This article originally appeared on VICE US.
When Lil Peep ingested a lethal amount of fentanyl and Xanax on the back of his tour bus last year, the music world lost one of the most innovative and exciting young artists to emerge from the SoundCloud rap generation.
In 2015, Peep (born Gus Åhr) set himself apart from other performers within the genre through his innovative fusing of 2000s emo and pop punk, with underground Memphis hip-hop, creating a sound that spoke directly to his brand of “no fucks given” suburban rockstar.
In Austin’s Alamo Lamar Theater for the world premiere of Everybody’s Everything (a reference to Peep’s final Instagram post) sat directors Sebastian Jones and Ramez Silyan, as well as executive producers Terrence Malick and Liza Womack (Peep’s mother), flanked by other members of Peep’s family. What unfolded for the next two hours was a film that was both tragic and beautiful, perfectly encapsulating the life and rise of the young troubled rapper.
I had met and filmed with Peep at several festivals and parties in LA in 2016 and 2017, including some footage of him reminiscing about the days his Gothboiclique Collective would sell songs and features to pay for the crowded communal loft they shared on LA’s Skid Row. At the 2017 Day N Night festival, I filmed one of Peep’s first big festival sets in LA. He donned a pink studded jean vest and smiled back as his fans screamed every lyric at him. Each time I met him, I could feel that he was a special artist. Equal parts kind and affable while maintaining a provocative allure. Unlike some rappers at his level, Peep would take the time to fulfill every request thrown his way by fans, media, and other artists. The directors of Everybody’s Everything included some of my footage of Peep performing in the film.
From an early age, Peep’s grandfather, the famous Latin American historian John Womack, instilled anti-establishment and revolutionary sentiments upon his grandson, which he processed in his own way by tattooing the words “Cry Baby” largely across his face. As friends and family explain in the film, Peep’s intention with the large tattoo was to give himself a daily reminder that there are bigger problems in the world beyond his own suburban middle class angst. With no father figure to ground him, Peep confided in his intellectual and gracious grandfather, who would not pass judgement on his choices, but instead expel advice developed from his own life’s experiences, both in person and through hand written letters. At Malick’s suggestion, the film’s directors recorded his grandfather reading many of the letters in his slow and sage-like speaking voice, pairing the audio with beautiful archival footage of Peep. The sequences create a lyrical visual poetry that is directly reminiscent of many other Malick films.
Co-director Ramez Silyan’s was part of Peep’s career from the early stages, having directed the video for “Girls” in late 2016, and traveled with Peep on tour as his videographer. Thanks to this, the film’s recounting of Peep’s underground years feels historically and ethically responsible, which could have easily been lost if the film were produced from an outsider’s perspective. Perhaps for the first time in film form, it presents an accurate, nuanced, and detailed explanation of how a sound and collective was born from a bunch of young men that were often incredibly lost, broke, and sometimes even homeless.
Peep’s appeal grew organically from the emo-trap music that he helped create and cultivate. In the film, interviews with the likes of acclaimed record producer Rob Cavallo and Juicy J describe the importance of Peep’s sonic legacy, with Cavallo comparing his techniques to the likes Prince and Parliament Funkadelic. As Peep’s star rises throughout the film, we’re confronted with footage of the drugs he would ingest in order to both calm his nerves and fuel the persona that his fans and shows demanded of him. At the advice of his management, and to the sadness of his friends and Gothboiclique, Peep left his life on Skid Row behind for a new life in London, with professional studio sessions and a runway debut at the 2017 Balmain show at Paris Fashion Week. This is where we see Peep at the height of his career, and through beautifully edited montages of never before seen footage accompanied by Peep’s songs, we see Peep truly happy and living out his wildest dreams as a pop icon.
His grandfather’s letters continue, and become more urgent. We see the worry grow amongst his peers and friends as Peep leans into the rockstar lifestyle, and is introduced to more parties and more drugs.
The party comes to a jolting halt as we are suddenly confronted with a black screen and a never before heard 911 call from a troubled tour manager who cries out to the dispatcher, “We need an ambulance, we are working with an artist and he isn’t waking up on the back of the tour bus.” The film offers some analysis of how the situation could have been prevented, but ultimately no blame is squarely placed.
As the post-screening Q&A began, the audience openly sobbed at the memory of a friend and icon lost too soon lingered in the theater. That a man of Terrence Malick’s talents had put his touch on the film certainly helped elevate it’s messaging beyond just a tribute to Peep, instead presenting an in depth analysis of what it means to be a fast growing pop star in a hyper-capitalist, image and money-obsessed industry, and how one’s legacy can resonate after their life is over. It was an honor to know Peep and contribute some footage to the film, and I know the thousands of fans that Peep touched with his music and persona will adore and analyze Everybody’s Everything for years to come.
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