It’s a frosty, late December afternoon and I’m driving towards the Allegria Hotel in Long Beach, Long Island. Cars are packed bumper-to-bumper and parking is a bitch to find. Finally, I get a space and walk towards the nearby beach, where a crowd of people — somewhere in the ballpark of 500 — has gathered. The beach air is frigid, and it’s partly cloudy, the sun struggling to shine a comforting light.
At the end of the beach stands a large, signature-clad cardboard poster of a heavily tattooed twenty-something, Long Islander born Gustav Åhr. By the shore his first name, followed by a heart, is drawn into the sand. A middle-aged woman, dressed in black, approaches it and places a rose next to it.
Like most of the people around me, it’s hard for me to take in what’s happened. After all, Gus, better known as Lil Peep, was only 21 at the time of his death. Yet he was on the rise as one of the top hip hop artists to come out of SoundCloud rap. Peep just releasing his debut studio album, Come Over When You’re Sober: Part I, just four months before.
I venture around the crowded beach and observe the friends, family and fans who mourn him. They throw flowers into the water as the sunset glows through cracks in the clouds.
Earlier that day, a crowd of 200 people gathered inside the hotel, including his mother, Liza Womack, to share some of their favorite memories and experiences with Peep.
“Gus did it. He lived his life on his own terms,” Womack said. “He was a stubborn, driven, crafty and tender young man. He was also vulnerable.”
Among the other people who spoke were Jenny Kastner, his grandmother, followed by an assortment of friends and fans.
“Just think of what he accomplished in 21 years,” said Womack. “He traveled to Russia, England, Belgium, France, and El Paso. I will probably never go to El Paso in my life. Most people don’t get to do in their entire lives what Gus did in just 21 years.” It’s heartbreaking to think of what could have been.
Although Lil Peep was walking in Paris fashion shows and living his dreams as an internet rap star, he shared on social media that his life was not as glamorous as it may have seemed.
Just a day before Peep accidently overdosed on a toxic combination of Xanax and Fentanyl, he shared a video of himself of taking a bar-shaped pill.
“I almost choked to death,” he says to his camera with a smirk as he shook up a green pill bottle.
Shortly after he shared another post saying:
“I just wanna be everybody’s everything. I want too much from people but then I don’t want anything from them at the same time u feel me I don’t let people help me but I need help but not when I have my pills but that’s temporary one day maybe I won’t die young and I’ll be happy? What is happy I always have happiness for like 10 seconds and then it’s gone. I’m getting so tired of this.”
Lil Peep’s lifestyle involved a regular intake of pills such as Xanax and other opioids. On top of that, as he said in an interview with Pitchfork, “I suffer from depression and some days I wake up and I’m like, ‘Fuck, I wish I didn’t wake up.”
“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,” Peep sung on the hook of “OMFG.”
As sad as it sounds, and as much as may we not want to admit it, an early death had been foreshadowed. In a recent “No Jumper” podcast episode, host Adam22, a close friend of Peep, said, “He didn’t want to die, but he very much knew that he was living in a way in which it wasn’t going to be that out of the ordinary for those circumstances to come about.” Lil Peep’s manager tweeted, “I’ve been expecting this call for a year. Mother fuck.”
But in spite of these grim details, those close to Lil Peep said that he truly loved life, took pride in the influence he had and was a great source of positive energy.
“For anybody out there who’s a Lil Peep fan, you guys know how talented he was; You guys know how great he was. Well, he was even more fucking great as a person,” said Bella Thorne, his ex-girlfriend, in an Instagram video.
According to his brother, Karl Ahr, who goes by Oskar, “He was so proud when he heard that there were people in the world who wanted to kill themselves, and then they didn’t because they listened to his music. He was helping people, he was not somebody who needed help. He was not as sad as people think he was. It’s frustrating as someone who remembers a happy brother.”
In a time when the world seems to be getting darker every passing day– a time when exclusiveness and hatred seem to reign at their highest levels of power — Lil Peep was a symbol of love and inclusion. He was a representation of individuality.
In her eulogy to her late son, Womack says: “He rejected being molded into a box … when he locked himself in the garage and got his first tattoo, he began to make his rejection of the box public. He dared the world. That’s when some of his friends told their sons and daughters they didn’t want them hanging around with Gus.”
After the speeches conclude, a large portion of the crowd lines up to sign their names on a large cardboard poster of Peep that reads “Lil Peep: 1996-2017.”
Like Lil Peep, I’m 21, and grew up on Long Island loving hip-hop and rap culture. And more than anything, I’ve seen firsthand the effects that the abuse of pills can take on people. I’ve seen what can happen when people who need help don’t get it. People have come in and out of my life because of things like this.
One of the things that Peep’s death highlighted was the issue of the glorification of hard drugs in rap culture today. Shortly after Peep’s death, rappers like Lil Uzi Vert, SmokePurpp, Lil Pump, RiFF RAFF have vowed to stop abusing harder substances. Another SoundCloud star, Lil Xan, landed on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Betrayed,” a song warning about the addictive nature of Xanax.
Of course, this isn’t to say that drugs, with their very mention, glorify their usage. Depictions of drug use can add context to music and add another layer of emotion, when executed right.
But when rappers like Slug Christ, in the song “Herron,” talk about how “I won’t let my friends hit no motherfuckin’ herron (mothafuckin’ that)/I do it by myself in the motherfuckin’ bathroom,” it comes off as cynical and irresponsible. Especially considering that the listening audience for this music tends to be teenagers and young adults.
So what do we take from all this? How do we learn from Peep’s life?
To answer this, Womack had this to say:
“Please do not make assumptions about people or events in ignorance. Try to step outside your own box and open your mind to new ideas. My sweet little peeper is gone now but he has surely left us a lot of wonderful material to review and consider. I am so proud of him — you have no idea.”
After the sun went down, and the everyone began to leave, I went into my car to drive back towards the other side of the Island.
I think about a lot of things; the people who have come and gone, the importance of self-care, society’s habit of pre-judgement, our own morality.
Lil Peep could have been anyone, and in a way, I think that was the message he wanted to spread. We all feel like we’re the Daria’s of the world– the outcasts of the schools and occupations we attend. We all feel like we’re equally worthless.
But the truth is that, while that may be true to some degree, everyone is worth the skin and bones that makes them. Everyone is worth the space they inhabit. Everyone is worth the time they take.
Gustav Ahr was just another kid from Long Island, nothing more, nothing less. But he cared about the work he made. He knew who he was, and embraced it. And to the people who dismissed him, he wanted to prove them wrong for doing so. In life, we’re all going to be placed into a box.
The key is to burn through it without falling through the cracks in the floor.