Few artists are capable of capturing our polarised, chaotic and internet-reliant times as the idiosyncratic Baltimore rapper JPEGMAFIA. First coming onto the scene in 2018 with Veteran, he introduced a unique brand of experimental hip-hop with choppy production and punky, iconoclastic vocals. All my Heroes are Cornballs is an enriched progression of this most distinctive of contemporary hip-hop sounds. Covering a dizzying sonic trajectory and combative lyrical attacks on modern America’s evils ranging from the Trump presidency to the pathetic internet trolling of the alt-right, JPEG raps truth to power in gloriously brazen terms.
The left field and innovative appeal of JPEG’s music lies in his ability to lace together wildly disparate production sounds (like sirens and electric guitars on the start of the record) with earnest and purposeful raps. There is an oddly charming method to what at first listen might appear like madness. The production seems evocative of the internet and technology frenzied world in which we live in as well as the worryingly disjointed nature of American society and politics. On Beta Male Strategies, JPEG or ‘Peggy’ (his feminine identity) labels his online alt-right detractors as ‘keyboard warriors’ who are too afraid to voice their opinions offline and in doing so turns their term of abuse for men with leftwing opinions against them. The fiery attacks on the American right continue on the punchy punk rap track, Prone where he takes aim at Steve Banon in an outpouring of indignation.
All My Heroes are Cornballs is not an easy album to listen to. The sheer volume of different samples and switches of flow that are thrown at the listener can feel overwhelming. This however is besides the point and JPEG isn’t bothered. He like many forward looking artists of the past isn’t trying to comfort you. He’s delivering uncomfortable truths and sharing his multitude of startling life experiences from being an army Veteran in Iraq to police brutality (as heard on PTSD). He isn’t interested in delivering catchy and commercially successful rap music (‘Ain’t no real money in rap (Shut up), it’s all retail (Facts)’) but is instead looking to push the acoustic boundaries of the genre. The unalloyed determination and audacity by which he does this puts this trailblazing album in at least the same ballpark as the great experimental records of the past like Pink Floyd’s The Wall and the Velvet Underground’s self titled work.
Image: JPEGMAFIA/ Instagram