Photo: Richard Stilwell
Unearthing 'Diamonds': Lil Peep Collaborator ILoveMakonnen Shares The Story Behind Their Long-Awaited Album
Six years after it was recorded, Lil Peep and ILoveMakonnen's highly anticipated — and previously leaked — album 'Diamonds' comes out Sept. 8. Makonnen spoke with GRAMMY.com about the road to their shared release.
To ILoveMakonnen, diamonds are not just forever — they're for healing.
"We wanted to be able to heal our broken hearts and heal our fans with this music," rapper and producer ILoveMakonnen tells GRAMMY.com. "That was the whole mission behind Diamonds, to let everybody know that they are a diamond and they're waiting to be found."
Diamonds, ILoveMakonnen's newly-released album with the late Lil Peep, was recorded in the summer of 2017 and wrapped just months before 21-year-old Peep’s death from an accidental overdose. How the record came about, and why it took so long to be released, is a story of a sudden and intense friendship, internet leakers, lawsuits, and a long-delayed happy, if bittersweet, ending.
Makonnen first became aware of Lil Peep towards the end of 2016. Makonnen was at that point best known for his 2014 hit song "Tuesday," which benefited from a viral Drake remix. But his association with Drake’s OVO label, which started in the wake of "Tuesday," had ended and he was searching for something new.
"I was looking online and saw some of [Peep’s] videos, and I thought that he was really intriguing and cool," Makonnen remembers. "We had some mutual friends. People would tell us, 'oh, you should check out this guy.'"
Peep was at that point a popular, if still somewhat underground, emo rap star. (Just weeks later, he would be proclaimed "the future of emo" by Pitchfork.) It took Makonnen making a dramatic announcement for the two to finally connect.
"I came out as gay in 2017, in January, and Lil Peep was one of the first people to reach out to me and tell me, ‘Thank you. I love you. You're so brave for this. I always support you. I want to meet you.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, I'm in L.A. right now. We should meet up.’"
The artists met at a mutual friend's house and "really hit it off,"Makonnen explains. "We became best friends as soon as we met. And then we got to start talking to each other more, and we would be on the phone all day."
The two already had business ties — Makonnen's manager at the time was business partner’s with Peep’s manager — so doing an album together seemed like the natural next step.
They began sessions in July 2017 in Los Angeles, but getting work done proved difficult.
"Everybody in L.A. knows where we’re at and everybody’s pulling up to the studio and wants to get on the song," Makonnen recalls. "It’s just too much going on, to where me and Lil Peep can’t focus."
The duo decamped to somewhere quieter, and brought a few trusted collaborators to Eastcote Studios in London.
Somewhere in the middle of this process, Peep came out as bisexual. Makonnen recalls that Peep felt two openly queer artists teaming up could make a huge impact on their young fanbases.
"He said, ‘I feel like we can really make a change in the world by showing this because so many of us young fans and young people are dealing with all types of things,’" Makonnen remembers. "That was the start of everything that bonded us together."
The two artists were inseparable during the London sessions, staying in the same hotel and doing everything together.
"We really lived together like best friends, if not more. We were wearing each other’s clothes," Makonnen says. "It was truly special and fun. It just felt surreal. It felt like a dream. We were having so much fun and smiling and laughing the whole time."
Throughout, Makonnen and Peep were dead-set on combining their styles. They typically began improvising melodies, while discussing what topics they wanted to talk about on each track. They addressed problems in their own lives, with hopes that fans would be able to relate.
There was a specific mission for the sound of the record as well. Peep had always loved Makonnen's songs with sad lyrics and happy-sounding music. That gave Makonnen an idea.
"I was like, ‘And your songs sound very sad!’" Makonnen says, laughing at the memory. "So I was like, we need to give that same emotion, but make it sound a little happier and friendlier so that the listener can have that sense of celebration, crying, transformation — where this music is hitting me and allowing me to let things go, but also to uplift the things in my life that have been bearing down."
As the record neared completion, Peep and Makonnen visualized what would come next: a joint tour, a merch line. Makonnen says he planned to perform some of the new tunes in a Vegas-style live act where he would play piano and a suit-clad Peep would sing.
"I was telling Peep, you’re going to be like Frank Sinatra," Makonnen says.
Makonnen and Peep split after London, with plans to reconvene and mix the album after their respective tours wound down. That never happened, and after Peep’s death fans wondered about the fate of the album that he once proclaimed the best of the century.
In spring 2020, after conflicting reports about whether the album would ever be released, it leaked to the internet. Makonnen recalls how it happened: People involved in the album got emails from someone claiming to be him, asking for its contents.
