lil peep
Photo: Gregory Spears

Lil Peep Turns 21 on a Dark Halloween

Despite eight people being killed in the area just a few hours beforehand, Halloween was not cancelled two nights ago in downtown Manhattan. Condolences to everyone affected by the trauma. The Lil Peep show went on, with extra security and tightened set times.

Lil Peep, aka SoundCloud rap’s unofficial king of the react videos, didn’t do a lot of songs from Hellboy or Crybaby at NYC’s Highline Ballroom. Those would be his best albums, the ones that the  impressionable first-time concertgoers I talked to outside came to see performed—the ones which made Lil Peep, along with his now ex-partner Lil Tracy and their crew Gothboiclique, famous on SoundCloud in 2016.

 

Instead he stuck to his 2017 major label-assisted Come Over When You’re Sober, a slicked-up version of his emo rock style mixed with 808 Mafia type beats. Previously he was entirely DIY, but after signing to First Access Entertainment, Come Over gained Peep the services of powerhouse producer Rob Cavallo (who worked with Green Day, My Chemical Romance, and Linkin Park). The change in sound is noticeable and clearly crossover motivated.

Right now, by my estimation, he’s the second-most successful SoundCloud alumni after Lil Pump. He’s also the only American rapper in an open man-man relationship, with Makonnen—which is significant, but to call it groundbreaking would be to obscure Frank and Tyler who came out as liking boys first, not to mention the many active enclaves of gay rap in America.

In any case, now is Peep’s time, the youth is wrapped up in his lore—fans Sharpied their AF1s with spiderwebs like Peep’s—and his style is catching on. But something was missing.

 

Peep didn’t perform any of his name-making songs with Lil Tracy—even though “Witchblades” is an ultimate Halloween jam. I saw one guy burst into the venue singing the lyrics before the show started.

Their breakup and Tracy’s eventual withdrawal from Gothboiclique devastated fans, who commiserate in social media comments. Tracy performed solo a few nights prior in Philly, and could easily have made the trip. Why aren’t Peep and Tracy on good terms? They should be glo-ing together. Peep won’t say, but it all started once he began to get money.

“Awful Things” was painful to see live, Come Over When You’re Sober’s single featuring Tracy, who appears in its fully-budgeted music video with almost 10 million views. A good chunk of the song is by Tracy, and Peep cut it without explanation.

He didn’t do a lot to clear up his status as a rapper, either, for anyone who cares about the singer/rapper demarcation. He did turn 21 on stage though, and heard “Happy Birthday” screamed at him by a sold-out crowd. His mom, an elementary school teacher from Long Island, was in the house, which was sweet.

 

The music was overall good even though the song selection was narrow, and Peep’s vocals connected every time. His “band” consisted of an aux cord controlled by official Gothboiclique deejay Yawns, who made sure everyone got the aesthetic by spelling it out between acts: The Cure, Waka Flocka, Blink-182, Lil B, witch house—these things go together.

The stripped-back personnel was almost like a deconstructed rock band. Microphone, computer, that’s it. At one point GBC producer/guitarist Fish Narc came on stage during some unreleased songs he and Peep made (very fire, BTW), and danced in the space where the guitar player would have been.

During the opening set by GBC cofounder Horse Head, Peep’s lineage was apparent for any fans who wanted to connect the dots. Horse’s more severe, depressed Californian style is the raw material which Peep softens in a poppier direction, and Horse’s album This Mess Is My Mess from this year was seriously slept on. He did his thing with precision.

Producer and deejay Pictureplane—the inventor of witchhouse music, one of Peep’s stylistic antecedents—watched the show from the green room area. It was a “levels” moment seeing him in the building, bearing witness to his influence. He later tweeted “NYC I am DJing at 3am at 248 McKibbin St. Rolling with gothboiclique come hang.” Some famous rock critics were at the Peep show, too—Horse Head told me he saw John Norris.

Mackned and Bexey

 

Peep knows Gothboiclique is one of the most interesting things in music, and he seems happy to share the spotlight. Having GBC rapper Mackned on stage to do his sleepy jam “American Boy” was dope. Ned bringing out his West Seattle fam D. Valley for an unexpected energy spike was off-script in a good way. Seeing an O.G. trapper from Seattle’s High Point projects performing for a bunch of kids was fun.

For his part, Peep embodied Halloween, looking fashionable in an alpaca (?) hoodie, performing gothic music with skeleton face paint, like a combination of Stitches and Heath Ledger’s Joker. He finished rocking by around 10:45—fine for the adults who wanted to keep partying elsewhere, even better for most of the audience who had school the next day.

There was a weird energy to the show since it was Halloween, people were on drugs and wearing costumes, and as mentioned, the recent attack lingered in the backs of everyone’s inebriated minds. It was also week four of touring for Peep, who seemed a little beaten up. He barely bantered between songs.

But NYC stops for almost nothing. So life just proceeded weirdly. The audience was all kinds of fucked up—I watched a young-ass guy ask a bartender what kind of alcohol Jack Daniel’s was, whether it was whiskey or not; I shook the shoulders of a passed-out dude in a booth with his eyes open, but he didn’t respond (I’m told he eventually walked out of the venue to a waiting ambulance).

Peep seemed to dissociate at times, especially during the a cappella outros which he did robotically after almost every song. I had the distinct feeling of things falling apart in the grand scheme, but for the moment, he held it together. Such perhaps is the state of Gothboiclique, Lil Peep’s depressed psyche, certainly of hip hop norms—and the world outside the venue.

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