Lil Peep’s Rap-Rock Album Sounds Like a Hit
Call it emo-trap if you must
Update: Another album is out next week, according to a tweet Lil Peep posted and deleted. OK. We can review that one, too.
These past few years, Long Island-to-Los Angeles transplant Lil Peep has been pulling off a precarious musical construction: 2000s emo rock mixed with appropriations from Future and Gucci Mane. His aesthetic formed before our eyes on the brilliant Crybaby and Hellboy, fueled by drugs and incubated by Gothboiclique—the genius crew of rock defectors, rap misfits and IG style icons. Many sold out shows later, here Peep stands, enjoying the benefit of looking exactly like Justin Bieber in our white supremacist world, with his distinct style catching on and gunning for the mainstream with Come Over When You’re Sober (Part One).
Compared to his earlier work, the album sounds cleaned-up and streamlined, emphasizing the rock angle. Day one fans may say he fell off, but it has future popularity written all over it.
Murmured anthem “Benz Truck” is already popping with over five million views on YouTube of a dreamlike video where Peep flexes on a bunch of sheep in a field. The song sounds like Xanax feels, and there’s a reason (besides his big time management, First Access Entertainment) that Peep recently modeled at Milan Fashion Week. His visual presentation is arresting—dipped in neon, Sosa-esque pigtails whipping in the wind. “Brightside” is already out and hitting, too— straightforward pop rock with hi-hat triplets, a road dog’s tale of drugs and depression.
“Awful Things” should be the breakout, a finesser’s ode to masochism disguised as a breakup jam. The song features Peep asking for abuse on the catchiest hook of the album (he says it makes him feel better). His best friend in rap, Lil Tracy, contributes a verse (the album’s lone feature) setting an anime/vampire-ish scene similar to his and Peep’s Gothboiclique classics: “Speeding away/ The city in the rearview/ Heart racing/ Whenever I’m near you/ Goth Boi jumping off stage/ Carry me away/ Carry me away…”
“Better Off (Dying)” sounds like a single, too. (To be honest, all seven songs sound like singles.) Peep paints the same pictures as the ones in Future’s “Rich Sex,” but the gist of the song is about how Peep “ain’t gonna make it.” His partner ain’t gonna make it, either, apparently. We all ain’t gonna make it.
There’s a lot of “27 club” references in SoundCloud rap, fantasies about early deaths and suicide. Lil Peep is a big player in that.
Here the message is vague enough that it could apply broadly across Gen Z America, a major part of Peep’s fanbase. Nobody’s going to get social security and retirement is an empty dream. Might as well tattoo your face freely, if you want—nothing matters anyway. Of course singing the blues can be therapeutic, but apathy is a disease and suicidal ideation can be addicting. We should all be careful.
“U Said” features an exciting switch-up halfway through, a slow song that fades into a fist-pumping jam about how “Sometimes life gets fucked up/ That’s why we get fucked up.” Peep works very well in this emo-banger mode (which he invented), using a stabbing cadence reminiscent of the Hellboy highlight “Walk Away As the Door Slams.”
Depressed as he is, Peep can also offer mischievous fun with his music (check out “Hollywood Dreaming” with Gab3, one of the loosies leading up to this record). That’s missing on this album.
Part of that absence happens because there are no samples. Sampling has been a shortcut for Peep and his producers to create levity and make high-brow/low-brow references— chopping up the Microphones for the hipster audience, blending in Pierce the Veil for the Warped Tour crowd. Throughout Peep’s arc, taking both routes simultaneously has suggested an underlying skepticism about the concept of “cool.” His famous ‘fits made a similar point: Gosha Rubchinskiy worn with UGG, designer stuff that’s expensive and can be hard to find paired with basic stuff you can buy at the mall. It’s all good, Peep seemed to say. Whatever you think is cool, that’s cool. Personally, it’s one of the aspects about him I appreciated most.
The notion of that commentary is gone in the music, now, replaced by palm-muted guitar power chords which convey pop punk at face value. It’s a slight bummer, but probably better for introducing Peep to the mainstream that he tries this more uniform, insular sound.
Longtime producer Smokeasac, remains but the new formula involves new players. Juan Alderete from Racer X and Mars Volta plays bass, and among a few new co-writers is the legendary Rob Cavallo, who won hella Grammys producing Green Day, My Chemical Romance and Linkin Park. It’s no wonder everything sounds so careful and professional, Cavallo’s whole lane is commercial rock hits. Where a different guitar-focused co-writer/producer might have boosted Lil Peep’s rap standing (Mike Dean would have killed this album), Cavallo is a savvy choice, one I didn’t see coming but that now makes perfect sense. Much is gained by his approach, but some je ne sais quois is lost. Compare Come Over When You’re Sober (Part One) to Lil Tracy’s own recent pop punk jam “Drunk Punx.” Notice the difference between strategically going for the gold versus just wilding out and having fun with a fresh style.
Come Over When You’re Sober (Part One) hammers its dead serious vibe, down to the title, but remains engaging because it’s short, well-crafted and Peep sells the hell out of his character and fusion swag. Call it rap, call it pop, call it “emo-trap” if you must. It’s here and it’s sounding like a hit. In the end my hat is off to Lil Peep and I think this album is smartly played. He saw a new phase of rap rock coming, he’s up to the challenge of being that dude in the spotlight, and he’s definitely given something to teens (and teens-at-heart) to bump this fall while walking around kicking leaves, feeling emo as fuck. Here’s hoping Part Two comes out this winter when the depression really hits.