Underrated artist spotlight: JPEGMAFIA

March 14, 2023 — by Arnav Swamy
Courtesy of Billboard
JPEGMAFIA’s discography features an explosive range of sharp social commentary, eclectic production, and witty humor.
Few hip hop artists have been as versatile, creative and envelope-pushing as JPEGMAFIA.

Rating: 5/5 Falcons

Hip hop contains a mind-boggling number of subgenres, from conscious to drill to cloud hip hop. Chances are that if listeners are looking for a certain flavor, they will find it.

While these classifications have helped me find some of my favorite music, something that still irks me is how late I discovered JPEGMAFIA, an artist who deserves more attention for the innovations he’s giving hip hop.

JPEGMAFIA, whose real name is Barrington DeVaughn Hendricks and is known as Peggy among his fans, is a 33-year-old artist from Baltimore who, in short, makes some of the most outlandishly addictive experimental hip hop available on streaming currently.

And by outlandish, I really mean it — attempting to filter him into one of these subcategories is very difficult given the volatility and range that his music spans. The intoxicating qualities of his music stem from Peggy essentially being a one-man team; he handles all production, lyricism, rapping and creative direction for the project, all while executing them exceptionally well.

I started listening to Peggy’s discography with “Veteran,” his 2018 breakout album, where he delivers a mind-altering array of beats alongside extremely aware social commentary as he details his experience in the military, his turbulent childhood of neglect and his thoughts on various frivolities in society.

The album starts rather unproblematically with a groovy combination of clicky drums and smooth synths on “1539 N. Calvert” as he delivers boastful, self-affirming lyrics. This low-key intro, while enjoyable, would not have prepared me for the next track, “Real Nega,” which features a sample from rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Goin’ Down” of him wailing indiscriminately into the distance. Peggy loops the sample, layers some pounding drums on it and simply raps animatedly over it as he asserts his integrity and loyalty to only himself, hence the apt title of the track.

Two songs in, and I’m already hit with the first of many jaw-droppingly inventive beats across this record. From here, I found it impossible to pinpoint the direction of his discography — which is probably why the album is so potent.

Across the rest of “Veteran,” Peggy introduces the listeners to his gripes against an innumerable amount of social concerns. From blond Kanye to the alt-right to his hatred of Morrissey (whom he dedicates an entire track to), Peggy showcases his fearlessly confrontational energy against the superficial interests that American society fixates on instead of the real deficiencies that he’s been harmed by.

Each beat also becomes more and more intriguing; from the reverberated pounding on “Rock N Roll Is Dead” to the glitchy, clanky beeping on “Curb Stomp,” each song is sure to make you question how he’s pulling these seemingly random sounds into a cohesively exciting listen.

This is all on “Veteran,” however; Peggy only displays his versatility further on his next two records, “All My Heroes are Cornballs” and “LP!”. On the former, Peggy explores more melodic and psychedelic instrumentation in songs like “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot” and “PTSD” as he delves into a quirky mix of braggadocio, relationships with lovers and haters and his vulnerable past. On the latter, Peggy amps his confidence and confrontation to the max with even more radical production, with the likes of dramatic horns on “REBOUND!” and strangely beautiful synths on “KISSY, FACE EMOJI!” where he flairs his pride in his work, no matter how avant-garde it may be perceived.

But what makes each Peggy song so entertaining and unique is the numerous heavy-handed yet witty vulgarities that pop in and out of every song throughout his discography. Although hilarious, his humor never feels forced and remains organic and original to each song. Combined with his absurd beats and charged commentary at nearly any and everyone, his many alter-egos add yet another punch of deranged humor, which include “Buttermilk Jesus,” “DJ Half Court Violation” and “left-wing Hades.”

What impresses me most about JPEGMAFIA and his various eccentricities is the fact that he pulls all of them off so seamlessly. If you need a song to go crazy for, he’s got you covered. If you instead want sharp lyricism, he’s got you covered. If you want extremely innovative production, themes with real longevity and ludicrous humor, he’s also got you covered.

JPEGMAFIA is one of the most creative and unashamed hip hop artists right now, providing a breath of fresh air to a genre that has been slightly monotonous as of late. A common theme among Peggy’s albums is spiting those who never believed in him, but to be honest, I can’t agree with him more.

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