Lil Peep is an emo rapper who’s about 90 percent emo, 10 percent rapper. It seems weird at first, but, in hindsight, his arrival was inevitable. Ever since Lil B cried in a pet shop and Drake started rapping his drunk-dials, rap’s retreated sharply inward, and it’s as viable for big-name MCs to vent from the primal corners of the soul as to stunt about dames and diamonds. While Biggie Smalls confronted depression poker-faced on “Suicidal Thoughts,” still tough at the end of his rope, Kendrick Lamar, the heir to that widescreen classic rap tradition, changes his voice on “u” to sound like he’s crying.

For the most part, this has been good for rap. It’s helped temper its rampant machismo, and it’s possible for the first time since the ‘80s for a popular male MC to look like he walked out of a Ken Russell flick. Pathos is always a good thing, too, and the best recent rap albums are often the rawest. Emo’s starting to look like an important part of rock history, especially as the biggest new artists’ birth dates edge closer to the cusp of the 2000s. It doesn’t take much gear-spinning to connect it to what’s going on in rap. But its influence has also led to some of the same performative sadness we saw during its mid-‘00s peak, when depression and drug addiction became stylistic touchstones.

Lil Peep rejoices in the contradictions the figure of the emo rapper poses. Look at the “Benz Truck” video, where he has great fun prancing out of the roof of a car, flexing his jewels like in a classic rap video, all the while looking like a spiral-notebook screamo idol and moaning about benzos over spindly Slintian guitars. He’s a monkey wrench in the machines of sincerity. But something seems cynical about his schtick; it’s almost too pat, and he seems less interested in the emotions emo can express than the superficial ways it conveys it. Upon listening to his debut Call Me When You’re Sober, Pt. 1, I was reminded of the Fray flashbacks I got from the Chainsmokers’ debut earlier this year.

What have you been through?” he bellows on “U Said.” “Every fucking kind of abuse” – no more elaboration than that, but it’s a great emo line, as is the chorus of the song, “Sometimes life gets fucked up/ That’s why we get fucked up.” Too often the emotional cues on Call Me When You’re Sober point at something deeper that never materializes. Not to suggest he hasn’t actually had the dark nights of the soul he sings about. It’s just that instead of offering insight into his state of mind, he seems to string together cliches from decade-old diaries, and it’s hard to tell if it’s on purpose. Is he telling us what’s on his mind or just mining the aesthetic of telling us what’s on his mind.

He’s even worse on the straight-up rap songs. On “Benz Truck” and “Save That Shit,” the cognitive dissonance between the gloomy music and gold-flashing lyrics isn’t particularly weird or funny. He might fare better if he embraced the fact that no one will likely ever take him seriously, as his most immediate predecessor Yung Lean did when he pouted among floating pill bottles in his videos. But the straight rap songs are head-slappingly generic and apparently straight-faced. “Not like these other motherfuckers, I can make you rich,” he moans on “Save That Shit,” in between verses about how much he hates the girl he’s ostensibly trying to woo. It’s like Punk goes Crunk, but less fun.

Call Me When You’re Sober, Pt. 1 lives and dies with the efficacy of its stylistic fusion, which comes across better in the music. Peep writes like he’s been copying Hawthorne Heights’ homework, but his beats are more in line with the earlier Kinsella Bros. emo that’s been making a comeback in the house show scene as of late. Trap beats pair well with the noodly guitars of that more jazz-inflected strain of emo, both relying on spidery, delicate sounds. And there are moments when you expect big, compressed rock drums to come in and are instead greeted by the gentle pitter-patter of Shawty Redd hi-hats.

Emo rap can be done well, and it’s a genre with potential even if Lil Peep doesn’t quite embody it. One of the best singles of the year, Lil Uzi Vert’s “XO Tour Llif3,” could only have been made by someone raised among the rawr generation. He overpronounces the lyrics like a proper pop-punk brat—though he’s sneakier about it than Peep—and the line “All my friends are dead/ Push me to the edge” could have easily been cribbed from the best of 2005’s karaoke classics. That line is intriguing. It means something; you ponder its implications; it’s disturbing. It communicates real need and desperation instead of checking off the boxes of music that communicate need and desperation.

  • Everybody’s Everything

    A powerful, honest, compassionate exploration of Lil Peep and the impact he continues to l…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Discography: MF Doom: Key to the Kuffs

This is the sound of a very interesting middle-aged man, comfortable but still possessing …