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Is Lil Peep a Good Rapper or a Bad Rapper?

The heavily tattooed “emo rap” rookie released his debut album, ‘Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 1.’ He’s either an innovator of a new kind of hip-hop—or maybe not a hip-hop artist at all.   

Two images of Lil Peep side by side Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Lil Peep, a person who mushes together emo rock and rap as fully as anyone ever has, recently released his first proper album, Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 1. This is a Good Cop/Bad Cop argument for whether or not he’s a good rapper (or if he’s even a rapper at all). Good Cop is arguing in favor of Lil Peep’s legitimacy. Bad Cop is arguing against it.


Good Cop: Lil Peep is absolutely good, though maybe not for any of the reas—

Bad Cop: Let me stop you right there, because he’s absolutely terrible. Say it with me: Lil. Peep. Is. Terrible.

Good Cop: He’s not, though. He’s just not a thing you’re used to. You don’t understand him.

Bad Cop: I’m also not used to closing my fingers in a car door. That doesn’t mean closing my fingers in a car door is secretly good. It just means closing my fingers in a car door is a sucky thing. There’s no secret meaning there.

Good Cop: You know what I’m reminded of? I’m reminded of when I was, I think, 17 years old and DMX’s It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot had just come out. There was th—

Bad Cop: Wait, wait, wait. Surely you’re not about to compare Lil Peep, whose name is Lil Peep and who has a “Crybaby” tattoo on his face, to DMX, who one time after he’d had his jaw wired shut because it got broken when some guys jumped him, rapped with so much ferocity for Lyor Cohen in hopes of securing a record contract that he literally broke some of the wires open. Surely you’re not about to do that. Surely you’re not about to compare Lil Peep, who rhymes words like sad and mad together, with DMX, who wrote “Crime Story,” a grade-A, 100 percent classic, expert master class in rapping. Surely you’re not about to do that. Surely you’re not about to compare Lil Peep, whose new album is mostly him just droning on aimlessly, to DMX, who was legit the honest-to-goodness best rapper on planet Earth in 1998. Surely you’re not about to do that.

Good Cop: Listen, of course Lil Peep is not a better rapper than DMX, or even close to being on the same level as DMX, or even close to being anywhere even in the same solar system as DMX. That’s not what I’m saying. And, far as I can tell, being “traditionally good at rapping” is not the point of Lil Peep either.

Bad Cop: Good. Because he’s doing a great job of not being that.

Good Cop: No, but what I was going to say is that it reminds me, at least philosophically, of that same kind of disruption.

When DMX showed up, he was this whole new force. Puff Daddy and Bad Boy Records had taken over everything and sort of set the tone for what rap was, and what rap was supposed to be. Then DMX came through and just took pit bull bites out of everything. And, again, of course Lil Peep isn’t doing it in that manner, but what he is doing is he’s presenting this new version of rap. He’s got this new thing. That’s exciting. New things are exciting.

Bad Cop: You’re an idiot. First of all, when DMX showed up, it was on the biggest, most high-stakes stage there was. I mean, you’re talking about a guy who released It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot and then also released Flesh of my Flesh, Blood of my Blood in that same year, and both of those albums went to no. 1 on Billboard. He’s still the only rapper ever to have done that while alive. He readjusted the trajectory of mainstream rap. Lil Peep isn’t anywhere near close to that. You saying that Lil Peep is philosophically similar to DMX is like saying a seventh-grade basketball player is similar to LeBron because they both held a basketball one time.

And second of all, what are you even talking about a new version of rap? Did Linkin Park never exist? He’s just doing a newer version of what they were doing. Are we supposed to just ignore that all Peep is doing is taking early-2000s emo rock and mushing it together with the most tenuous strains of SoundCloud rap? You don’t get to just add a guitar to a thing and pretend like we’re looking at something transcendent. You don’t get to go, “Oh, this is like if Lil Yachty was really bummed out” and then expect for people to fall over themselves to praise his innovation. That’s not innovation.

Good Cop: Why not, though? Those were two separate sounds. Now they’re one single sound.

Bad Cop: Come on.

Good Cop: Let me go back to the DMX thing, because probably you’re right. I overstepped there. Maybe a more palatable comparison here is when Drake showed up. People called his music “emo rap,” too, and also a lot of people said it wasn’t even rap at all. So, yes. Let’s go with that. The Peep-to-Drake comparison is more accurate. You can draw a line from the type of rapping that Drake was doing in 2009 and get to the type of rap that Lil Peep is doing in 2017. And if yo—

Bad Cop: LIL PEEP IS NOT RAPPING.

Good Cop: Now you’re just being silly. Of course he’s rapping. It’s that slurry rap-singing thing that people do. He’s just stretching it all the way out.

Bad Cop: THAT’S NOT RAPPING. HE’S NOT RAPPING.

Good Cop: OK, chill out, KRS-One.

