In the decade of our lord, the mighty 2010s, anything is possible. Because we’re living in a Matrix-esque simulation where Disney owns Star Wars, Kanye West is an alt-right shill and Cadbury is willing to put Vegemite in its chocolate (never forget that travesty), it’s not entirely shocking that emo’s mainstream limelight has shifted from the grungy, distortion-ridden days of yore to a pristine, technicolour fusion scene that’s crushing it on the radio. Acts like Twenty One Pilots and PVRIS have bellied up beats as slick as they are edgy to form a stronghold on the electro-pop realm, while names like nothing, nowhere. and Lil Uzi Vert have popped up to lead the ‘emo rap’ revolution.
None of those aforementioned, however, have made a drop in the ocean quite the size of that which Gustav Åhr (better known as Lil Peep) did a few years back. Peep stood out amongst his peers for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which because he was authentically passionate in his influences, sampling from a full gamut of bands spanning Underoath to American Football; or that amidst the grittiness of his content, he peddled an image of unconventional love and positivity (for instance, Peep’s moniker was inspired by his mother – it was her childhood nickname for Gustav). He was famously sweet to interviewers and fans. He’d heap praise on his mum whenever an opportunity would show, and he denigrated rap’s ‘too cool to smile’ cliché.
Peep’s songs were defined by their heart-on-sleeve honesty and emotional rawness, as Peep howled musings on heartbreak, mental illness and drug addiction. The lattermost would famously catch up with him on November 15th, 2017 – mere hours before the penultimate date on his debut album tour, Peep died of an accidental drug overdose. There was a veritable cornucopia of substances found in his system, but the provoking culprits were xanax and fentanyl. Made all the more polarising by Peep’s eerie posts about death beforehand and a Snapchat story in which Peep downed the offending pills (followed by one posted by a friend showing his ‘sleeping’ body), plus the fact he’d celebrated his 21st birthday just a fortnight prior, the news hit especially hard.
But in the year that’s passed since, Peep’s legacy has only flourished. That debut album – Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 1– became an instant cult favourite in circles that would otherwise have snubbed its hip-hop leanings. Tributes poured out in abundance, everyone from Post Malone to Good Charlotte paying their dues in the form of covers and social media salvos. Warner Music had managed the rollout of Peep’s content in his native Sweden until that point, but Columbia Records stepped in to ensure his burgeoning worldwide fanbase would be kept sated when it came to his wealth of unfinished material. And on October 14th, 2018, Peep’s estate confirmed that a proper sequel to Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 1 (guess its title) was on its way to store shelves.
This is great.
The simple fact that Pt. 1 was titled as such makes it clear that Peep fully intended a follow-up to drop. He’d likely finished recording his parts for the album, given it was initially scheduled to land in 2017, and his death came just a month and a half before the years end. Production on Pt. 2 was wrangled by longtime collaborator Smokeasac, who was also on-deck for its predecessor, so Peep fans can rest easy knowing Columbia haven’t stained his beats with input from high-profile names just for the extra clout (to that end, there are no guest spots on the tracklist either). All things considered, the album’s rollout seems clean and guided with the fastidious care Peep would’ve wanted. We’re excited to hear the album, and you can bet your last Skittle we’ve got that 2LP vinyl on pre-order.
But we’re not entirely convinced that everything behind this push is being done with Peep’s best interests in mind. In fact, there’s something deeply unsettling about the way Columbia and co. are pushing these new releases.
First up, there’s the issue of the visuals. Peep’s music didn’t glorify mental illness (though this is largely a subjective opinion), and his boastful ruminations on drug use were often undercut with an opaque bleakness – he didn’t present much incentive for kids to run out and pop their own supply of pills. But in his death, the endurance of that aesthetic and narrative offers of a different perspective. Peep was a depressed man who died overdosing on the drugs he used to cope with his struggles; to advertise posthumous releases with that imagery after the fact is not only discomforting given its irony, but insulting to those who share his afflictions.
Because in life, Peep’s canvas of suicidal ideation and drug worship – slicked over in drab, vapourwave-inspired VHS filters – was an outlet. Dipping into that wealth of symbolism was his way of overcoming the stranglehold those vices held on him. It can’t be in death, though, because with Columbia (or anyone else, for that matter) at the helm, it’s no longer hisoutlet. To feign as such feels kitschy, in an extremely gross way.
It also sends a cold message to those following in Peep’s footsteps. “Suicidal? Kill yourself. Got a problem with drugs? Fuck it, what good is wasted blow? Depression equals fame, and if you die sad, we major labels can monetise that for our andyour benefits. Your fans will triple – quadruple! – and your family? They’ll never have to work another day.” It’s a similar thing to what happened when Kurt Cobain overdosed on shotgun in ’94: romanticisation of illness by proxy.
But what’s the alternative? It’d be equally marring on Peep’s legacy for Columbia to water down his aesthetic because of the sensitivities surrounding it. Peep went all in on illustrations of frowny faces and pills before he died; why shouldn’t his estate continue pushing that element of his artistry? Honestly, we don’t really know. It’s a muddy river to wade down. But there are certainly better ways to promote new Peep music than by bastardising the canvas he painted with his own emotions. It does makes sense for Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 2 to retain the visual cues of its predecessor; it is, after all, a direct continuation of a narrative that Peep himself established (and all of its promotional shots were pulled from sessions that Peep explicitly took part in for the project).