That wasn’t the end of the hacking. Many of Makonnen’s other unreleased songs — he claims about 500 in total — were stolen by hackers as well.
"After that happened, I literally had a nervous breakdown," he says. "I was shaking and sweating and got sick for three days. I felt doomed and destroyed. My mom had to really help talk me back up."
Following that debacle, Makonnen tried to put Diamonds out of his mind. "I didn’t even like listening to it," he says. "It just brings back too many memories."
But in early 2023, Peep’s mother Liza won back control of her son’s music following a lawsuit settlement with his record label. That cleared the way for the album to be finished, at long last. The entire Diamonds team reconvened in Los Angeles to mix the album.
The project is 22 songs long, reflecting pretty much all the finished material from the sessions. But that wasn’t Makonnen and Peep’s original vision.
"We had a lot of songs," Makonnen admits. "We maybe weren’t going to put out all of these songs if he was still alive and we were down to edit it. But since he passed and we didn’t get to that point, I felt it would be best to show all that we did. We had a lot of fun creating this stuff."
The release of Diamonds is bittersweet for iLoveMakonnen. On one hand, he’s still extremely proud of the music. On the other, he’s reminded of the loss of his best friend.
"A lot of emotions I’ve had buried down in my subconscious and in my heart that I haven’t been able to express because I never felt like the time was right, I’m happy to be able to speak about now," he says.
"It’s a weird feeling in your throat. I’m happy, I want to laugh, but I feel like crying."
How Hip-Hop And R&B Crushed Their Competition: Can Rock Bounce Back?
Chart success, streaming, GRAMMYs and smashing guitars — how the R&B and hip-hop genres beat rock at its own game
There was a time in the not so distant past when hip-hop was likened to disco. A flash in the pan genre defined by its hyperbolic expression of sound and style, disco fizzled out in the early '80s once the fashion and sonic trends attached to it expired.
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Hip-hop was presumably following in its footsteps, especially when so many break records were layered with disco samples to create the early framework of hip-hop's sound — think the Sugarhill Gang's 1979 hit "Rapper's Delight" (GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, 2014), which sampled Chic's 1979 No. 1 smash, "Good Times."
But hip-hop persevered and brought with it an evolution of the R&B genre as well. Combined, the two genres became unstoppable, eclipsing a flimsy stigma of being confined to an "urban" box. Now, four and a half decades since hip-hop's inception, the genre has seemingly taken the music industry over along with R&B, beating rock at its own game. How did we get here?
Theoretically, the move has been gradual, though 2017 marked a quantifiable shift leaning in hip-hop and R&B's favor. First, there are the sales figures: Hip-hop and R&B accounted for 25 percent of music consumption in 2017, with rock trailing at 23 percent. Add to that an uptick in audio streaming in 2017 by 72 percent — with 29 percent of music streamed online being hip-hop and R&B combined, matching rock and pop, which also combined for 29 percent of music streamed online. The two previously gigantic leaders in major genres are now neck-and-neck with the "underdogs" of R&B and hip-hop.
But per Nielsen's 2017 year-end report, eight of the top 10 albums were, in fact, hip-hop or R&B albums, including Drake and Kendrick Lamar for More Life and DAMN., respectively. Meanwhile, Drake and Lamar held down the top two spots on the list of most popular artists based on total consumption (sales and streaming), while Bruno Mars, Eminem, Future, The Weeknd, and Lil Uzi Vert were also among the other artists that proved hip-hop and R&B were the most widely consumed collective genres this past year.
The 60th GRAMMY Awards further punctuated that claim, as artists like Jay-Z and SZA found homes in the General Four categories, with Mars — who earned Record, Album and Song Of The Year — and Lamar sweeping wins across the board.
Phrases like "the death of rock and roll" have been continually tossed around since this cycle of news arrived. The latest strike against rock came when Coachella announced that for the first time in its 19-year existence there wouldn't be a rock act headlining the festival. The three headliners for the 2018 installment will be Beyoncé, Eminem and The Weeknd.
"I think it speaks to the strength of the music and the strength of the fan base," explains Jeriel Johnson, Executive Director of the Recording Academy Washington, D.C. Chapter. "The fans dictate who shows up on those stages."
While the 2017 tallies may suggest that sales and streams have finally caught up, industry insiders have seen the trends shifting over the last 5 to 10 years.
"Now so, even more than ever, music can be created and put out so much more quickly so when something is happening, urban music is reflecting that really quickly."
"R&B and hip-hop have always had a huge influence and impact on our culture, regardless of the time period — from fashion to slang to our tastes in music [and] cars," says GRAMMY-nominated producer Harvey Mason Jr.
