JPEGMAFIA’s All My Heroes Are Cornballs and Disappointing Everyone
A year and a half after releasing Veteran, JPEGMAFIA (known as Barrington Hendricks) arrives with a more psychedelic yet pop-centric take of his own vision of hip-hop. Before this new record’s release, an onslaught of consistent features and ecstatic live youtube videos have come out this past year to make JPEGMAFIA truly one of my favorite artists of the few years. On All My Heroes Are Cornballs, he raps as if he’s going through an obstacle course, maneuvering his way through the schizophrenic beats that he has produced. There’s a flow in the record — songs creep into one another seamlessly as if multiple tracks are melded into one or splintered into a variety. Basic song structures are thrown out the window as every musical section blurs the lines between different ideas, and at the end of the race, Peggy can wipe off the blood, sweat, and tears and tell himself that he can’t disappoint anyone any longer.
On past records, JPEGMAFIA dived into the trenches of the dark web. His bars paint a picture of him digging into the deep vortex of the internet to massacre ideas of white supremacy, sexist incels, and people who just need to be called out on twitter. A secret agent of the people, he has now come out of the trenches dressed in silk and satin as a prophet of justice. Peggy’s neurotic anger might still be displayed on Cornballs, but a lot of it is scattered with more tempered, but cut-throat bars into a space where he doesn’t need to yell out his wrath all the time. There’ll be a few measures of a melatonin-injected beat where one would want to light up and kick it, but Peggy doesn’t allow anyone that peace of mind. At the beginning of “Kenan VS Kel,” he exhibits a swift precision and brashness, only for a searing doom metal guitar chord to break the charm. On “Beta Male Strategies,” things take a turn for the worse when a mind-bending guitar solo crunches through bones after a mellowed-out sample. With his arsenal of guitar samples in his toolkit, he resembles that of a punk/metal frontman, directing moshpits on his order. When those guitar chord ring out, the left-wing hades proceeds to rise from the ashes as he yells out a punctuated “FUCK” on every measure. This plethora of fucks throughout the record kind of play as a motif for the constant frustration Peggy feels in the divided and dark sociopolitical climate of the past few years. There’s more fighting to be done in this world, and Peggy is never tired.
JPEGMAFIA’s production has always been a standout on his records. The chaos that enveloped a lot of the first half of Veteran had a certain eccentricity to them, such as on hard-hitting tracks “Real Nega” and “Thug Tears.” On All My Heroes, his beats still convey that eccentricity yet veer into more vaporwave territory where his angst cuts through the melancholic bliss of lo-fi static. Take tracks like “PTSD” and “Post Verified Lifestyle,” where shimmering synths give Peggy a somewhat meditative state only for him to pull out the Glock and fire. There’s also newfound confidence in JPEG’s singing on this record where tracks like “Jesus Forgive Me I’m a Thot” carry a playfulness in their hooks. Released as the first single a few months before the release of the record, Peggy creates one of his all-time best tracks, one where I can say that he’s not just one of the more innovative rappers in the game today, but also one of the more innovative producers in hip-hop. Off-key piano chords flourish at the onset of the track. Suddenly, the earth feels as if it’s about to erupt as his case of veteran status isn’t something to be ignored. “Sucka I’m prominent, I was anonymous / I been in front of you every time,” he raps a kind of teaser to what he’s always put forth in his more abrasive tracks like “Baby, I’m Bleeding.” Still, he rightfully brings you back into the serenity of those piano flourishes. In this version of JPEGMAFIA, he attempts to preach composure even if that itch for a slaughtering tries to break loose.
Despite Peggy’s penchant for calling people out, there’s still a humility in his nature that makes his music more approachable for newer listeners on this record. In some way, he’s become more of a poptimist where his singing can even render one to smile, listening to playful tracks like “Grimy Waifu,” “BBW,” and the title track. On “BBW,” he sings, “Still can’t believe I’m getting paid for this art today,” a sign of gratefulness for the dedication that he’s put into making music the past decade. On “Feel the Frail,” he vents his pressures of being a more recognized artist. He sings, “Don’t rely on the strength of my image, hey / If it’s good, then it’s good / Break it down, this shit is outta my hands” to tell himself that whatever acclaim comes his way, he’ll always have his primary hustle. He’s already claimed on his album teaser videos interviewing other musicians (James Blake, Jeff Tweedy, Denzel Curry) that the new record was going to be disappointing to people. It might be a defense mechanism to protect himself from the backlash, but I think that most fans would claim otherwise and appreciate the work and the product. On the Vancouver show of the JPEGMAFIA type tour, I witnessed a good chunk of the turbulent crowd sing along in glee with Peggy, where this public spectacle indicated his penchant for hooks and joy in the music. Nevertheless, he still manages to sneak in his rage on every track; the main reason fans are attracted to his music in the first place.
At the end of the verse of “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot,” JPEGMAFIA pours his heart out as he raps, “I put my soul into every bar / Into every verse / Into every rhyme,” not at all a plea for attention to his dedication, but a convincingly genuine expression of his art. He might be a rap veteran in all sense of the word, but there’s still so much time for him to put out the best music that he possibly can in the next upcoming decade.