By Christian Hince | December 6, 2021
In his fourth album effort under the moniker, JPEGMAFIA’s boundlessly creative production and on-mic charisma continue to shine through.
JPEGMAFIA (or Peggy for short) has proven to be a fixture in the experimental rap scene in recent years. His ability to meld hip-hop landscapes with everything from punk to electronic to R&B has made him a revered producer. His spirited mic presence and caustic lyrics marked by witty pop culture references have made Peggy a reputed performer and a rap cult icon of sorts. After two years and two EPs, on Oct. 22, Peggy finally brought forth his fourth album effort, the straightforwardly titled “LP!”.
First off, it should be noted that there are two versions of the record: the “online” version released on traditional streaming services such as Spotify & Apple Music juxtaposes the ”offline” version released on Bandcamp, SoundCloud, and YouTube. The offline release contains several tracks that Peggy’s label, Republic, couldn’t release commercially due to sample-related issues.
The timing of this decision is explained by “LP!” being his last of four records with Republic, following his 2019 project “All My Heroes Are Cornballs” (AMHAC), and his 2020 and 2021 EPs titled “EP!” and “EP2!”. In a move similar to Frank Ocean ending his tenure with Def Jam in 2016 by releasing the visual album “Endless” and the more widely promoted “Blonde” independently the next day, Peggy is seizing control of his body of work.
His anti-industry intentions are evident in a blurb on the Bandcamp page for the album. “I live and die by the quality of my work, not the hype,” he said. “My time in the music industry is over because I refuse to be disrespected by people who aren’t respectable in the first place.” With him calling the offline release the “true” version, I’m staying true to that by making it the one I’m reviewing.
As a mark of Peggy’s independence, the very first track and lead single, “TRUST!” is a light track featuring quick electronic production. At the same time, he smoothly raps in his natural baritone about keeping optimistic through difficulties and deceitful people. “I won’t even fib--I’m feeling nice,” he raps at the end of the track’s last two verses.
Peggy’s smooth, energetic rapping found on “TRUST!” and the rest of the JPEGMAFIA discography is consistent with the rest of the album. Highlights in this regard include the aggressive “REBOUND!,” the closest thing to a trap banger on the record, where he changes his flow numerous times over the song’s run. On “TIRED NERVOUS, AND BROKE!,” he flashes a quick, sharp delivery through the track’s verses and hooks where he ridicules his array of adversaries, saying, “the opposition is sick of me, tired, nervous and broke.”
“TIRED, NERVOUS, AND BROKE!” isn’t just a highlight because of Peggy’s performance on the mic. Its cold production, with crashes of icy, psychedelic keys and cymbals before verses and dynamic shifting drum fills during the lyrically chock-full chorus, bring the track together to make a JPEGMAFIA classic.
The creative production found in “TIRED, NERVOUS, AND BROKE!” is littered throughout the project. “DIRTY!” contrasts jittery, soft synths with pounding drums that match Peggy’s typical aggressive rapping. “WHAT KINDA RAPPIN IS THIS!” uses a buzzing bassline, angelic keys and strings, punctual snare rolls, intermittent horn melodies, and a pitched-up soul sample to create one of the warmest and most intricate-sounding songs on the record.
On “LP!,” Peggy takes his sampling to a level never before seen. “END CREDITS!” is uniquely exhilarating with its use of the song “Monomyth” by progressive metal band Animals As Leaders, a track which came out not even two months before this album’s October 22 release date. Channeling his vaporwave roots as Devon Hendryx on “HAZARD PAY!,” a heavily transformed Anita Baker sample is given a colorful spin with a buzzing bassline and Peggy’s usual tenacity on the mic.
Production-wise, the project is well removed from the stripped-down days of the “Veteran” album, but reminiscence is still here on tracks like the minimalist “NEMO!” with its watery drums and glitchy synth-line and “BMT!” which features a pounding instrumental based around a military chant. “BMT!” not only reinforces Peggy’s eccentric sampling from days past but harkens to his days in the air force, which he disgustingly looks back on with lines like, “**** my sergeants, **** your base, **** that harness, **** them planes.”
Having bad blood has been part of Peggy’s artistic identity for some time now. His defiance of authority and fiery hatred of racism are harnessed in numerous tracks across previous albums, with him being a proud nemesis of the online alt-right political sphere.
This shines through on tracks like “ARE U HAPPY?” where he raps, “I got out of poverty rich, you heard one of my songs and got triggered,” and “REBOUND!” where he talks about “getting death threats every week, from some p****** that y’all never seen.” Having little restraint from degrading these online detractors, Peggy’s usage of the c-word is vernacular throughout his discography and is apparent in the project’s closing track, “UNTITLED!” “I’ma be swinging on these crackers like I’m playing hockey, Young PK Subban with the stick on me,” he raps with homage to the three-time NHL all-star.
