In efforts to keep the lauded legacy of Lil Peep alive, the late artist’s estate has re-released his collaborative CALIFORNIA GIRLS EP. Produced by nedarb and made entirely via email, the collection of six tracks are a testament to the power of the internet and Peep’s own artistic genius. Alex Newport weighs in.
Today, Gustav Åhr (known widely as Lil Peep) is universally recognized as the extremely talented rapper, singer, producer, and visionary who pioneered the now mainstream sub-genre of emo rap. Huge artists such as the late Juice WRLD, Post Malone, and even The 1975 have all cited him as major influences, whilst his work combining grunge and rap music has been described as “genius” by many music critics. He now enjoys a massive and incredibly dedicated fanbase. Peep’s lifelong dream of becoming a mainstream success is now a reality, albeit a heart-breaking one.
Around the initial release of CALIFORNIA GIRLS in 2016, Peep was recording music in his childhood bedroom on a cheap microphone whilst his mother slept. However, even then his raw talent was undeniable. Star Shopping was reportedly written in twenty minutes in his mother’s bedroom; a process Peep said would have been shorter had his microphone not broken halfway through. That song today has over 300 million streams.
‘CALIFORNIA GIRLS is here in its entirety – pleasing old fans whilst also giving new ones a Soundcloud classic to enjoy.’
This ‘do it yourself’ attitude is prevalent in a lot of Peep’s early music, with his distinctly lo-fi style owing itself to the fact that Peep recorded and mixed all his vocals by himself. Peep even admitted in an early interview that: “I don’t even know how to record myself; I just turned a bunch of knobs that I didn’t even know what they meant; I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing.” With a less talented artist, this would have led to the music being, well, bad. But somehow with Peep, the lo-fi mixes he relied on just added charm to his music. In the words of collaborator, Pretty Little Heartbreak, “it didn’t matter where he recorded, the mix on his laptop always sounded good.”
CALIFORNIA GIRLS is the epitome of this: a do-it-yourself collaborative EP recorded over email and finished in person between Peep and one of his future go-to producers Nedarb Nagrom, who was sleeping on Peep’s sofa at the time. With the lack of guitars and emphasis on lo-fi samples, as well as production that is weird, experimental, and even unsettling in some places, it’s very different from Peep’s later work. However, in the words of producer Todd Howard, “it just works.”
Intro track california world centers around an ambient Tim Hecker flute sample that has been slightly pitched down to give the track a bit of an ominous edge, but is brightened up by Peep’s knack for writing a catchy hook. A common criticism of Peep’s lyrics is their repetitiveness, and honestly, they are, but a benefit of this is that they get stuck in your head very easily. Nedarb recently released text messages he had exchanged with Peep to celebrate the EP’s streaming release: “The way our shit is set up where I say the lyrics to the song once then loop it, and u switch the beat up the second time is just cool.” Despite the repetitive lyrics the tracks never overstay their welcome, thanks to the subtle changes Nedarb makes to the beats.
The best example of this is the track Beamer Boy, there is not even a verse, just two choruses. Yet Peep’s youthful charisma combined with the unusual guitar chords, changing drum patterns, and synth leads make up for the lack of identifiable song structure. It seems a lot of people agree – Beamer Boy is one of Peeps’ biggest songs with 237 million streams. Pretty good for a track from an EP that hasn’t had a proper streaming release until five years after it was made. The reason for this is the heavy usage of samples, of which every single one is creative and unique. For example, the track pray i die samples a PlayStation 1 error sound for its main melody. The rising and falling synth combined with an eerie cut-up guitar lead make for excellent listening.
‘What Peep achieved in just three years is more than most will achieve in their entire lives.’
Unfortunately, copyright law exists, which is why a lot of Peep’s older work is only just ending up on streaming platforms. Luckily, no song on CALIFORNIA GIRLS has suffered the fate of Drive By Off Hellboy, where the synths had to be recreated after Netflix refused to clear the Stranger Things sample on the track. CALIFORNIA GIRLS is here in its entirety, pleasing old fans and also giving new ones a Soundcloud classic to enjoy.
Much of what makes the CALIFORNIA GIRLS EP and Peep’s music in general so special is the raw emotion he pours into it. This is mentioned in the 2019 documentary EVERYBODY’S EVERYTHING about how Peep held nothing back in his recordings, going so far as to scream into a mic in front of dozens of people to record the track OMFG from Hellboy. You can hear the pain in his voice on let me bleed, reinforced by lyrics such as “I just wanna die by my momma’s side / Tell her that I love her whilst my brother cries.” Beat It shows Peep’s skill in more lowkey situations, with vocal riffs and a downtempo piano sample that wouldn’t sound out of place on a modern Joji record.
It is touching that the EP finishes with fan-favourite Lil Kennedy, the first song Peep ever made with Nedarb. The singer grew so much from the release of CALIFORNIA GIRLS at the age of nineteen to Come Over When You Sober Pt. 1 at twenty-one, yet both projects are amazing in entirely different ways. What Peep achieved in just three years is more than most will achieve in their entire lives, and it is deeply sad that we will never know what he could have gone on to do. As of today, Peep has achieved his lifelong goal of mainstream success – it is a tragedy that he never got to see it.
RIP: Gustav Elijah Åhr, 1994-2017.
Written by: Alex Newport
Edited by: Alex Duke