At the start of every show, JPEGMAFIA unassumingly walks out on stage. He plugs his computer in, checks the mic and presses play. A deluge of chaotic beats and soul-bearing screams ensues. No DJ, no hype man, no reinforcements to back him up when breathless. “I’m alone when I’m at my best,” he asserts at the beginning of his new track, “FIX URSELF!”. The singularity of JPEG’s genius endures on his newest release. While sonically sweeter than last year’s “EP!,” “EP2!” features some of his most ruthlessly indicting lyrics to date.
JPEG remains humble when discussing the vastness of his creativity. During an interview with fellow artist James Blake he explained, “I made 93 songs [for my last record] and whittled it down to 18, but it’s just an arbitrary number. I didn’t mean to make a bunch of tracks for no fucking reason, I just like making music.” This compulsive creativity has made JPEGMAFIA one of the most prolific rappers of the last five years. Fans always anticipate the next opportunity to sneak a peek at the cards Peggy holds so tightly to his chest. Most all of them are aces.
JPEGMAFIA has carved out a signature sonic space as a producer and a puckish lyrical personality to boot. Industrial bangers off of 2018’s “Veteran” such as “Baby I’m Bleeding” contrast with more pop-palatable tracks like “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot” off of 2019’s “All My Heroes Are Cornballs.” While his music transverses genres, JPEG’s inventive song structures and bravado tie all of his projects together.
JPEG has refused to slow down, following up his last LP with a span of singles and smaller projects. November brought the release of “EP!,” Peggy’s first compilation of loose tracks. The charmingly self-deprecating single “BALD!” embraced his receding hairline, while denouncing the online lyric jockeys misquoting his bars on Genius, the most authoritative online archive of song lyrics. “COVERED IN MONEY!” flexed androgynous fashion choices over a disorienting beat:“I’m covered in money, I’m out for the bag/ I flew out the country, borderline dressin’ in drag.”
The salacious Tommy Genesis feature on “ROUGH 7” was also a highlight. Bubbly add libs garnish playing bars, such as “He put a tongue to my halo/ I talk to God and She calls me emo.”
This newest installment of tracks continues to showcase JPEG’s self-assured lyricism, but over more refined and understated production. EP2! opens with the track “LAST DANCE!,” originally released as a single in August. His references are pointed and present. Joseph R. Biden, Osama Bin Laden and “Love Island” are all mentioned in a dizzying first verse. Powerful horns reminiscent of Waka Flocka Flame garnish the beat. “Are you triggered or just weak by design?” he asks his critics.
Another EP2! standout, “FIX URSELF!”, is one of JPEG’s sweetest, most sentimental songs to date. The synthetic horns from the opening track reprise as Peggy professes love for both his partner and his fan base. The hook is catchy and uplifting. The lines “Shoutout my refugees, my fans my family” are earnest. The next track “KELTEC!” features beautifully subtle production, to bolster lyrics that flaunt independence in an increasingly corporate industry: “Rappers can’t do what I do ’cause I own all my shit/ And I do all my shit and most y’all can’t relate.” JPEG is surely the sole proprietor of his sound, releasing whatever he wants, whenever he wants.
“THIS ONES FOR US!” marks the climax of “EP2!”, with a litany of shots fired at critics trying to profit off of the artist’s vibrant persona (present company included). JPEG pulls no punches, gunning for overeducated bohemian layabouts and hipster Brooklynites.
Jabs at the over-intellectualizing world of music critique give me pause; I start to reevaluate my authorial motivations. Is this review at all meaningful, or merely mental masturbation? Peggy’s pen forces me to stop and acknowledge the semi-solipsistic activity of music , if only for a moment, before shamelessly continuing.
JPEG’s principled indictment of Pitchfork and similar publications is bold, but by no means out of character. The chaotic and carefree energy we’ve come to expect from JPEG’s performances maintain throughout “EP2!”, only concentrated and channeled through the tip of his pen. More of the same is all that we need from JPEGMAFIA right now. His prolific and enthralling discography continues to expand, sans growing pains. Fans have yet to be let down, and don’t expect to be disappointed anytime soon.