However, with rap artists growing into cross-cultural icons, hip-hop poured into rock and vice versa.
"I immediately think of artists like Run-DMC, Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Kid Cudi. These are a few of the pioneers who helped lay down the foundation for artists like Post Malone, Lil Uzi, [the late] Lil Peep, and Lil Pump to become the new generation of artists to continue the push forward the borders of hip-hop," explains Matthew Bernal manager of media for Republic Records. "From their trend-setting fashion, genre-bending sounds and riot-like live performances, millennials grew up watching these icons and the influence is clear in their music today."
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Artists such as Rae Sremmurd, who released the groundbreaking "Black Beatles" with Gucci Mane in 2016, extended that aesthetic — the music video for the hit single showed the duo breaking TV sets with electric guitars.
"Post Malone's 'Rockstar,' which was the No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 for eight consecutive weeks last year, is a strong indication of how today's hip-hop artists view themselves: as rock stars," continues Bernal.
"Urban culture is the new rock," adds GRAMMY-winning producer Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins. "[In] every era there's a change that takes place, and right now Migos, Kendrick Lamar — they're the new rock stars."
"I feel like it was bound to happen," says Nicole Johnson, industry relations at music streaming service Pandora. "Back in the day, rock and roll was started by an urban genre and urban people. But then it became 'sex, drugs, and rock and roll' and, now, isn't that what these hip-hop [artists] are now talking about? Here are rappers just living their best lives, being themselves, tattooing their faces if they feel like it, wearing dresses on the cover of their album if they feel like it. It's all about self-expression."
Johnson adds that Pandora's Next Big Sound has been driven by hip-hop and R&B as of late, leading to the service's launch of the weekly urban station, The Sauce. "There are now so many [sub]genres within hip-hop, of course, it's gonna take over.”
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But in the wake of hip-hop and R&B's takeover, so was the digital boom. Urban music jumped onboard streaming services early, with platforms like SoundCloud birthing its own scene, SoundCloud rap, which has given way to artists such as Chance The Rapper and Rico Nasty who have equally dominated the space as other hip-hop artists.
"I think R&B/hip-hop is benefitting from changes in technology," says Mason, underscoring how today's fast turnaround in music creation has placed hip-hop and R&B at a unique vantage point, especially when it comes to topical music. "R&B and hip-hop really seem to have their ear to the ground culturally and in society with everything our country is going through.
"It just seems to be such a transparent outlet for people with feelings and opinions, and now so, even more than ever, music can be created and put out so much more quickly so when something is happening, urban music is reflecting that really quickly."
So where will we go from here? Is rock really fading away? And, if so, can it come back? While the cyclical nature of music would reflect an inevitable return, perhaps rock will have to once again evolve the way hip-hop and R&B had to in order to rise up.
"It'll rebound in a different kind of way, I believe," says Jerkins. "Someone will come along and do it in a newer and cooler way. But right now? Hip-hop, R&B — that's pop. Because pop music is anything that's popular."
(Kathy Iandoli has penned pieces for Pitchfork, VICE, Maxim, O, Cosmopolitan, The Village Voice, Rolling Stone, Billboard, and more. She co-authored the book Commissary Kitchen with Mobb Deep's late Albert "Prodigy" Johnson, and is a professor of music business at select universities throughout New York and New Jersey.)
Photo: Jacopo Raule/Getty Images
Lil Peep, Alt-Rock/Hip-Hop Fusion Rapper, Dies At 21
Fans and fellow artists take to social media to mourn the young artist
American rapper, singer, and producer Lil Peep — née Gustav Åhr — died Nov. 16 prior to a tour appearance in Tucson, Ariz. A spokesperson for the Tucson Police Department has confirmed that evidence was found on the rapper's tour bus indicating the cause of death to be a drug overdose, according to The New York Times.
The SoundCloud rapper and rising alt-pop star was on tour in support of his debut album, Come Over When You're Sober, Pt. 1. He died just two weeks following his 21st birthday.
Best known for his self-produced bedroom-recorded tracks such as "Crybaby" and "Hellboy," Lil Peep built a rabid online fanbase through his unique blend of emo-rock hooks and trap-inspired rapping. References to heavy drug use as self-medication to deal with severe depression were a staple of the young rapper's songwriting, and his soul-baring acknowledgement of his real-life trials and mood swings forged a powerful connection with a fanbase built almost entirely via SoundCloud and Instagram.