So thus brings us to the morality of it all. Columbia have done a solid job (thus far) with allowing Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 2the integrity it deserves, but in the grander scheme of things, they’ve shown no care for – or knowledge of – Peep’s individual and societal politics. Case in point: “Falling Down”.
For those unaware, “Falling Down” began life as “Sunlight On Your Skin”, a track Peep was working on with longtime friend and collaborator iLoveMakonnen. In the wake of Peep’s death, and after hearing a sample of the track’s leak on YouTube, fellow emo-rapper and noted abuser XXXTentacion(hereafter X) reached out to Peep’s estate with some potential guest bars. Nothing happened with the track for a while – and with X’s history of shitty behaviour, it’s more than likely he was just looking to profit off the uprising of attention after Peep’s death – but when X was murdered in June ’18, work began to make the fabricated collaboration a reality.
Except that according to friends, fans and fellow members of the GothBoiClique – the emo-rap collective Peep was a key part of – the late creative would never have approved the track. “[Peep] explicitly rejected X for his abuse of women,” said GothBoiClique member Fish Nark, “Spent time and money getting X’s songs removed from his Spotify playlists, and wouldn’t have co-signed that song. Don’t listen to it. This shit is people trying to make money off him. He never would have signed up for that – he did not like XXXTentacion.”
It simply makes no sense for Peep and X to buddy up. For one thing, Peep was known to champion and support the women in his life, while X had a history of violent misogyny and was arrested on battery charges for lashing out on his pregnant girlfriend. Peep was openly bisexual, but X beat his gay cellmate half to death for “looking at him wrong”. Their personalities could not have been more dissonant, and though he never outright said as much, Peep allegedly abhorred X for his character. Those close to Peep can assure (and have assured) listeners that he and X were close to ending their beef, but of course, Peep isn’t here to back that up.
Moderators on the GothBoiClique subreddit were quick to denounce the track. “Out of respect to Peep/GBC and in defiance of Columbia Records we’ve decided that it is simply inappropriate and unethical for us to allow posting of the coming release and support of this song,” one post declared. Partly in response to fan backlash, Columbia (in accordance with Peep’s estate) released “Sunlight On Your Skin” in its original form the following week. Objectively speaking, it is – in every possible sense – better than the version tarnished by X’s bars. That Columbia listened to fans’ cries and gave us the OG track was was a positive step, but the fact they were willing to pollute Peep’s legacy by releasing “Falling Down” in the first place is worrying. What else would they do with his image and artistry?
Articles on SPIN and Noisey dig deeper into the “Falling Down” drama, but ultimately, the argument at hand transcends Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 2 and its semi-related one-off tracks (sidenote: the album’s lead single, “Cry Alone”, is fucking brilliant). At their core, posthumous releases are sketchy – most obviously because such a model takes autonomy out of the artist’s hands. There’s a unique poignancy in crafting an album to fit an artist’s precise imagination – it’s such an intimate and individual craft – and to release a body of work before that artist has a chance to officially put their final stamp on it means it’ll never truly match their intended vision – no matter how much close friends and collaborators tinker away on it.
Many punters will brand that argument as frail (artists want their fans to hear the music they work so hard on, so what does it matter if their only chance of doing so is in an unfinished form?), but it’s undeniable that sometimes, record labels step just a teensy bit too far outside the boundaries of what may be considered ‘acceptable’ – just look at Michael Jackson.
The two posthumous MJ albums released by Sony – Michael and Xscape, released in 2010 and 2014, respectively – are heavy on production from high-profile names to make up for the initial demos’ lack of structure. Vocals are pieced together from chopped-up samples, outtakes and demos from decades past, and in some cases, it’s debated whether they actually depict MJ’s voice at all. Plus, there’s all the tie-ins that Sony made between Xscapeand their line of Xperia smartphones – literally down to the title. MJ was never one to shy away from capitalism, but come on, even that is supremely dodgy.
In Peep’s case, it feels especially off-putting to think of what Columbia may do in the following years. There’s something disturbing about the thought of major label tycoons profiting off a dead artist’s musings on their personal struggles; again, we can circle this back to Cobain and the plethora of Nirvana outtakes we’ve seen slip out in two decades. Peep had hours of unreleased material stashed away when he died, but it’s not outlandish to assume a significant chunk of that was never intended to see the light of day. Musicians are constantly recording music that they have no plans to show the world. Part of the fun that comes with being a creative is picking and choosing the best demos in your arsenal, slaving over them until they’re just right, then sharing them with the fans.
Peep doesn’t have that choice.
It’s up to his estate – and moreso, Columbia – to decide what remaining nuggets of Peep’s genius reach our ears. We obviously want as many of them as we can get, but we also hope they don’t just dump everything out there for the sake of making a quick buck. Especially if that means more releases like “Falling Down”.