Baltimore rapper Jpegmafia, whose stagename is often shortened to “Peggy,” refashions his usual palette of bleak digital bass into an explosively creative set of tracks on “Veteran.” From video games to wrestling theme songs to Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s screaming to Youtube gun review channels, Jpegmafia sets his creative id free by sampling anything and everything he wants to craft a sonically diverse and unpredictable album.
Long a presence in Baltimore’s underground scene, Jpegmafia brought “Veteran”’s personality, energy and irreverence to his earlier albums as well. These older efforts, however, were held back by their lack of focus, their distinct but one-note production and their unnecessarily long runtimes. “Veteran” is, in contrast, a much tighter yet exploratory album. Jpegmafia’s production ranges from the chilly, uptempo opener “1539 N.Calvert” to the wild, bassy and manic “Real Nega” to the soft-rock inspired “Macaulay Culkin.” In some places “Veteran” becomes so glitched-out and experimental that it’s reminiscent of Oneohtrix Point Never’s digital compositions. His sonic aggression is obviously influenced by Death Grips, especially on “Baby I’m Bleeding.” Despite the dizzying array of production styles he brings to “Veteran,” Peggy keeps his artistic identity intact. He doesn’t so much trade out his earlier sound as build on old foundations.
Like on his earlier projects, Peggy’s idiosyncrasies run wild on “Veteran,” but here his wordplay keeps his lyrical content fresh. His eye-grabbing song titles (“I Cannot F**king Wait Until Morrissey Dies”), his fascination with firearms (“I raise the (A)K(-47) like a kid) and his immersion in internet and nerd culture are all here in spades. In fact, Jpegmafia references pop culture so relentlessly and obscurely that “Veteran” could easily qualify as a nerdcore album.
But don’t think for a moment that Peggy’s gone soft. Jpegmafia’s commitment to authenticity and black empowerment are still at the forefront of his music. The only features on the album are artists from Baltimore’s underground, and, on “Baby I’m Bleeding,” he promises to “never go blonde like Kanye.” Jpegmafia’s politics dominate “Veteran,” and he’s never been one to shy away from bluntly speaking his mind. Peggy’s antipathy to gentrification, white merchants of black culture and yuppies of all stripes is almost tangible when listening to “Veteran.” Bar after vicious bar is dedicated to savaging the alt-right, to whom Jpegmafia dedicates the last two songs of the album, “1488” and “Curb Stomp.”
The album does have a few weaknesses. Toward the back end, it recycles some of Jpegmafia’s older, tired production styles. “1488” features the same murky, ominous bass and cluttered digital percussion as his previous album, “Black Ben Carson,” which feels like a first draft compared to the more inventive cuts on “Veteran.” The song “Rainbow Six” hits hard, driven by an atmospheric vocal loop and a broad synth bass, but feels like a generic trap banger in comparison to the rest of the album. Eventually, his unrelenting aggression loses some of its power. There are only so many times you can hear Peggy shout about how you should shut up or throw down before it gets old.
There are a few outright lyrical misfires as well. On “Panic Emoji,” (and yes, on platforms that allow it, this song is represented by a literal emoji) Peggy addresses his panic attacks and the horrors of the opioid epidemic, but fails to pen memorable, evocative lyrics that deeply touch a listener. Instead, the song is memorable for its sampling of rushing water. The impact of “My Thoughts On Neogaf Dying,” where he focuses on depression and apathy, is similarly blunted, though not to the same degree.
“Veteran” is not for everyone. Jpegmafia is an abrasive artist who delights in shocking audiences, but this is a deeply rewarding and entertaining album if you can handle his aggression. It’s a multi-colored, multi-voiced whirlwind of an album, such that you might need several listens to appreciate it. Peggy’s artistic evolution is all for the better, and the sheer creative fury he marshals leaves me waiting, breath baited, for his next release. There has never been a better time to become a Jpegmafia fan.