"I suffer from depression and some days I wake up and I’m like, 'F***, I wish I didn’t wake up,'" he said in an interview with Pitchfork. "That's the side of myself that I express through music. That's my channel for letting all that s*** out."
Lil Peep began his career in music after leaving high school early and earning his degree via online courses. He began releasing self-produced music on YouTube and SoundCloud, where he discovered an unexpectedly fervent fanbase, prompting him to release his first mixtape Lil Peep Part One in 2015.
Though ostensibly a rapper, Lil Peep drew acclaim from his fans and music critics alike for his refusal to be pinned down by the conventions of any one genre, often sampling artists such as Underoath, Brand New, the Postal Service, Oasis, and the Microphones to build the sonic bed for his Southern-rap inspired vocal deliveries. His lyrical content — touching equally on themes of relationships, revenge, angst, and self-harm — prompted Pitchfork to label him as an artist who was "reinventing heart-on-sleeve agony for a new generation."
Lil Peep was vocal on social media and in his songwriting about his close relationship with his mother. She has released a statement through a representative of First Access Entertainment, stating she remains "very, very proud of him and everything he was able to achieve in his short life," and that she is "truly grateful to the fans and the people who have supported and loved him."
Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
GRAMMY Rewind: Watch Doja Cat & SZA Tearfully Accept Their First GRAMMYs For "Kiss Me More"
Relive the moment the pair's hit "Kiss Me More" took home Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, which marked the first GRAMMY win of their careers.
Doja Cat walked in with eight nominations, while SZA entered the ceremony with five. Three of those respective nods were for their 2021 smash "Kiss Me More," which ultimately helped the superstars win their first GRAMMYs.
In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, revisit the night SZA and Doja Cat accepted the golden gramophone for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance — a milestone moment that Doja Cat almost missed.
"Listen. I have never taken such a fast piss in my whole life," Doja Cat quipped after beelining to the stage. "Thank you to everybody — my family, my team. I wouldn't be here without you, and I wouldn't be here without my fans."
Before passing the mic to SZA, Doja also gave a message of appreciation to the "Kill Bill" singer: "You are everything to me. You are incredible. You are the epitome of talent. You're a lyricist. You're everything."
SZA began listing her praises for her mother, God, her supporters, and, of course, Doja Cat. "I love you! Thank you, Doja. I'm glad you made it back in time!" she teased.
"I like to downplay a lot of s— but this is a big deal," Doja tearfully concluded. "Thank you, everybody."
Press play on the video above to hear Doja Cat and SZA's complete acceptance speech for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards, and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of GRAMMY Rewind.
Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
Listen: Miley Cyrus & Pharrell Reunite For New Song "Doctor (Work It Out)"
Ten years after their first funky single, Miley Cyrus and Pharrell Williams strike again with "Doctor (Work It Out)," which arrived on March 1. Hear the new track and watch the spirited music video here.
The pop superstar unveiled her new single, a lustful, funky dance track titled "Doctor (Work It Out)," on March 1. The track is her latest collaboration with Pharrell, and their first in 10 years.
Over a pulsating bass guitar-driven beat, Cyrus opens with the punchy chorus (“I could be your doctor/ And I could be your nurse/ I think I see the problem/ It's only gon' get worse/ A midnight medication/ Just show me where it hurts," she sings) before erupting into a dance break as she declares, "Let me work it out… Imma work it out…”
So far, 2024 is feelin' fine for Cyrus. At the 2024 GRAMMYs, her 2023 smash, "Flowers," took home two awards, for Best Pop Solo Performance and Record Of The Year. Following her first win, she delivered a knockout performance featuring the unforgettable ad lib, "I started to cry and then I remembered I… just won my first GRAMMY!"
Less than a month later, "Doctor (Work It Out)" serves as another groovy celebration of Cyrus' achievements in life and music so far.
The song's music video is reminiscent of her 2024 GRAMMYs performance, too. Not only is she wearing a similar shimmery fringe dress, but the entire video is a jubilant, blissful solo dance party.
Though Cyrus first teased "Doctor (Work It Out)" just a few days before the song's arrival, Pharrell first gave a sneak peek in January, at his American Western themed Fall/Winter 2024 Louis Vuitton Men's fashion show in Paris. It was Pharrell's third collection for the luxury house, and the bouncy single served as a fitting soundtrack.
The song marks Cyrus' first release in 2024, and her first collab with Pharrell since 2014's "Come Get It Bae" from his album G I R L'; Pharrell also co-wrote and produced four tracks on the deluxe version of Cyrus' 2013 album, Bangerz.
Watch the "Doctor (Work It Out)" video above, and stay tuned to GRAMMY.com for more Miley Cyrus news.