‘Everybody’s Everything’: Remembering Lil Peep, the Young, Anxious Emo-Rapper Who Might Have Changed Music

Jordan Julian
Courtesy SXSW

The day before Lil Peep died of an accidental drug overdose at the age of 21 and the crest of his ascent to fame, the rapper shared an emotional message with his Instagram followers. “I just wana [sic] be everybody’s everything,” he wrote on November 14, 2017. “I want too much from people but then I don’t want anything from them at the same time.” The accompanying video is unextraordinary. Peep holds a cigarette between two fingers with chipped red nail polish and his beautifully androgynous, tattooed face wavers in the square frame. His untimely death makes the next words of the caption especially chilling: “I don’t let people help me but I need help but not when I have my pills but that’s temporary one day maybe I won’t die young and I’ll be happy?” 

The beautifully stirring new documentary about Lil Peep’s short life, Everybody’s Everything, borrows its title from this post. The genre-blending musician, whose real name was Gustav Ahr, began uploading original music to Soundcloud from his bedroom and just two years later, he was selling out national tours and walking the runways of Paris Fashion Week. Lil Peep was poised to disrupt the mainstream music scene in a big way—infusing trap beats with emo lyrics and a wholly punk attitude—when he died on Nov. 15, 2017 in the back of his tour bus in Tucson. He overdosed on Xanax and fentanyl, and his blood tested positive for cannabis, cocaine, and painkillers.

Everybody’s Everything, directed by Sebastian Jones and Ramez Silyan, provides a fleshed-out portrait not of Lil Peep, but of Gus, the anxiety-ridden teenager who got his first face tattoo in an act of resistance against the normalcy of his Long Island upbringing and wept to his grandmother about how the parents of his wealthy classmates judged him. Interviews with friends, family members, and collaborators offer a piecemeal definition of what Peep was to everyone in his life—what the “everybody” and “everything” of the film’s title entails. 

To his mother, Liza Womack, he was “like the little Walt Disney characters with these big eyes, he was just like a little peep,” and thus a stage name was born. Abundant home video footage of Gus as a sandy-haired, smiley toddler confirm his likeness to an adorable cartoon, making his torment later in life all the more devastating. To collaborator and friend Ghostmane, he was “gentle” and “goofy as hell.” To his maternal grandfather Jack Womack, he was “my prophet, my tattooed poet,” according to a letter Womack wrote his grandson and reads aloud in the film’s introduction. Womack’s loving, beautifully penned letters to Peep, teeming with kind words and sage advice, are the emotional pulse of the film. 

Everybody’s Everything focuses more on the conflict between Peep’s rising star potential and lifelong emotional anguish than on depicting his struggles with substance abuse. The interest in Lil Peep as genius rather than Lil Peep as drug addict (a title he frequently disputed) should come as no surprise given that the executive producers of the project are Liza Womack, and the CEO of his talent agency, First Access Entertainment, Sarah Stennett. Renowned filmmaker Terrence Malick is a family friend and also served as an executive producer. A lens that might feel incomplete under other circumstances works in this case, if not because the story of a tortured artist falling victim his demons is one we have heard plenty of times before, than because the few glimpses we do get of Peep’s darkness are haunting enough to be effective on their own.    

One scene from a May 2017 concert Los Angeles shows the rapper cripplingly intoxicated on stage after taking “oxy,” in spite of the protestations of his manager, Chase Ortega. The then 20-year-old stumbles aimlessly and barely stammers the words to his song “Hellboy.” Peep visibly dissociates on stage, but he finishes the set while members of his team blast him with a fog machine in an attempt to mask his intoxication and stand in the wings with buckets for him to vomit into.         

It’s a horrifying moment foreshadowing the film’s final act. Jones and Silyan include the recording of the 911 call from the night of his death, in which Peep’s tour manager, Steve Pool, frantically relays, “I work with an artist and he’s completely out of it. He’s cold, he’s knocked out.” A nauseating Snapchat video shows him unconscious on the couch in the background. Police pronounced him dead on the scene. It is a credit to the filmmakers that though the disturbing circumstances of Peep’s death are presented in such graphic realness, the documentary still manages to feel, above all, like a celebration of his life.   

Had Everybody’s Everything been made a few months later, however, it would have been a far more complicated film. In October of this year, Liza Womack filed a wrongful death lawsuit against First Access Entertainment. The suit accuses her son’s managers of forcing him “onto stage after stage in city after city, plying and propping” him up with pills. “This is something that I must do as mother,” Womack told the New York Times. “What Gus had to live through is actually horrifying to me, and I’m sure he’s not the only person his age in this situation.” First Access Entertainment vehemently denies claims that its employees contributed to Peep’s death. 

Everybody’s Everything is out now in select theaters, along with a posthumous album of the same name. 

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