Bad Cop: I can feel myself getting legitimately offended that you’re classifying this as rap. There’s just no way you can listen to “Problems” or “Awful Things” and find yourself telling the truth by calling it rap. That’s straight up emo rock. It’s rock. He’s rock.

Most of Peep’s influences (and the people his songs sample)—Avenged Sevenfold, the Microphones, Brand New, Radiohead, and so on—are rock acts. Vice had an article back in December that pointed out that each of his songs are listed on SoundCloud with the hashtag “#Alternative Rock.” That’s what he is. He described himself to XXL as a mix between iLoveMakonnen and Fall Out Boy, which, I mean, where’s the rap there? You’re turning flips trying to get his music to be rap because he gets brought up with other SoundCloud rappers like Lil Pump and Smokepurpp and XXXTentacion and that whole group. That’s not how it works.

I took my youngest sister to the Warped Tour several years ago. If the way that the Warped Tour smelled late at night was a human, it'd be Lil Peep. That’s what we’re talking about here. That’s who he is.

Good Cop: But you can’t listen to “Save That S**t” and say that it doesn’t sound like rap today, both in tone (compare it to, say, Playboi Carti’s “wokeuplikethis,” which is at least a little bit funny because that whole song is about how Carti woke up and suddenly there were a bunch of rappers who sounded like him) and also in actual rapping (“Don’t tell me you can say that shit / All she want is payback for the way I always play that shit” sounds a lot like when Lil Uzi Vert rapped, “I don’t really care if you cry / On the real, you shoulda never lied”).

Bad Cop: YES I CAN BECAUSE I’M NOT A FOOL.

Good Cop: Think on it like this: I will concede that Lil Peep might possibly not be rap if you’ll concede that Lil Peep might possibly be rap. And if you can make that concession, then you should be able to see my point: that he’s making a new thing that has to be considered. It’s the same conversation we’ve been having since, like, Kid Cudi got here or whatever and was singing all across everything. Rap doesn’t always have to sound like what it’s sounded like. Rap can sound like different things.

Bad Cop: Well, fuck. I guess country music is rap now, too. So is opera. Opera doesn’t sound like rap. Wow, have you heard that new rap album by Pavarotti? Where would you rank Beethoven’s Symphony no. 9? Is it a better rap song than Nas’s “N.Y. State of Mind”? Where do you think Enrique Iglesias is in the Greatest Rapper of All-Time conversation? I’ve got him in my top five, easy. It’s a shame more people don’t mention him when they talk about Jay and Biggie and Rakim.

Good Cop: I hate you.

Bad Cop: Also: Kid Cudi was talented. Peep isn’t. Peep’s just a guy who got a bunch of tattoos, dyed his hair, then started talking about popping pills.

Good Cop: That’s super reductive. Most of what Peep’s doing is expressing that angst, that depression, that lost feeling, that What the Fuck Is Even the Point? feeling that most (if not all) I’m Just Trying To Find Myself–feeling teenagers wander their way through. And then also, for sure, you’ve got the thing about how open he’s been about his sexuality and how that’s a new(ish) area for rap. And him doing those things is something that grabs hold of people. You can’t disregard that. It’s important to have that. You don’t get to just write it off because it isn’t packaged for you. And of course Peep is talented. And influential. You’re going to see a whole rush of acts behind him that sound just like him.

Bad Cop: Cool. Emo rock will remain alive and healthy then.

Good Cop: If Lil Yachty is a rapper, then Lil Peep is a rapper.

Bad Cop: If a boat is a boat, then a chair is a boat.

Good Cop: The problem here is you’re being far too dismissive. You can’t just wipe away this music and where it belongs because it doesn’t sound exactly like what you think it’s supposed to sound like, or because you don’t like the way the performer looks, or because it’s wider and broader and hazier than you’d like.

Bad Cop: No, the problem here is you’re being far too toothless. You can’t just include everyone into everything because you don’t want to offend someone. Just because something is different doesn’t mean that it’s inherently good.

Good Cop: Lil Peep is a rapper.

Bad Cop: Lil Peep is not a rapper.

Good Cop: At the very least, Lil Peep is a good musician. His music has weight. It’s subversive enough to be trenchant (which means he can remain important to the fans he’s hoping to connect with the most) but accessible enough that it’s going to be easy for him to be turned into a Post Malone–level star. And it’s becoming more and more popular, too—his latest video, for example, the one for “Awful Things,” grabbed more than 1.2 million views in just two days. What other proof do you need that someone is successfully making good music? What other proof do you need that someone is a good musician?

Bad Cop: Lil Peep is a bad musician. Minus the numbers thing, his music doesn’t do any of that stuff you mentioned. And the only proof I need that someone is successfully making good music is for that person to successfully make good music.

An earlier version of this story misidentified a SoundCloud rapper. His name is Smokepurrp, not Ghostpurrp.