Crybaby

Tim, a 19-year-old who lives in Lindenhurst, New York, remembers the exact moment he started listening to the singer Lil Peep on repeat. “I have pretty bad anxiety and depression,” he told me, sitting on the boardwalk in Long Beach, New York on Saturday with his back to the Atlantic Ocean. “When that got really bad with a relationship I was in, Lil Peep was my outlet. You listen to him as a way to be like, someone else has been through the same thing that I’ve been through.” Tim got a Lil Peep tattoo on his lower left rib cage, and he converted his friends Erin and Amanda, both with him, to Peep fandom as well.

Several hundred fans with similar stories lined up outside the beachside Allegria Hotel on this quiet, cool, clear December afternoon to remember Lil Peep, born Gustav Åhr, who died on the evening of November 15th of a suspected drug overdose. Half an hour before doors opened, a line stretched out the hotel and down the street. The fans were overwhelmingly young; they wore black Come Over When You’re Sober sweatshirts in honor of Lil Peep’s final recording, or some form of pink, a color the singer favored. The line buzzed with word that collaborator Lil Tracy was present and again when the rapper Fat Nick showed up to join the queue. Teens kept their hoods up as a shield against cold — and grief.

In the two years before his death, Lil Peep amassed an impressively promising discography, pointing rock, which has long been short on new ideas, towards the 21st century. His songs often build around a single, tremulous guitar line played with little distortion, hurry or drama; underneath that, Peep or a collaborator programmed jaw-rattling bass and a steady march of hi-hats. As a singer, he had a gift for delivering highly hummable melodies with conversational ease, enough familiarity with hip-hop cadence and vocabulary to earn the title of rapper and a knack for plainspoken emotional transmissions — including frank musings on suicidal thoughts, crushing heartache and drug use — that drew in anyone familiar with angst.

The result of this mishmash could be dizzying in the best way: Take “Crybaby,” which seesaws from self-flagellating to boasting to flirty to doom-y in the space of just a few lines. Lil Peep relied primarily on Bandcamp and Soundcloud, streaming platforms ideal for young artists going somewhere fast, rather than Spotify, which is far more regulated, to release his music. He has some four dozen songs on SoundCloud with more than a million streams each, and in addition to earning the admiration of the music internet, Lil Peep impressed stars like Post Malone, Diplo and Marshmello.

On Saturday during a tearful ceremony at the Allegria Hotel, friends and family fleshed out the man behind the work. Though Lil Peep’s music tends to be somber, Emma Harris, who dated the singer, and Dylan “Smokeasac” Mullen (via a written tribute read by George Astasio), who produced some of his music, remembered how funny he was. Liza Womack, Lil Peep’s mother, and longtime friend Ian Grant spoke about his relentless drive — the singer frequently labored through the night, and his mother would find him still at it when she got up in the morning to go to work. Another friend, Eddie Whalen, presented Lil Peep as his fashion guru, the invaluable friend who taught him it was ok to throw out his Sketchers and to stop tucking his shirts into pants pulled up high.

Across eight different speeches, there was sense of both devotion and devastation. Not a dry eye was left after Harris recounted falling in love with Lil Peep by the time she was in fifth grade, enthralled because she “never met anyone who colored his hair more than me.” “I don’t think it’s physically possible to shed more tears for anyone,” she added, and her words were echoed later by Whalen, who told the crowd, “these last few weeks, I’ve learned what crying really is.” In a ceremony on the beach after the service where fans laid roses in the surf in Lil Peep’s honor, one fan showed his affection for the singer by stripping to his underwear and running into the Atlantic, red rose in hand.

Unsurprisingly, many speakers at the Allegria also praised Lil Peep’s musical savvy. “Gus and his housemates had a weekly Frank Sinatra night,” Womack said. “His favorite song to sing was ‘Fly Me to the Moon,’ and he was fucking good at singing it.” And in a more visceral form of tribute, when Lil Peep songs like “Star Shopping” or “Save That Shit” played during video montages, friends in the audience thew their arms around each other’s shoulders, swayed side to side and sang every word.

But the devotion this singer inspired spread beyond his tracks. Astasio called Peep “a superhero with a huge heart,” and Womack struck a similar theme, presenting her son as someone who hit back against various forms of societal prejudice. “Gus understood that many good people suffered injustice because of what they looked like or how much money they had,” she told the crowd. “He saw how the cool kids who lived in the fancy neighborhoods looked down on his friends who lived in the projects — and looked down on his own family who lived in an apartment and drove an old Nissan. Gus got fed up with that world. He rejected it.”

Womack encouraged others to learn from her son’s example. “Please do not make assumptions about people or events in ignorance,” she declared. “Ask yourself these questions: Do I really know this person? Have I sat down face to face and asked him to tell me about himself? … Am I dismissing this person because he does not match my definition of a ‘good kid’?”

“Be honest,” she continued. “Gus was.”

And his fans loved him for it. Roberto, 19, said he started crying when he heard news of the Ll Peep’s death, and he drove with Bobby and Gino, both 17, all the way to Long Beach on Saturday from York, PA to pay respects. “[Peep] was the only artist who put what he felt out there,” Roberto told me. “And he was the only artist I felt for.”

