Lil Peep is a 20-year-old rapper who also happens to love ’00s emo. That he is not, in the traditional sense, technically proficient in either genre is beside the point. For those who like his music, his appeal is in his ability to concisely, often bluntly, express the interior thoughts of a supremely bummed-out person. On his latest release, Come Over When You’re Sober Pt. 1, the persona Peep inhabits is that of a dirtbag who feels trapped by his circumstances, but is unable to transcend them. On “The Brightside” he sing-raps in a bored, or frustrated (take your pick) monotone: “Help me find a way to pass the time, everyone’s telling me life is short, but I want to die.” Spoiler alert: the “brightside” is not so bright at all.
Listening to these songs — from the grating “Awful Feelings” to the legitimately affecting “Problems” — it’s clear that Lil Peep is not for everyone. Even clearer is the fact that while he is often classified as “emo rap,” and shows a clear affinity for both genres, the emotional state he is replicating is much closer to the brutal terrain of nu-metal.
The maligned genre that birthed bands like Limp Bizkit and Papa Roach has been on the verge of a critical reevaluation for awhile now. It’s a worthwhile endeavor. Say what you will about some of the worst songs to come from it; it was successful because it spoke directly to its audience (sad teenagers, a.k.a. all teenagers). In the nu-metal universe, your anger was just as valid as your sadness, no matter how clumsily it was conveyed. That fluid, almost telepathic, communication between songwriter and listener formed an impenetrable wall — if you couldn’t relate, then it was quite possibly the worst music you had ever heard, and its roiling combination of angst and violence, played out across arid Midwest parking lots, was not inviting at all. Lil Peep feels like the logical extension of that. But where Limp Bizkit found unlikely collaborators in Method Man and DJ Premier, Lil Peep just pulls what he wants from hip-hop directly (mostly the drums), and creates a form of outsider music that sounds like nu-metal after an emotional comedown.
In other words, what makes Lil Peep appealing is also what makes him so hateable: He’s 20 years old but he sounds like he’s lived 100 lives. He’s 20 years old but he’s already over it. He’s 20 years old, but he’s exhausted by the act of recording even one song. He’s 20 years old and he already sounds like he doesn’t care. This is a confounding perspective to try to analyze. If Lil Peep is apathetic, then why should anyone else bother? What we’re forgetting is the same thing we forgot when Limp Bizkit rose to popularity: Being a teenager is weird and often incredibly shitty. No one understands you, because you don’t understand yourself. If some guy who is just outside of those teenage years is all of a sudden communicating your murky thoughts with simple clarity, and for at least a second, the world starts to make sense to you — who cares if no one else gets it?