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Lil Peep’s mother sues First Access Entertainment over rapper’s death

By | Published on Wednesday 9 October 2019

Lil Peep

The mother of Lil Peep has sued his former management team at First Access Entertainment accusing them of negligence and other breaches of contract which, the lawsuit alleges, contributed to the rapper’s death in 2017 of an accidental drugs overdose. The management firm has insisted that the claims made in the legal filing are “categorically untrue”, adding that “we look forward to [the lawsuit’s] swift dismissal”.

Rapper Lil Peep, real name Gustav Åhr, died in November 2017, aged 21. Having first found an audience on SoundCloud, his music career was gaining real momentum at the time of his death. Drug use and depression were frequent topics in Åhr’s music, although shortly after his death his brother insisted that the rapper exaggerated his personal use of illegal and prescription drugs as part of an on-stage persona. However, his brother also added, the rapper’s actual drug use had increased as he became more involved with the music industry.

The lawsuit filed by Åhr’s mother Liza Womack begins by outlining the rapper’s professional relationship with First Access Entertainment and its CEO Sarah Stennett, as well as his hands-on manager Bryant ‘Chase’ Ortega and tour manager Belinda Mercer. It accuses the management team of allowing a culture of drug taking on Åhr’s tour, despite being aware of his addictions, as well as supplying the rapper with illegal drugs and prescription medications, and at times actually encouraging him to take them.

The lawsuit alleges that, during a 2017 headline tour, “use of controlled substances and illegal drugs by decedent [ie Åhr], certain defendants, and others involved in the tour, including the tour manager, was allowed, normalised, and even encouraged and promoted by defendants. Defendants viewed this type of dangerous behaviour as part of the ‘scene’ on a tour like this one. More disturbingly, defendants knew that the continued use of dangerous drugs on this tour by many, including decedent, allowed defendants to maintain a certain degree of control over the tour and its artists”.

Womack also alleges that the First Access team – including Stennett and Ortega themselves -facilitated access to drugs when Åhr was off the road, in particular the anti-anxiety medication Xanax. The lawsuit cites text messages which allegedly show Stennett and Ortega arranging to provide the rapper with some unprescribed Xanax pills. The legal filing then states: “Stennett is not a medical professional, pharmacist, or in any way licensed to be dispensing controlled substances or prescription benzodiazepines to anybody”.

In addition to the allegations about condoning a drug taking culture on tour and providing the rapper with drugs to take, the lawsuit also accuses the First Access team, and especially tour manager Mercer, of failing to respond to the negative impact these drugs were having on their client. It alleges that, on the final date of the spring 2017 tour, Åhr “was barely able to communicate, let alone perform, due to his use of drugs. Despite decedent’s comatose-like state and the fact that he was in clear medical distress, defendants nonetheless allowed him to go on stage to perform without any intervention, medical or otherwise”.

Later the lawsuit claims that Åhr “expressed to defendants on many occasions his desire to leave the tour and disengage from his relationship with defendants. He explained to them that he was anxious, stressed, overwhelmed, burnt out, exhausted, and physically unwell. Defendants ignored these cries for help and instead pushed decedent onto stage after stage in city after city, plying and propping decedent up with illegal drugs and unprescribed controlled substances all along the way”.

Setting out its case for negligence on the part of the First Access team, the lawsuit claims that Åhr’s death was a foreseeable consequence of “the callous, unsafe environment on the tour bus and the recklessness, carelessness, negligence, and intentional conduct of [the defendants]”. It then quotes a tweet posted by Ortega shortly after news of Åhr’s passing had been announced: “I’ve been expecting this call for a year. Mother fuck”.

In a quick response to the litigation, First Access said that the lawsuit was “meritless”, and that suggestions that the management firm and its associates somehow contributed to Åhr’s death were “categorically untrue”.

The company’s statement reads: “Lil Peep’s death from an accidental drug overdose was a terrible tragedy. However, the claim that First Access Entertainment, any of its employees, or Chase Ortega, or anyone else under our auspices, was somehow responsible for, complicit in, or contributed to his death is categorically untrue. In fact, we consistently encouraged Peep to stop abusing drugs and to distance himself from the negative influence of the drug users and enablers with whom he chose to associate”.

“It is extremely disappointing that Peep’s mother would file this meritless lawsuit”, it goes on, “since she is well aware of the numerous efforts made by First Access and Chase Ortega to steer her son away from his concerning lifestyle choices. Unfortunately, in spite of our best efforts, he was an adult who made his own decisions and opted to follow a different, more destructive path”.

Noting that “the Medical Examiner ruled that Peep’s death was accidental” and “likewise, the Tucson Police Department conducted a thorough investigation and concluded that his death was the result of an accidental overdose”, the statement concludes: “While First Access is deeply saddened by Lil Peep’s untimely death, we will not hesitate to defend ourselves against this groundless and offensive lawsuit. We look forward to its swift dismissal”.

First Access will presumably dispute some or all of the events described in Womack’s lawsuit. Even if it didn’t, it’s still a leap to conclude that the alleged conduct constitutes negligence in the legal sense, and therefore liability for Åhr’s death.

However, the lawsuit puts the spotlight back on to the debate around the music industry’s responsibility for the health and wellbeing of its artists.

A lot of that responsibility inevitably falls on management, the one business partner which has a 24/7 relationship with the artist. But most managers do not have the expertise to support clients dealing with addiction or mental health challenges. Plus, as First Access points out in its statement, the manager works for the artist, not the other way around. Therefore, ultimately, the artist can always ignore the manager’s advice or resist any efforts to create a more healthy environment.

All that said, there are things managers – and the other business partners of an artist – can be doing to better spot the dangers, to ensure the artist has access to the support they need, and to put in place the safest infrastructure possible. MMF UK have done a lot of work in this area and previously published a ‘Music Managers Guide To Mental Health’. UK charities Music Support and Help Musicians UK can also provide help to artists and their teams in this domain. And, in the US, the Grammys-funded MusiCares offers a range of support.