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Some 2017 Favorites

In no particular order…

Songs:

Sons of the Palomino – “Countryholic”

Leela James – “Don’t Want You Back”

Terrence Parker Jr. – “Don’t Waste Another Minute (Terrence Parker Classic Piano Mix)”

Shakira featuring Maluma – “Chantaje (Versión Salsa)”

Future – “I’m So Groovy”

Josh Turner – “Hometown Girl”

Kevin Ross – “Long Song Away”

Danny Ocean – “Me Rehúso”

Terror Jr. – “Dead Girl Walking”

Lee Ann Womack – “Hollywood”

Drake featuring Kanye West – “Glow”

Yogi featuring AlunaGeorge and Less Is Moore – “Blow You Up (Riton Remix)”

Carly Pearce – “Doin’ It Right”

Quantic and Nidia Gongora – “Que Me Duele?”

Candi Carpenter – “Burn the Bed”

Praize featuring Sarkodie – “Me and You”

Offset and Metro Boomin – “Ric Flair Drip”

Midland – “Drinking Problem”

Camelphat featuring Elderbrook – “Cola”

$uicide Boy$ – “YOU’RE NOW TUNING IN TO 66.6 FM WITH DJ RAPTURE (THE HOTTEST HOUR OF THE EVENING)”

J. Balvin and Willy William – “Mi Gente”

Honey Dijon featuring Joi Cardwell – “State of Confusion”

Albums:

Gabriel Garzon Montano – Jardín

Various ArtistsLa Torre Ibiza, Vol. 2

2 Chainz – Pretty Girls Like Trap Music

Best of 2016

Singles:

Yuna featuring Usher, “Crush”

Yuna’s innovation: to completely ignore the R&B/hip-hop arms race without making a spineless, nostalgic re-tread. There are subtle strains of reggae — a cool nod to the top 40’s current obsession with Jamaican pop, but not a full embrace — vaporous, transfixing melodies, and Usher working wonders on his finest verse of the year, sounding like a wily veteran instead of the old-guy-trying-to-hard-to-be-young.

Other paralysis-inducing displays of beauty: Bibio featuring Gotye, “The Way You Talk,” CFCF, “Fleurs Laisses Dans Un Taxi,” Vince Gill, “Down to My Last Bad Habit,” and Bruno Mars’ “Calling All My Lovelies.”

Fat Joe and Remy Ma, “All The Way Up”

A feel-good comeback story for two rappers who needed a hit. A fence-mending opportunity between Joe and Remy, and then Joe and Jay Z. A superfluous French Montana feature. A savvy mix of nostalgia and modernity, which in turn allows radio DJs to use the song as a slick segue between new hits and throwbacks. Everyone wins.

And in general, it was a sterling year for New York rappers across boroughs and generations: honorable mention to Young M.A’s “Ooouuu,” Boogie With Da Hoodie’s “My Shit,” Desiigner’s “Timmy Turner” — is this the strangest thing in the mainstream, even in a year when Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles” hit No. 1? — Rolling Stone P’s “Calvin Kleins” (he’s from nearby Newark), Timeless Truth’s “Wavelength,” A Tribe Called Quest’s “We The People,” and A$AP Ferg’s “New Level.”

William Michael Morgan, “I Met A Girl”

One of several songs in recent years that shows the laziness of the mainstream vs. alt/Americana dichotomy that infuses the discourse around country music. What’s even more impressive about “I Met a Girl” is that it’s originally co-written by the uber-modern Sam Hunt, which should make Morgan a hero for the censorious agitators that demand country remain faithful to a 40 year-old image: Morgan comes along, takes a Hunt demo decked out with Drake-indebted delivery and a drum machine, manhandles it back into country’s past, and succeeds on the airwaves.

Also look to Craig Morgan’s “A Whole Lot More To Me,” a fine defense of the genre.

Fort Romeau, “Secrets & Lies,” or Midland, “Final Credits”

The lethal effectiveness of modern pop — more pre-hooks and hooks and post-hooks and drops than you can count hitting you quicker than you can count them — can obscure the need for the slow build, the gradual accretion of small shifts that eventually reduce a dance floor to a heaving mass. There are pleasures in “Secrets & Lies” that a four minute song can only hint at, and the same goes for Midland’s track, which staples together samples of Gladys Knight and rare funk into an instant disco classic.

Rihanna, “Work”

Come because there were months when this song was inescapable — you never had a choice. Stay for the giddy repetition, the moment when Rihanna’s vocals are suddenly multi-tracked, and the second half of the two-for-one video, which is charming even though the endless Rihanna/Drake will-they-or-won’t-they-shtick is tiresome. The results are gummy enough to push aside questions like: how long will the latest wave of pop’s dancehall infatuation last? Will Jamaican singers see benefits?

Liv, “Wings of Love”

This is close as modern music gets to the titans of L.A.’s past: the Mamas & the Papas, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Fleetwood Mac just after Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined the team. Don’t be fooled by the “indie rock supergroup” billing of Liv: Jeff Bhasker, one of pop’s most nimble minds, helped write this balmy yet punchy tune.

