Album Review : jpegmafia - Veteran (2018)
Last year, I spent countless hours of my time working on a retrospective of Death Grips' discography. I loved the project and you people loved it back, making it one of the most successful project in the history of the site. But, now what? How does hip-hop even pieces itself back together after being pulled apart like this? My friend and critic Keith Rawson pointed me in the direction of jpegmafia, a young Baltimore rapper who just released an album called Veteran. Peggy is not quite Death Grips' lovechild, but he is what comes logically after.
So, Veteran is an angry, glitchy and confrontational album. I haven't listened extensively to its predecessor, the awesomely titled Black Ben Carson, and this confrontational nature is definitely in jpegmafia's DNA. What makes Veteran such a unique and challenging album is the production. That guy is shocking the corpse of gangsta rap awake like Dr. Frankenstein and creates some kind of unruly living-dead monster. The bold and bizarre shit Peggy samples and raps over, you wouldn't believe. Among my favorites : the weird throat sounds Ol' Dirty Bastard makes at the beginning of the song Goin' Down, a taser and weird low-pitched cries of a guy who sounds like he's calling a moose on the song Rainbow Six.
It's wildly unpredictable, up to a point where it can hostile.
My favorite song on Veteran is Baby I'm Bleeding, which was made into a single. It really is an old-school declaration of purpose, calling out all the fake ass rappers in the business. He's got amazing bars on it like: Got so many styles, they should call me Peggy A.J/When I hit the stage, niggas know its pay day/Tell your bitch, come here, like I work for Midway. Dude's in 2018 and plugs two different decades in three bars while still making his point. He's good. I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrisey Dies was another high point where he makes fun of self-important white artists, calling himself a "left wing Hades" in the process. Lots of rappers burn people on their records, but what jpegmafia burns people who deserve burning on Veteran.
I'm sure that if you've pressed play on either the link to Veteran posted above of the video here, you've noticed the Death Grips influence. There's way more than that to jpegmafia's music and it definitely claims it rap heritage instead of trying to break it into pieces like the nefarious noise rap trio has done, but they have an undeniable aesthetic and iconoclast lineage. jpegmafia is making dangerous and unpredictable gangsta rap, shunning the superficial lifestyle that is supposed to come with it. Hip-hop, in general, has moved away from gangsta aesthetic over the last decade, but an album like Veteran reminds us that it's not because rappers are smarter and more creative than before that they don't feel angry and dispossessed.
Veteran is not a straightforwardly enjoyable listen, but it's one of the most creative and low-key sophisticated rap efforts I've heard in a while. It took me several listens to wrap my mind around what I was hearing, because there's such an overflowing power to this record and it goes in so many places at once, different things stand out each time. jpegmafia is a confrontational presence on the contemporary hip-hop scene and provides a fascinating alternative to the Kendrick Lamars and Travis Scotts of this world with his raw and in-your-face aesthetic. There are some important conversations left to be had in hip-hop and Peggy's making sure no one forgets that.