Even for many music fans, the Long Island rapper Lil Peep was an unknown entity when his death made headlines in November 2017.
News stories described an underground sensation who had cultivated a fan base with a combination of moody melodies, trap-style rhythms and emotionally raw lyrics. Photos showed a slender young man with pink-dyed hair, facial tattoos and a boyish smile – more stereotypical of a suburban punk than of an inner-city rapper. The overall impression was of an aspiring musician, familiar mostly to insiders and colleagues, whose career was cut short by a drug overdose at the age of 21.
"In the short time that i knew you, you were a great friend to me and a great person," the popular rapper-singer Post Malone posted online after Lil Peep's death. "Your music changed the world and it’ll never be the same."
A documentary on the late rapper, "Everybody's Everything," due in theaters Friday, Nov. 15, suggests Lil Peep was more than a rising star; he may have been The Next Big Thing. Produced by the acclaimed filmmaker Terrence Malick ("Badlands") and directed by Sebastian Jones and Ramez Silyan, "Everybody's Everything" opens a window onto a global, internet-driven music phenomenon. Featuring interviews with fellow musicians, managers, friends and Lil Peep's mother, Liza Womack, "Everybody's Everything" attempts to paint a full portrait of the short-lived rapper.
The film takes its title from one of Lil Peep's Instagram posts, which appeared the day before his death. “I just wana be everybody's everything," he wrote.
Lil Peep was born Gustav Elijah Åhr in Allentown, Pennsylvania, but moved with his family to Long Beach in 2001, when he was four years old. His parents were both Harvard graduates and educators; his brother, known as Oskar, was roughly two years older. According to Womack, Gustav's father, Karl Johan Åhr, a professor of European history, had taken a job teaching at Hofstra. She would become a schoolteacher in Oceanside. Long Beach, she says, seemed like a livable town where the local kids were always outside skating or bicycling.
"I thought it would be a nice place for the boys to be able to grow up," Womack says.
Young Gus would attend Lindell Elementary School and Long Beach High School in Lido Beach, but eventually soured on the community, according to Womack. His parents' divorce, around his 10th-grade year, and his father's departure from the family, hit Gus hard. "It was extremely difficult to get him out of the house," Womack says. "Once he'd gotten his first tattoo, he heard through the grapevine that there were a lot of parents who didn't want their kids to hang out with him anymore. And that broke him."
In Peep's song "Cry Alone," released posthumously, Peep sang, "I wanna burn my old high school into the ground / I hate everybody in my hometown / Tell the rich kids to look at me now."
"That was about all these kids who had shunned him," says Womack, 57, who now teaches first grade in Merrick and now lives in Huntington. "It was a way to say, 'Screw you, how dare you call me a loser. I can do this on my own.'"
Indeed, the transformation into Lil Peep – taken from his mother's nickname for him as a wide-eyed baby – was almost completely self-constructed. Recording music on a laptop in his bedroom and posting the tracks on the sharing site SoundCloud, Peep began to amass a following. After a couple of moves between home and Los Angeles, where he worked with a collective called Gothboiclique, Peep landed a deal with First Access Entertainment, a talent agency whose clients have included Ashlee Simpson and Rita Ora.
As Lil Peep released his debut album (the well-received "Come Over When You're Sober, Pt. 1"), played to sold-out crowds in Europe —where audiences can be seen singing along with nearly every song — and began making inroads into the fashion world, he was struggling with anxiety and depression. They were subjects Peep discussed both in his lyrics and openly with others. (In the film, he can be heard telling a radio host, "The anxiety gets worse and worse and worse every day.") According to his own social media posts, he was using a range of drugs, including hallucinogenic mushrooms, cannabis concentrate and Xanax.
"Everybody's Everything" includes audio of a 911 call made from Peep's tour bus outside the Arizona nightclub The Rock on Nov. 15, 2017, after Peep was discovered unconscious and unresponsive. The operator can be heard suggesting CPR, but Peep was pronounced dead on the scene. His death would be ruled as an unintentional overdose of fentanyl and alprazolam, often referred to as Xanax.
Jones, the co-director, knew only a little about Peep at that time. Jones had been working for Malick, who in turn was an old friend of Peep's maternal grandfather, John "Jack" Womack, a retired professor of Latin American history at Harvard. But after seeing Peep perform in Austin, Texas., Jones became interested in casting him in a feature film. Instead, Peep died just a few days later, and Jones was later tapped by Malick to co-direct the posthumous documentary.
"He had this aura about him," Jones recalls of Peep's Austin concert. "You could tell he was just so comfortable and O.K. with being so emotionally naked."
Co-director Silyan, who had directed the video for Peep's "Girls" and served as a tour videographer, says he blames Peep's death at least partly on exhaustion. "It's a human problem, Silyan says. "How do you please everybody, but also please yourself?"
"Everybody's Everything" was made in association with First Access Entertainment, Peep's talent agency, though in early October Liza Womack filed a lawsuit against the company for negligence, breach of contract and wrongful death. Womack declined to comment on the lawsuit, but says she hopes the documentary will help keep her son's music and spirit alive.
"I feel that Gus worked so hard at his craft, that to just let it fizzle out and disappear, for his sake, it isn't right," Womack says. "There's a large number of young people and not-so-young people who really want to listen to his music. They really love him as a performer and almost, in a way, as a person."
EARLY LOCAL SCREENING
Liza Womack, mother of the late Long Island rapper Lil Peep, will appear in person for a local screening of "Everybody's Everything," the documentary about her son at Huntington's Cinema Arts Centre on Tuesday, Nov. 12.
Tthe film premiered to strong reviews at the South by Southwest Film Festival earlier this year. "Everybody's Everything" will screen in theaters nationwide for a one-night special event on Nov. 12 ahead of its theatrical release Nov. 15.
For more information and tickets to Womack's appearance, call 631-423-7610 or go to cinemaartscentre.org.
— RAFER GUZMAN