For another good approximation of Fleetwood Mac, try Little Big Town’s “Better Man,” written by Taylor Swift and produced by the regularly astounding Jay Joyce.

Guordan Banks, “Keep You In Mind”

A perfect steam-bath of a song, at ease with both the percussive power of modern R&B and the clunky electronic hybrids of the ’80s. In the past, Banks has penned tracks for John Legend and Keshia Cole and worked with Meek Mill; “Keep You in Mind” hit No. 1 on the Adult R&B chart; Bryson Tiller and Chris Brown recently hopped on the remix. Why didn’t this get more attention?

Other songs it’s not to late to hear on R&B radio: Johnny Gill and New Edition’s “This One’s for Me and You” (a nice retread of Charlie Wilson’s “There Goes My Baby,” one of the top R&B songs of the last decade), Annale’s “Roses” (the shrewdest neo-soul revival in a year littered with them), and Dreezy and T-Pain’s lusty duet, “Close to You.”

Travis Scott,Young Thug, and Quavo, “Pick Up the Phone”

There were a lot of transcendently off-kilter rap hits this year. On this happily inebriated number, Quavo displays a lovely croon, while Scott and Thug seemed unable to agree on a single hook, so they each sing one, and both are pine resin-sticky. For a more direct boost: Future’s “Wicked.”

Albums:

Kanye West, The Life Of Pablo

Even in a pop world where everyone works with everyone else and genre lines hardly exist, no one else could make this record. And no other album this year came close to matching TLOP‘s mid-to-late stretch: “Waves” to “FML” to “Real Friends” — will Kanye please produce the next Ty Dolla $ign album? — to “Wolves” to “30 Hours.”

Moodymann, DJ Kicks, and Omar-S, The Best

Did anyone range farther with as much success as Moodymann? I expected a mix triangulated between funk, disco, and house, and techno, but got something different and impossible to pin down — to borrow from Gary Giddins, Moodymann always stays “one step ahead… and beyond category.” Omar-S, another Detroit producer, offered the flip-side of Moodymann’s reckless bounty, drilling down into a tight, repetitive, elemental blend of house and techno.

Miranda Lambert, The Weight of These Wings

As a rule, double albums are too long, and Lambert’s is no different. But Lambert rarely records a bad song, and the willfully dirty production is a slap in the face of those who think big-ticket Nashville projects can’t slug it out in the muck.

Solange, A Seat at the Table

After bouncing from style to style on her last three albums (I’m counting True, even though it was billed as an EP), Solange truly arrives as a force to be reckoned with. A Seat at the Table is an elegant, gorgeous soul album. She’s not courting the ghosts of the ’70s, nor is she fishing for radio play — she keeps hip-hop drum programming at arm’s length — but Hot 97 is playing “Cranes In The Sky” anyway. King’s We Are King worked in a similar vein, bravely off-trend, tightly unified.

Diego El Cigala, Indestructible

A great singer inhabits a new style, paying tribute to the classic salsa of the ’60s and ’70s. The results are predictably great: El Cigala brings his richly textured voice and indomitable spirit, while musicians from various salsa hotbeds help recreate some of the most powerful live band dance music put to tape.

Do Not Sell At Any Price

I reviewed Amanda Petrusich’s excellent new book, Do Not Sell At Any Price, for Paste.

 

Ben Watt’s Romany & Tom

I reviewed a book by the musician Ben Watt about his parents for Paste. See the review here. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of the house remixes that Watt did in the early ’00s after the breakup of his group, Everything but the Girl. Check out what he does with Sade:

On The Vocal Group Tip: Juce, M.O., Jody

After a decade where R&B vocal groups were largely absent from pop, I wrote a piece for Salon about their possible resurgence, using songs from Juce, M.O., and Jody. Juce and M.O. are from England, which has always been more hospitable to vocal groups, in and out of R&B, while Jody hail from Chicago. Read the piece and check out Juce’s “Call U Out” below.

Why are People Ignoring Mary J. Blige?

I wrote a piece for Salon about the new Mary J. Blige album and the strange treatment of R&B in the music press. Read it here. Check out Blige’s explosive “Power Back” below, a song that shows her perfectly at home in a pop climate dominated by DJ Mustard.

Country Funk Comp Shows the Strange Treatment of Country Music

I wrote about a new compilation of country music and the strange way the genre is treated by the press for the Atlantic. Below, one of the songs off the compilation, which shows the singer Bob Darin basically rapping–in 1969.

Black Resonance

I reviewed a new book about the interactions between music and literature for Paste.

Archival Music Releases

I wrote a piece about “archival” music releases for Diffuser. I discuss three different types of these albums. The first, Wheedle’s Groove, focuses on a specific regional scene–the soul and funk of Seattle. The second, Too Slow To Disco, is like a glorified mix tape you might make your friend. The last one, L’Amore, is a reissue of an album that was privately pressed and barely heard back in 1983. Below, listen to Lewis’ “Cool Night In Paris.”

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