With the release of his latest album, Baltimore-native and alternative rapper JPEGMAFIA, often known as “Peggy,” has been making waves in underground rap. After serving in the U.S. military in Iraq, he returned to the United States and released a series of singles and mixtapes. He gained a more widespread audience after the release of his 2018 album “Veteran,” a complicated and forward-thinking project. Now Peggy is back with a new album, “All My Heroes Are Cornballs,” and he is as difficult to pin down as ever.
The album opener, “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am a Thot,” features an airy, piano-based beat and an energetic flow that shifts from lightheartedness to aggression. Peggy walks the line between being earnest and making satire as he belts the overly emotional, auto-crooned hook, and the glitched-out ethereal synths makes this song one of the most memorable moments on the album. The next track, “Kenan Vs. Kel,” begins with some chime and bell-based beats, but it transitions mid-track into a more aggressive industrial electronic atmosphere. JPEGMAFIA’s lyrics have historically featured lots of murder and violence intertwined with politics as a way to express outrage and frustration over the current political system and hyper-polarized culture. Though violent, JPEGMAFIA’s yells about how he wants to whip, stone and slaughter some people brilliantly complement the intense beat.
JPEGMAFIA’s ability to actively engage listeners in alternative styles throughout the album is a great accomplishment. In “JPEGMAFIA TYPE BEAT,” a sort of self-satire, Peggy pokes fun at the internet producers who make harsh, industrial hip-hop beats and simply label them as a “JPEGMAFIA type beat” to get views on YouTube. The song’s intensity seamlessly succumbs to soothing bell and chime synths that segue into “Grimy Waifu,” a transition that feels like riding a plane as it emerges from stormy turbulence into the calm serenity above the clouds. “Grimy Waifu” features a slower acoustic guitar over a subdued trap beat while Peggy raps about his gun, “Waifu.” This song has an oddly spoken and auto-tuned hook which finds a way to be incredibly fun, catchy and sad at the same time.
JPEGMAFIA expands his stylistic resume with “PRONE!” which he claims was intended to be a punk song with no instruments. The listening experience lives up to those expectations; the song is angry, political and energetic. For example, JPEGMAFIA yells, “One shot turn Steve Bannon into Steve Hawking.” Hearing this song makes the listener feel like they’ve been thrust into a mosh pit that they did not know existed.
The album then continues with one of my personal favorites, “Free the Frail,” which features Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland. Overblown and rolling bass synths push the song along, and they’re complemented by tubular, ambient organs. JPEGMAFIA discusses his developing image as an artist, saying during the hook, “Don’t rely on the strength of my image, baby / If it’s good, then it’s good.” Out of all the sarcasm and violence that precede it, JPEGMAFIA comes through on this track with one of the most infectious, emotional and (at least seemingly) heartfelt hooks. Deland’s guest vocals come in toward the end of the track, and while low-key, they complement the subdued and emotional vibe of the song. The song then transitions into “Post Verified Lifestyle,” a track defined by its stylistic juxtaposition of bright and mesmerizing production and the poignant yet aggressive performance from Peggy. The song defies any real conventional classifications in the best way possible.
The concluding track on the album, “Papi I Missed U” begins lightheartedly, with JPEGMAFIA commenting on his excessive coughing throughout the entire project. After this initial joke, the song quickly becomes dark and political. Peggy releases his political frustrations over some sustained airy synths and overpowering bass, singing, “Target practice on an Aryan / Redneck tears, woo, what a beverage.” The song then fades out with some more eerie and haunting ambience.
For all the fresh parts of “All My Heroes Are Cornballs,” some songs in the latter half of the album, such as “BasicBitchTearGas” or “DOTS FREESTYLE REMIX,” are less exciting. Despite solid production, the tracks don’t really contribute any ideas or sounds that aren’t present elsewhere on the album.
On this album, JPEGMAFIA blends hardcore rap, ethereal boy band auto-croons, glitch and a myriad of other diverse but connected sounds and themes. The end result is an incredibly dense album. JPEGMAFIA’s lyrics are witty, political, melancholic and absurd. “All My Heroes Are Cornballs” is an incredibly rewarding listen, and it’s perfectly fit for the absurdity of post-internet 2019.