With “LP!” being the independence benchmark in Peggy’s career he remembers to save some punches for the music industry. On “HAZARD DUTY PAY!,” he criticizes the commercial exploitation of rap music. “Why does your black feel like business to me? Industry lies never line up on screen,” he raps. This sentiment is echoed in the outro of “TIRED, NERVOUS, AND BROKE!” where Peggy sings with Kimbra, “I don’t wanna be sold out baby, I don’t wanna be stressed out for profit.”
As a general critic of other rappers in this business, he takes a shockingly targeted approach to two specific songs. While “REBOUND!” for the most part is a general proclamation against his foes, in the final verse he fires off against fellow experimental hip-hop superlative Armand Hammer, making a pun on the duo’s name when he raps that they’re “named after the baking soda, but ain’t never touched no ******* coke in your city.”
The scuffle began with a dispute over a beat that Peggy made out to one half of the duo, Elucid. Elucid responded with a verse dissing the producer/rapper on the Armand Hammer track “Leopards,” referencing his military record and implying that he was forced to take down the Peggy-produced “Oblivion Reflex” from streaming services.
For Peggy’s response, the second song he fired back with, “THE GHOST OF RANKING DREAD!,” is a full-on diss track. Along with restating the noteworthy line from “REBOUND!,” he mocks their subject matter and the cover art for their 2021 album, rapping, “NOI flows with pork for an image.” He also takes specific aim at the other half of the duo Billy Woods, rapping, “You blur your face for the gram, I blur your face for forensics.”
As someone who admires all artists involved in this beef, these moments on “LP!” were somewhat uncomfortable, however, the conflict was patched up six days after the project’s release.
As illustrated on songs like “UNTITLED!,” Peggy’s lyrical bloodlust is always accompanied by scores of colorful and witty references to just about anything. Namedrops on the project range from rappers like Big Pun and Gucci Mane, to rock musicians like Jimmy Hendrix and Henry Rollins, to pro wrestlers like Darby Allen and Steve Austin, to NBA players like Dame Lillard and Allen Iverson, to politicians like Sarah Palin and Ben Carson (whom his first JPEGMAFIA LP was named after), and far beyond.
He doesn’t stop flexing his pop culture brain muscles with naming celebrities, references to video games like Carmen San Diego, internet memes like the Arthur Fist, and an unexpected biblical reference to Sodom and Gomorrah, securing Peggy’s nerdy musical identity. “R.I.P. DOOM, through the villain I’m raised,” he raps on “ARE YOU HAPPY?,” an accurate remark considering the late hip-hop legend’s love for deep-cut pop culture knowledge.
His love for pop culture also bleeds into a heavily used interpolation of the chorus from Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time” on “THOT’S PRAYER!,” which also appears to borrow the chord progression from “Thot Tactics” off AMHAC. These old elements are reinvented with an ethereal synth line and occasional guitar notes as Peggy raps with vulnerability. The last few rhymes of the verse highlight this, “don’t stop lyin’, I get stuck in the past / get to cryin’, then remember my path / get to rhymin’.”
Vulnerable moments such as these are sparse on the record, something that wasn’t as much the case on previous projects where he discussed issues such as his mental health and military history at greater volume.
“LP!” beats previous efforts though, in album structure and consistency. While it flows from track to track with ease just as prior records did, it doesn’t have the same issue of less than memorable interlude-esque songs that break the pace a bit. In fact, these tracks on “LP!” welcome inclusions.
“GOD DON’T LIKE UGLY!” jams tons of sharp references and shots at Peggy’s enemies into just over a minute, the military chant turned trap instrumental “NICE!” is a solid intro for the similar “BMT!,” and “💯” (or 100) uses snippets of the late Young Dolph’s “100 Shots” and a grimy, hypnagogic beat to create a worthy middle-of-album interlude.
Similar to previous efforts, Peggy keeps his features to a minimum, with just two on the record. DatPiffMafia provides a nice change of pace on “REBOUND!” with his clever wordplay, and hyperpop singer Tkay Maidza softly introduces “THE GHOST OF RANKING DREAD!” with her auto-tuned vocals, contrasting the song’s explosive and powerful outro.
For the most part, JPEGMAFIA does what he’s been doing for a while on “LP!”, and that’s just fine. His exciting rapping and lyrical style full of critical rhetoric are mainstays of his musical identity and deserve to be. He also does what he’s been doing in the production booth, which is to continuously innovate and push the boundaries of what hip-hop can accomplish. You know what? Peggy doing the same thing is more than just fine. It’s awesome.