We live in the age of internet feuds and platforms that allow for clashes between fierce opinions. An age of polarization and strong societal differences in the West. An age in which movements such as Black Lives Matters, feminism and extreme left- and right-wing parties are both lauded and criticized harshly. And, apparently, we also live in an age in which a rapper can insult and provoke almost every single ideological, political and social movement out there and still create a solid and thought-provoking project of art.
JPEGMAFIA – or Peggy – is the alias of Barrington Hendricks, a Baltimore-based rapper who rose to prominence with projects like Communist Slow James, Black Ben Carson and his joint venture with Freaky, The 2nd Amendment. Through these projects, Peggy gained a rather notorious and radical reputation, often combining a dark sense of humor with extremely sensitive opinions regarding politics – most notably Donald Trump and police violence. Whereas these projects showcased that JPEGMAFIA was an artist with huge potential, often combining strong lyricism with experimental beats, his focus was often unclear and high peaks were often followed by deep nadirs. Thus, it is a great and pleasant surprise to see that Veteran is not merely a (mostly) cohesive and well-constructed album, but also a project that contains some of the best experimental hip-hop of the past few years.
It is hard to tell who JPEGMAFIA’s inspirations are. In terms of production, every song sounds different, with influences from trap, cloud rap, triphop and perhaps even some horrorcore. Within just one project, Peggy reminds of clipping, Yung Lean, Travis Scott, Death Grips and WifisFuneral. Peggy’s voice and flow also change from song to song, ranging from a mellow yet quick Dom McLennon type of flow to raspy shouting. Perhaps the best comparison to Veteran is Danny Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition: similar to how Brown managed to surprise everyone with different vocal and beat styles and a constant alteration of styles, Veteran’s main strength is its unpredictability and its experimentalism. JPEGMAFIA is an incredibly versatile rapper and he succeeds effortlessly in showing this. Veteran is filled to the brim with highlights: from the chopped and screwed 3500 samples on Panic Emoji to the SoundCloud beats of 1539 N. Calvert and Thug Tears to the relentless lo-fi banger Baby I’m Bleeding: JPEGMAFIA isn’t afraid to deploy his entire musical arsenal and that certainly leads to a refreshing album.
That is not to say, however, that Veteran doesn’t come with its flaws. Due to the experimental nature of the tracks, some beats and beat switches sound very clunky. JPEGMAFIA sometimes pays more attention to the experiment itself rather than the song behind the experiment. Whereas this is often done intentionally, it does take away some of the catchiness and enjoyability of the songs, most notably on Real Nega and Germs. Simultaneously, the features feel completely needless. Especially fellow Baltimore rapper Yung Midpack who appears on Rainbow Six, manages to ruin half a song due to poor lyrics, bad mixing and an utterly off-beat flow. Yet, due to the fact that the album hops so quickly from idea to idea, these flaws don’t really feel like flaws – rather, they feel like scenes that are essential to a particular low-budget arthouse movie. Perhaps they are scenes that you wish to skip, but doing so would decrease the overall quality of the movie.
In 47 minutes, Peggy presents us 19(!) tracks, of which merely a few can be considered to be “fleshed out” and “complete” tracks. With titles such as “I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies”, “Libtard Anthem and My Thoughts on Neogaf Dying” (spoiler: he doesn’t care), it’s clear that yet again JPEGMAFIA isn’t trying to steer away from controversial “opinions”. It feels more tongue-in-cheek than previously though. The radical anti-cop sentiment that was for example present on The 2nd Amendment (shout to my n*gga Micah Johnson down in Texas / he fucked them cops good / I can’t wait for the next hit) has been exchanged for a pre-2013 Odd Future-esque incitement style. Is it pubescent? Sure. Unlike Tyler, the Creator though, the constant flow of provocations seem to serve a bigger narrative. Veteran indirectly sounds like a critique of society – a rebellion to political correctness, labels, and social norms. Perhaps Veteran is merely the musical equivalent of trolling and perhaps I’m searching too thoroughly for a deeper meaning, but JPEG at least creates the feeling that there’s more than meets the eye. And that’s why Veteran is so good: it feels relevant, important and grand.