“Until I’m Nothing But Memories:” Lil Peep’s Haunting Lessons on Mental Illness

I keep Lil Peep to myself.  I do not tell others I listen to him, I do not talk about him, I do not listen to his music when other people are around.  I do not entertain the notion that his music is sometimes a window into my soul.

I don’t wanna die alone this way
Read the tattoos on my face
Imma die young, but I get cake
I spent it on the drugs and act OK

Early yesterday morning, it was confirmed that Gustav “Lil Bo Peep” Åhr had passed away.  He was 21.  For anyone remotely familiar with his music, there can be no doubt as to how, and all hope that it was only to dull the pain, not surrender to it.  It was no secret the Åhr was extremely depressed and self medicated with all kinds of drugs.  Every single one of his songs dealt with drug use, depression, low self esteem, suicide, the list goes on.  Combined with the tattoos on his face, brightly dyed hair, and a crooked smile, Lil Peep was so far into counterculture that at first glance he was repulsive.

Truth be told, Åhr’s music is endearing and at times, devastatingly relatable and diabolically irresistible.  The heavy themes of his lyrics are delivered in a mesmerizing drawl over hypnotic, infernally catchy melodies that only make his melancholy siren that much more tempting.  Sonically administered morphine, sweet auditory seduction. Music that is this depressing and talks about suicide every other lyric should not be so captivating.

Lil Peep’s music has been largely referred to as “emo-rap,” which is more or less accurate.  His music sounds like emo-rock, but his message is delivered through rap verses that cut deeper than either genre can account for.  He was a white, truly troubled emotional rapper, so where did he fit in?

The answer is uncomfortable: everywhere.  Åhr suffered from intense depression, and in an interview with Pitchfork in which he was bluntly asked, “Are you suicidal?” he answered, “yeah, it is serious.”

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. That was part of why I moved to California, trying to get away from the place that was doing that to me, and the people I was around. 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.

1 in 4 people suffer from depression.  Lil Peep was most assuredly one of them.  After I found out he had passed and I posted a RIP post on my Snapchat story, a few friends responded “drug culture in hip-hop is a problem.”  What they fail to understand is that drug abuse is a symptom of mental illness.

The very first song I heard by Peep was “praying to the sky,” and in it he raps, “they gon’ miss me when I’m dead / I lay my head and rest in peace / I’m prayin’ to the sky and I don’t even know why.” On yet another song called “haunt u” he foretells the future:

Bump Lil Peep, when I die, I’mma haunt you
I could live forever if I want to
I could stop time, but I never wanna do that again
Nothin’ worse than losin’ a friend
And the feelin’ you get when everybody that you love ain’t around

Gustav Åhr was an artistic genius, a real life messiah and literal savior for some.  He lured his listeners to come to terms with mental illness and face the demons.  His death also reveals the stigma of mental illness.  It’s taboo, a layer of grime lying just below the surface.

The Washington Post published an article about the opioid crises and how the current administration was complicit in its uprise.  175 people will die of an overdose a day until action is taken.  Are Lil Peep’s fans complicit in his accidental overdose?  Åhr’s fans, publicist, friends and family all were acutely aware of his depression and drug abuse, and yet at 21 he died.  We all failed him.  We must do a better job in talking about and dealing with mental illness.  We must engage each other, even if its uncomfortable.

I used to keep Lil Peep to myself.  I used to not talk about him. But now I do listen to his music when other people are around.  I do accept the fact that his music is sometimes a window into my soul.

this music is the only thing keeping the peace

when I’m falling to pieces

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