JPEGMAFIA remains one of rap’s most confrontational, adventurous artists.
JPEGMAFIA would probably tell me to go fuck myself if I called him an anarchist. At the very least, the Los Angeles-via-Baltimore-via-Alabama-via-Harlem rapper-producer—born Barrington Hendricks—has proven to be a rap game fire-starter over the course of the last few years. His raps are abrasive and dripping with vitriol for the mouth breathers and bigots who find comfort in the darker corners of Twitter, Reddit, and 8Chan; what more would you expect from an artist who named their debut studio album Black Ben Carson?
Whether you find Peggy’s appropriation of bad-faith internet irony funny or not, his discography makes one thing clear: he can rap his ass off. JPEGMAFIA specializes in sturdy flows rapped at breakneck speeds, better suited for a deathcore band than a rapper raised on Dipset. Twenty-eighteen breakthrough album Veteran weaved this blend of gruff New York rap bravado, frantic Baltimore club music pacing, and post-industrial sludge as sleeves in a tattered tapestry.
An artist of Peggy’s growing profile deciding to name his third studio album All My Heroes Are Cornballs is at once both on-brand and brash beyond measure. The album has been winkingly advertised as a “disappointment” by Peggy and his friends, not exactly a far cry tactic for a guy with a mouse cursor face tattoo.
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: No skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding, and no stopping. Every song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish. Press “f” to pay respects.
1. “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot”
Thots don’t need forgiveness from anyone. Hot Girl Summer is year-round. Shattered glass and distortion to start, par for the course so far. “Pray I end up like Charlize Theron.” Hahaha. This production is as smooth and jagged as Sonic The Hedgehog running through a sawmill. That falsetto he hits is unreal. A strong start.
2. “Kenan Vs. Kel”
Bubbly keys buried in some haze. There goes the tag! “Niggas waiting on the bag like I’m dropping Yandhi.” At least he knows his audience. Beat change up with some crunchy guitars in here. This sounds like Travis Scott’s “NO BYSTANDERS” turned inside out and stripped for parts. I’m overstimulated. Two songs in and the production for both is insane. Bars haven’t hit me quite as hard as I thought they would, though.
3. “Beta Male Strategies”
Wow, this beat sounds like a Chao Garden. Talks of false outrage from trolls. Peggy wants all these white shitposters to be about it IRL, too. “Say what you said on Twitter right now.” The bars are coming in short bursts before jumping out of the way of the beat. “I hope rap gets me canceled.” I don’t think anyone truly understands what cancel culture entails. This production is beautifully hazy on some Boards of Canada type shit.
4. “JPEGMAFIA TYPE BEAT”
Oh, this is WILD. Peggy trolling fans who say he sounds too much like Death Grips? I’ve been waiting for a rapper to poke fun at “type beats” for what feels like a decade now. The reference is on the edge of becoming stale but he makes it work. No idea what he’s saying but it’s a rush. Won’t be returning outside the context of the album.
5. “Grimy Waifu”
Nice transition into this track. Peggy wants anyone who has spent money on a body pillow to hear this one. “Do I let that nigga live?” Hearing Peggy sing more is nice but these beats are stealing the show. So textured yet lighter than air. This song is lyrical Mad Libs about the music industry and internet buzzwords but it sounds nice.
Peggy is actually an Air Force veteran, so this could go a lot of ways. “Shit lookin’ like Splinter Cell, Special Ops.” Peggy has a thing for gun raps that flow like water and hit like... bullets. This strobing synth sounds like something out of Ecco The Dolphin. That Brexit bar was funny. He's tap-dancing all over this shit. These beats are much less jagged than the ones on Veteran. They have me wondering how Peggy’s screamo persona will change for his live show. Sounds like prog rock. This is cool.
7. “Rap Grown Old & Die x No Child Left Behind”
Okay, this beat has gone full video game theme song. It sounds like an 8-bit sunrise. “I look like Herman Caine, I dress like Jimmy John.” Why you had to play yourself like that? Singing Peggy is a really nice change of pace. “I got booked for Coachella, my enemies can’t say the same.” TALK YOUR SHIT, KING. Some bars on complaining about Twitter-talk from detractors not leading to real change. No one ever really gets canceled, after all.
8. “All My Heroes Are Cornballs”
Following up a song about making it to Coachella with one about bringing a pump to the stage is ballsy. This beat sounds like a nursery in purgatory. The flow went from Juice WRLD to Boyz II Men real quick. This album is keeping me off balance so far. Peggy’s production chops have evolved considerably. I wonder what someone like Young Thug would sound like over these beats? "How you go from Anne Hathaway to Ann Coulter?" Oof, that's gotta hurt. There’s more emphasis on melody than ear-shattering bass this time around. Somebody can’t decide on what they want from the drive-thru. Not a single moment to breathe.
More raps about basement dwellers talking shit about him. He “still feels like a fan” on stage. Little moments like that help to offset the rest of his retreading raps. This production is jagged in a different way. The beat transitions are the exact opposite of seamless; Peggy wants you to see the edges like a Minecraft character. This is different from Veteran, I’ll give him that. The JPEGs are still deep-fried but the colors are softer. It’s almost... more intimidating? I don’t know how to feel.
