Album Review: JPEGMAFIA – LP!
Print Music Editor Harry Hawkins reviews the new JPEGMAFIA album, LP!
Peggy’s latest full-length offering has some of his most palatable, coherent work ever – for long-time fans, it continues an awesome body of work, but it’s also a great jumping-on point for people who haven’t fallen down the JPEGMAFIA rabbit hole before.
JPEGMAFIA (real name Barrington DeVaughn Hendryx) has been a big-name character in alt hip-hop circles for a while, primarily because he really makes himself an iconoclast through his music. There is little in terms of threads back to classic forms of rap in his music – very few in the way of boom-bap or trap beats – and songs seem to deliberately be made like chocolate teapots, dissolving from a semblance of structure into a fascinating mess.
Even top songs of his like ‘1539 N. Calvert’ lack typical verses or choruses, twisting from clicking glitch-hop into a dusty lo-fi mumble all in the space of under 3 minutes. Comparison points can be made with artists like Earl Sweatshirt, Danny Brown or even $uicideBoy$, but these intersections are like the marginal boundaries of a Venn diagram, as JPEG’s pursual of multi-phased and brain-melting instrumentals is like no other rapper or producer out there.
“a peek into his hyper-creative mind and the passions and influences that inspire Hendryx the most.”
JPEGMAFIA’s material is often abrasive and confrontational. Given his experiences of racism in Alabama growing up, being a veteran of the Iraq war, this fury never feels undeserved. However, in the last few years he has really began to excel by going more melodic and flirting with character and gender, most obviously evident on 2019’s All My Heroes are Cornballs. This release saw a slight withdrawal from harsh, noise-like bursts to allow more gorgeous hooks, however despite highlights like ‘Free the Frail’, ‘Jesus Forgive Me I’m A Thot’, and ‘Beta Male Strategies’ offering great results, the rest of the record was quite a blur, which made me less keen on keeping up with Hendryx’s work.
So where does LP! take us? Frankly, it’s a great overview of everywhere JPEG has taken us over many of his most recent releases, showing his hand at a tremendous variety of production and rapping styles. With over 20 tracks crammed into less than 50 minutes and two quite different releases, it’s also a peek into his hyper-creative mind and the passions and influences that inspire Hendryx the most.
‘TRUST!’ starts off the album as a wonderful piece of trippy glitchy rap, with confident bars that fit with JPEG’s unapologetic persona. He’s feeling good and looking nice, regardless of nuisance characters in his life. The Clairo-like synths and piano outro provide a great coda to the song and provide a clue to the abrupt mid-song changes that should be expected from Peggy at this point.
Peggy’s profoundly internet and irony-influenced identity is also on show throughout LP! – he is more than happy to throw in references and samples from things just because he enjoys them. The most luxurious example of this is the stunning ‘END CREDITS’, which begins with a sample of a wrestler describing how he will carjack someone, leading into an epic math-rock sequence that sounds like the theme song of an anime – not to mention it transitions perfectly into ‘WHAT KINDA RAPPIN’ IS THIS’, which sounds like ‘SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK‘ has been sped up into a kaleidoscope with some marching band boom bap drums placed upon it. Over the top, Peggy displays a lackadaisical yet passive-aggressive flow – when he questions whether we’re finally “feelin him now”, Hendryx is showing that he makes his music for people who will take him warts and all. (This may be a good time to quote an excerpt from bandcamp of JPEG’s comment on LP!: “I don’t make music for casuals… if u just need some bullshit to put on in the background, while u do dishes or whatever… I’m just not here for that. me and my fans, we like detail.”)
And all of that was only the first quarter of the record! There’s a lot to chew on in a short span of time. Throughout the rest of LP!, Peggy’s triple-threat status – beats, bars and a voice to boot – fire on all cylinders, though I would say that many of the cuts almost feel prematurely cut or transition between instrumentals too quickly. Tracks which allow breathing room, like ‘THOT’S PRAYER’, featuring a Britney interpolation as well as a indie-goth baroque synth aesthetic, come off amazingly well, as well as the dubby ‘ARE U HAPPY!‘, whose spooky pilotredsun type beat are accented with secondary adlib and female vocals in the background to create a masterclass in building space in music.
The home-run of tracks just continues, with ‘REBOUND!’s thumping 808s-And-Heartbreak’s in a fighting game beat providing another sublime canvas for some JPEG and DATPIFFMAFIA action. ‘OG!’ Is, as Big-Time Tommy would say “OS for life!” with its sample. Unusually, it’s boom-bappy as hell but Peggy knows to put a superb flow on it.
“eccentric, soulful, and mind-moulding modern rap”
And then there comes what may be the best track of the year – ‘SICK NERVOUS AND BROKE!’ (Or ‘TIRED NERVOUS AND BROKE’) is the longest song on the record but deserves the span so much. I’ve listened to it on repeat about 3 times writing this review alone, it provides this cold, yet also romantic intro that sounds like spinning around an ice rink on a freezing day. In the verses an unearthly Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind style sample is the foundation for some absolutely acrobatic rapping – mostly seeming to be aimed at a hapless fan, “And what about buyin’ a ticket to get beat up at my show?” but in such an infectious manner that you know it will work a charm in the punk style moshpits of JPEG’s live shows – the hyper-ironic god that he is. Come on guys – HE SAYS HE’S GONNA SIDECHAIN A BEAT TO KICK AND THEN LITERALLY DOES. THIS MAN IS GOD.
So that was a sampler of the JPEG album – please pursue it further if any of this provokes your taste for some eccentric, soulful, and mind-moulding modern rap (and pay for it on bandcamp because Hendryx deserves it. And you deserve the fantastic extra tracks).