“He had a certain way with people, and in that sense, it was never a surprise that he created a social personality that was larger than life,” said Oskar Ahr, 23, brother of Gustav Ahr, known as rapper Lil Peep, who died on Nov. 15 in Tucson, Ariz., at age 21.
Known by his close friends and family as Gus, he grew up in Long Beach and cemented his status as a rising talent with his unique blend of hip-hop and emo, a genre of rock music that emphasizes emotional expression.
Lil Peep attended Long Beach High School and, after graduating in 2014, moved to California to pursue a career in music. His posts on YouTube and SoundCloud, as well as a number of mixtapes, gained him a large fan base and quickly turned him into a rising star around the world.
Last year he toured the world, performing in places like Europe and Russia. “He had memorials everywhere — Australia, Germany — there were murals on the walls,” his brother said. “People were getting together everywhere in the entire world.”
Lil Peep’s death made headlines in major publications from The New York Times to Rolling Stone. Fans and friends expressed shock and sadness on social media, and many in the music industry, such as Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz, Beats 1 radio host Zane Lowe, Post Malone, Rich Chigga and others paid tribute to the young performer.
According to The New York Times, Lil Peep released his first mixtapes, “Crybaby” and “Hellboy,” in 2015, and his music was “simultaneously cocky and desperate, filled with woozy singing and nimble rapping.” In August, the rapper released a new album, “Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 1.”
Ahr said that he and his brother always loved art, specifically music, and that Gus focused on self-expression and connecting to his fans around the world. “He worked so hard for it, and really carved a place for himself in the world,” Ahr said. “He had all sorts of really unique career plans. He was super-versatile and talented. He loved music, dancing, acting — he was always very charismatic.”
The coverage of Lil Peep’s death didn’t capture who he was, Ahr said, adding that he was a happy person who used music to express his struggles and to relate to his fans. “The Gus that people know was more than Lil Peep,” Ahr said. “He wasn’t different, he was just more. It was all about finding this connection with people and making sure their feelings weren’t inadmissible, or that they noticed that somebody was able to communicate those things that seemed important through lyrics and song.”
Ahr also noted that his brother had a great relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Emma Harris, of Long Beach, who had know him since the third grade. “She’s a big part of Gus,” his brother said.
“He was full of love and he was a really happy person — everybody needs to know that part about Gus,” Harris said. “He was happy, he really was. He was just full of life and full of love. We had a crazy bond. He was my best friend. He used to kick me out of his house to make music. He wouldn’t sing in front of me. He said I’d have to wait until he’s famous to sing in front of me.”
Harris followed Lil Peep to California in 2014, and the pair dated on and off for a few years.
Both Ahr and Harris said that Gus’s mother, Liza Womack, a first-grade teacher in Merrick, was supportive of his career, and didn’t want his creativity to be suppressed.
Kyle Pues, a family friend, agreed. “His mom is literally the most supportive person on the planet,” Pues said. “She helped him chase his dream in every way possible. I think that’s a huge part of why he was so successful. No matter what happened, he always had his mom and others there for him.”
Pues attributed Lil Peep’s rise to fame to the time and energy he dedicated to his craft. “He really cared about his music,” he said. “It was crazy seeing how fast he blew up, but in hindsight not surprising when you think back to all the time and effort he put in to prepare for it.”
Pues added that his friend’s growing fame didn’t change him. “As for after he became so popular, it was kind of surreal,” Pues said. “But he’d come back sometimes and be pretty much the same. Maybe more tattoos, different hair, but same kid.”
Sgt. Pete Dugan of the Tucson Police Department said that Lil Peep was scheduled to perform at a bar called the Rock the night his colleagues responded to his tour bus. “The people he came with had not seem him for a while, and it was getting close to time for him to perform,” Dugan said. “He hadn’t come out in quite some time, and the manager went to double-check on him and found him unresponsive.”
Though the exact cause of his death is still unknown, Dugan said it appeared that Lil Peep had died of an overdose of the anti-anxiety medication Xanax. But his family suspects the presence of an unknown substance, Ahr added.
“I am shocked and heartbroken,” Sarah Stennett, CEO of First Access Entertainment, which worked with Lil Peep last year, said. “I do not believe Peep wanted to die; this is so tragic. He had big goals and dreams for the future, which he had shared with me, his team, his family and his friends. He was highly intelligent, hugely creative, massively charismatic, gentle and charming. He had huge ambition, and his career was flourishing.”
“I have spoken to his mother, and she asked me to convey that she is very, very proud of him and everything he was able to achieve in his short life,” Stennett added. “She is truly grateful to the fans and the people who have supported and loved him.”
Ahr said that a ceremony would be held in the Long Beach area to celebrate his brother’s life, but a location had not yet been set. Local family and friends had also compiled a scrapbook of photos and written memories about him.