“You don’t love Makonnen, you just love my cocaine.”
I was momentarily paralyzed while reviewing “Diamonds” by the thought I could devote the entire review to the irony of the song “Favorite Drug.” You’d have to be living under a boulder to not know that Lil Peep died of an overdose in 2017. While he gained notoriety independently before his passing, nearly all of his major label success has been posthumous, making him the “favorite drug” of producers addicted to profits. Then there’s the curious case of iLoveMakonnen, a rapper whose fame peaked in 2014 and who has been chasing that high ever since. Clearly in this case Lil Peep is his “favorite drug” too. It’s a way to take someone who seems increasingly potent after his passing and x him over with an artist in desperate need of one big shot at the top again.
The truth is a little more complicated though. Peep and Makonnen were genuinely friends, as the archival footage from their performing and touring seen in “Ballin'” shows, and this album was at some stage of completion before Peep passed away. With the permission of his estate the finishing touches were put on it for a 2023 release, and much as I’d like to paint this as a picture of record industry greed, it feels only natural and appropriate for iLoveMakonnen to finish this album. The proceeds can go to Peep’s family and perhaps even to the appropriate organizations that treat depression and drug addiction (which often go hand in hand). That would be a fitting legacy for the late Gustav Elijah Åhr to leave behind whether you were a fan of his music or not.
In fact “I’ve Been Waiting” from 2019’s “Everybody’s Everything” is included here, and it’s hard to be mad at hearing this duet for a second time. I don’t feel like either artist fits neatly into the term “rap artist” or ever will. They both croon with gusto. They have more in common with Juice WRLD (RIP) than Jay-Z. If you’re so inclined you can call it “emo rap” or “SoundCloud rap” but whatever it is has become so far removed from Chuck D and Ice-T that someone in suspended animation from the 1980’s or 90’s who woke up today wouldn’t know “Rent to Pay” was rap music at all.
If it sounds like I’m saying this is a bad thing you might be surprised by how much I enjoyed “Diamonds.” The fact that it took six years to put the finishing touches on this album suggests that nobody involved rushed the process. There’s a strange and undeniable beauty to tracks like “I Sell Cocaine.” It’s not something to glorify but at least being a street pharmacist in song is the one thing our unfrozen caveman might recognize, and both men only seem interested in using the profits to buy more drugs to do. It’s a harrowing downward cycle, and even recognizing the perilous lifestyle Lil Peep was living, you can’t bring yourself to look away from this music. He was as mesmerizing as he was troubled and Makonnen sounds like his brother from another mother. It may be “Hocus Pocus” but the magic works.
Lil Peep’s life is either the ultimate cautionary tale to not live the way you talk in song or the reflection of pain welling up from so deep inside it spilled over into every facet of his art. Actually in fairness it’s probably both. As the emo rap genre goes “Diamonds” is aptly named because it takes everything about Gustav and gives it the polish of a carat in a 24K gold setting. I’ve taken some interest in Peep’s posthumous records leading up to this point, while I’ve been mostly bemused by how little iLoveMakonnen succeeded after “Tuesday,” but in finishing this album for/with his friend he’s done a little hocus pocus and turned himself around to being relevant again. The only downside is that this magic trick will only work once. It took six years to make this release so there’s no way there’s any material left in any state of completion to do it again.