A rocket taking off as the energy ramps up again. Peggy is screaming like he’s on top of the rocket in Dr. Strangelove. Booming low-end for anybody who wants some. This sounds like a meteor bracing itself for its impact. Abrupt cut to something that sounds like a VHS of house music. Peggy is singing to “a beauty.” I would buy an entire project of Peggy singing, to be honest. Not sure if this works by itself.
11. “Life’s Hard, Here’s A Song About Sorrel”
A lot of these songs feel like skits and bits of ideas placed in a collage. It’s a constantly morphing mood piece. Gone in the blink of an eye. Not really too moved by this one.
12. “Thot Tactics”
Some Lil Uzi Vert-sounding vocals as the beat splits apart. “Put the keyboard down and get the mac out” is a great gun bar. Peggy’s bars work best in short bursts and “Thot Tactics” is the best proof of this yet. Censored name of somebody who did him wrong. I love the feeling of this, very Toys 'R' Us on shrooms vibe going on here. My favorite song that wasn’t a single, so far.
13. “Free The Frail” feat. Helena Deland
I’m glad we haven’t heard the “DAAAAMN PEGGY” tag on here. It would seem silly placed on any of these songs. This beginning sounds like a BROCKHAMPTON song shot through with a Netscape black hole. Yeah, I’m speaking an actual BH/Peggy song into existence. “Free The Frail” sounds tailor-made for Kevin Abstract, Bearface, and Dom McLennon to cut loose real quick. Some hums and muted drums to carry us out. “Such a cool chord change.” Don’t get cocky, kid. I wonder if these songs are so much softer and have more singing because Peggy is tired of screaming his throat out on stage for 90 minutes at a time. I can’t imagine how these will translate. This one’s a keeper, though.
14. “Post Verified Lifestyle”
Being verified seems overrated. I’m sure Peggy would agree. “I don’t hide from you bums / I survived through the slums.” The internet is nothing compared to the actual streets, that’s facts. Peggy 18 tag? Man shoutout to the Australian video game rating system. A woman’s voice asking about being put on the spot but not knowing what to talk about. “I’m Beanie Sigel mixed with Bieber with a dash of dude in 98 Degrees” followed up with “I’m the black Ali G” is an avalanche of references. Only Peggy could say that and almost not warrant a massive eye roll. Almost. The line between charm and corn is very thin.
Another short burst interlude. Peggy covering TLC’s “No Scrubs.” Full '90s mode activated. Between “BasicBitchTearGas” and IDK’s cover of Amerie’s “Why Don’t We Fall In Love” on Is He Real? the nostalgia is very real. This was in the vein of his Backstreet Boys tribute track from last year. Short and sweet, I’ll be back.
16. “DOTS FREESTYLE REMIX” feat. Buzzy Lee and Abdu Ali
A redux of his entry in Kenny Beats’ The Cave with a new beat? An actual remix? Very interested. This beat sounds like dial-up. “I been playin’ with pistols since you watchin’ Toonami” is one of the hardest bars of the year, no cap. Peggy’s intersection of gun raps and geek ephemera is one of the coolest in rap. This sung outro adds flavor. They made this an actual SONG and took out the tinnitus-inducing bass. Another favorite.
17. “BUTTERMILK JESUS TYPE BEAT”
What a weird nickname. He tried a Buttermilk Jesus beat tag and immediately noted how bad it sounded. It’s supposed to be part of the charm but bro really posted cringe. I’m upset. A lovely beat almost ruined with a corny joke. Those piano keys deserved something funnier.
18. “Papi I Missed U”
Papi’s time is almost up. “I don’t spit raps, bitch, I spit rhetoric” is a dangerous bar but it hits HARD. Young Dolph reference was A1. Peggy is the only rapper who I feel comfortable labeling as “stream-of-consciousness.” This song is word salad. Coos and hums ascending to the stars cut off by voices and keys.
Final (First Listen) Thoughts on JPEGMAFIA’s All My Heroes Are Cornballs
“Ethereal” is the first word that comes to mind when I think about All My Heroes Are Cornballs. Peggy’s production has skirted that line before, but Cornballs dives deep into a light glitchy atmosphere that clashes with his aggressive rapping style. There’s also a lot more singing this time around and his high-tenor voice proves to be formidable at breaking through the clouds of static.
All My Heroes Are Cornballs is an about-face from the more hard-nosed approach taken on Veteran—all scream raps and beats designed to assault the senses. The raps appear in shorter bursts but miss almost as often as they hit. At best, they achieve an intoxicating stream-of-consciousness; at worst, they sound like disjointed tweet drafts.
It’s one thing to become a specialist at a certain brand of rap, but Peggy is no Pusha-T. His raps work best when he deviates and twists his usual take on internet trolls by adding more personal details, like on “Thot Tactics” and “Post Verified Lifestyle.” Hearing him rap about anything else on this project is thrilling.
More than anything, All My Heroes Are Cornballs is a showcase for Peggy’s growing talents behind the boards. The beats range from exquisite to jarring, glitching in and out of each other amorphously. Songs like “Beta Male Strategies” and the title track scan as pitches in the direction of BROCKHAMPTON’s kitchen-sink pop-rap but with Peggy’s distinctly acidic aftertaste lingering throughout.
The seams are showing all around, but that’s probably the point. All of his heroes might be cornballs, but JPEGMAFIA remains one of rap’s most confrontational, adventurous artists. It doesn’t make for a perfect album, but it does make for an enjoyable one.