants, and publishing increasingly outlandish instagram posts, PEEP has created a character for himself that commands attention as he weaves through the internet. This character isn’t boring, unoriginal, or just like that other guy. It’s a character that cuts through the noise. Yes, it is a character but I believe this character is just a radical representation of how PEEP sees himself. In other words, LiL PEEP as we know him is Gustav Åhr 2.0. In that sense he’s not posturing which is the most we can ask of an artist in today’s music landscape. Understand that being a talented artist today may get you accolades from your peers and deep followers but it won’t float you to the top of the game and it certainly won’t keep you top of mind. Without an intriguing presence you will end up a footnote at best. I’m not saying this is right. I’m not saying it’s fair. I’m saying it just is. From an artistic and marketing standpoint, PEEP has done an incredible job of pushing his extreme persona to the limits without the appearance of trying.
As for the architecture, PEEP mashes the trap sound today’s youth appreciates with emotional content that resonates with them. Is he the only or first artist to do this? No, but that’s irrelevant because there is very few who do it effectively. When done right and done with authenticity, this blending of trap and impassioned lyrics has unlimited potential in terms of connecting with today’s youth. Every generation has their own bout with emotional issues. However, in a world where quickly glancing at your phone confirms your place in the social hierarchy, today’s young people face a level of anxiety much different than previous generations. As an adult it makes me uneasy at times. I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like for an 18 year old. When you start seeing yourself as an outsider, you feel lost and yearn to connect with someone or something. Through music, this connection is precisely what PEEP offers his family of young fans. Keep in mind it’s always the youth that decides what artists should be revered on a generational basis. PEEP’s work is the genesis of an implied contract that says:
I’m not here to be a role model, or to mentor you, or to fix you. I’m here to let you know that I’m feeling just like you, maybe worse. We will go through it together so that neither of us is alone.
This is why he will win in the end.