News of Lil Peep’s death shocked fans and ignited a conversation on addiction and mental health, but his older brother Karl Åhr, who goes by Oskar, wants to set the record straight that there was more to the rapper than his drug use and the persona he portrayed to the public.
Peep (real name Gustav Åhr), who was a rising star in the hip-hop and emo scene, died on Wednesday at the age of 21 ahead of a scheduled show in Tucson, Arizona due to a likely overdose on Xanax, according to Tucson Police. Oskar says that the pill Peep took may have been laced and caused his death accidentally.
“We [the family] have heard there was some sort of substance he did not expect to be involved in the substance he was taking,” Oskar, 23, tells PEOPLE exclusively. “He thought he could take what he did, but he had been given something and he didn’t realize what it was.”
As to the possibility of it being an intentional overdose, Oskar says Peep “was not struggling” at the time and that finding out about his death was a complete shock.
“It was an accident, it really was an accident,” Oskar says. “He was super happy with where he was in life.”
Lil Peep was well-known for lyrics that openly addressed his use of drugs, specifically pills, and his battle with depression. While Oskar says that he and his brother went through their fair share of struggles growing up with their father, who he describes as a “selfish man,” much of the sadness Peep portrayed in his lyrics and on his Instagram came as a part of his job.
“It makes me laugh to think about the days we watched WWE together but [Peep] mentioned how being a hip-hop artist is like being a pro-wrestling character. You have to be an actor,” Oskar says. “He gets paid to be sad. It’s what he made his name on. It’s what his image was in a sense.”
“He was so proud when he heard that there were people in the world who wanted to kill themselves, and then they didn’t because they listened to his music. He was helping people, he was not somebody who needed help,” Oskar continues. “He was not as sad as people think he was. It’s frustrating as someone who remembers a happy brother.”
According to Oskar, Peep “had a much healthier relationship with drugs earlier in life” before his rap and hip-hop career started taking off.
“[Early on] he didn’t drink alcohol, for example,” Oskar explains, adding that his brother did use marijuana, though, starting at a young age. “I can guarantee [drugs are] not something that would’ve been a part of his life if he was not a part of that specific culture. Not only was he a part of it, he’ll be remembered for making waves in it.”
Oskar makes it clear that he and his family have great trust in Sarah Stennett, the CEO of First Access Entertainment, which partnered with Peep in the last year, but he blames the hip hop industry as a whole, in part, for putting pressure on artists to portray a certain image.
“My brother didn’t take five Xanax pills every day, but he would take them and then post on Instagram about it,” he says. “I wish it would have paid for him to be a little safer, but the world needed him to have superlative problems that he dealt with in superlative ways. Gus dealt with these problems much better than Lil Peep did, but people didn’t know Gus, and there’s a reason Gus doesn’t sell.”
He continues: “I hope there is some focus on drugs like Xanax and pills, in general, and the potential for them being laced, but I hope it isn’t too much associated with how people remember him.”
What Oskar hopes people remember about his brother, who he describes as determined and deeply loyal, is the sweet side of his personality that couldn’t easily be found on his Instagram or in the lyrics of his music.
“Everything in his world was about our mom,” he says. “And I want to talk about how much he loved his dog. As a tough guy, he had a super tiny little dog, a silky terrier named Taz, that he loved and he actually saved. He has spent more of his life than you would think with an adorable little dog that was his partner in all of this — sitting around while he was making a lot of those songs at the beginning.”
Oskar says that he and his brother had a very close relationship, and though they didn’t get to talk often due to Peep’s hectic tour schedule, they were both looking forward to spending Thanksgiving together next week as the holidays were a time they would catch up on life.
“It was all very odd and surreal. Yes, my brother was a rap artist. But that was his career,” Oskar says. “We would giggle about the things that were a part of his job at family dinners on holidays. He was very proud of himself and he knew we were very proud of him.”
In the future, Oskar hopes to put out some of Peep’s unreleased music that he collaborated with his friend and fellow rapper Makonnen on that he says “is a lot happier.”
“He might’ve made a funky Red Hot Chili Peppers album in the future about why he loved life,” he says. “We didn’t grow up thinking he’d be a hip hop artist and what an awesome career it turned out to be. He thought he’d be an actor of some sort since he always had this presence and this charisma. His versatility knew no boundaries.”