Halfway through the month of January, I became somewhat disappointed with the hip-hop scene. However, come Jan. 19, my fortunes were reversed, thanks to one JPEGMAFIA.
I caught wind of JPEGMAFIA, otherwise known as Barrington Devaughn Hendricks, by way of a friend’s suggestion. Before this date, I was largely unfamiliar with the Baltimore-based MC and his music — I now feel as if I’ve been missing out on one of the boldest and most daring voices the underground rap landscape has to offer.
While I would normally associate lo-fi and experimental trap with the crop of hit-or-miss acts coming out of South Florida, JPEGMAFIA makes few mistakes in his take on aggressive vocals, fast flows and distorted beats in his impressive third LP “Veteran.”
Entirely self-produced, “Veteran” is lengthy at 19 tracks — with one instrumental interlude in the mix — spanning 50 minutes. In this, JPEGMAFIA displays a unique ambition uncommon in many of his underground contemporaries, especially considering the album’s mere three features.
JPEGMAFIA handles every track’s production, mixing and mastering. In doing so, he taps into a punk-ish DIY attitude evident in both his songwriting and performance. Most of the tracks run around the two-and-a-half minute mark and feature an in-your-face, confrontational delivery — such as the project’s second track, “Real Nega.”
As one of the most punishingly bellicose pieces of experimental hip-hop I’ve heard in awhile, the track opens with a vocal sample of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s, “Goin’ Down,” before bursting open with a frenzy of pounding drums, blown-out bass and JPEGMAFIA’s trap-inspired triplet flow. For the remaining two minutes, Hendricks accosts listeners with bars that are combative, yet clever, like “AR built like Lena Dunham” and “Beat ‘em like Rhythm Roulette.”
The beat then shifts into a clean guitar sample while Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s voice fades out. Listeners are left feeling wowed by JPEGMAFIA’s ability to pen, produce and perform a song.
I should take a second to note, though, that JPEGMAFIA is anything but a punk artist. He champions authentic cultural expression in his music and in tandem takes numerous opportunities to denounce standards of white musical hypocrisy in rock and roll.
I also like the track “I Cannot F*****g Wait Until Morrissey Dies,” which challenges rock stars like The Smiths’ Morrissey, Slayer’s Tom Araya and Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten for their pseudo-liberalism and ideological hypocrisy.
Ultimately, the song is one of many examples of JPEGMAFIA’s remarkable penmanship, in both topic and cleverness. In one of my favorite bars that he drops, he boasts his radical ideological cred: “I’m a left-wing Hades / 26 with a fresh .380”.
I am similarly amazed at the album’s production, which is perhaps its strongest selling point. JPEGMAFIA uses vocal samples in a creative fashion, either seasoning a hard drum beat with a droning vocal part or cutting choral samples into glitchy loops and using them as the instrumental backbone, like in “Baby I’m Bleeding.” The drum and percussion selection is consistently punchy and serves as a great supplement in the album’s most off-the-wall moments.
JPEGMAFIA continues to separate himself from most underground MCs. His beats feature mind-melting, glitchy electronic passages comparable to those of Death Grips. He strikes a commendable balance between clunky keyboard single-lines and flat-out noise with his use of synthesizers, which he uses to mirror his most personal and hectic moments of songwriting.
When push comes to shove, I really have few issues with this LP.
My one complaint is that JPEGMAFIA can come off a little too edgy. For example, the song “Libtard Anthem (feat. Freaky)” seems to be more of an excuse for JPEGMAFIA to call out people that get on his nerves rather than to push some sort of commentary. The song’s structure and concept both underwhelmed me since he seems to have so much to say in other departments.
I’d like to see JPEGMAFIA push a defined narrative in conjunction with his brash, no-holds-barred attitude towards music. Outside of that, I see no reason to criticize such a well-put-together project that throws the meanest of punches at the nastiest of times.
William Newbegin, ’21, is an assistant sports editor and columnist for The Brown and White. He can be reached at [email protected]