JPEGMAFIA – ‘EP2!’ review: abrasive rapper tries out a softer sound

The artist's second release in a few months continues the journey he began with 2019's ‘All My Heroes Are Cornballs’, proving he needn't shout to be heard

JPEGMAFIA calls ‘EP2!’, his second record in recent months, “triumphant introvert music”. The follow-up to last November’s ‘EP!’, a collection of singles he dropped over the course of 2020, this latest project arrives after the rap enigma locked himself away, he’s said, “in a room with a few synthesisers” for three weeks to write, record, self-produce, mix and master seven tracks. The result displays a side to the artist that we’ve seldom heard before.

“If ur confident in yourself I can’t do anything for u atm,” he tweeted in the midst of a locked-down December. “I’m sad and full of hate… This uncertainty in my spirit hits different.” ‘EP2!’ certainly hits differently. Sonically, it’s by far the most subdued we’ve heard Peggy sounding. Gone is the unrelenting juggernaut of harsh beats and disorientating samples of breakthrough 2018 release ‘Veteran’. Instead, the artist follows on from the sonic exploration that he began with 2019’s ‘All My Heroes Are Cornballs’, a sublime release that offset his noisy, guttural instrumentals with ambient flourishes.

‘EP!’ saw JPEGMAFIA slow things down at times, but the much moodier ‘EP2!’ is downtempo throughout. ‘LAST DANCE!’ is backed by a hazy, strung-out, psych-tinged instrumental, while standout track ‘PANIC ROOM!’ (co-produced by none other than James Blake) is filled with fragmented 808 keys. Meanwhile, the slowed-down guitar and warped horns of ‘INTRO!’ overlap with Peggy’s AutoTuned vocals; it’s perhaps the most meditative JPEGMAFIA song yet.

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This doesn’t mean he isn’t direct and probing with his lyrics on ‘EP2!’, though. On ‘FIX URSELF!’, he addresses body issues (“Every morning I body shame, I can’t stand my face”) and sexual assault (“Even though you tried to give me top when I was not awake”). ‘THIS ONES FOR US!’, meanwhile, highlights white privilege and systemic racism. And ‘KELTEC’ begins with his name-checking a US veterans’ health care website (the musician previously served in the Air Force) and ends with a recording from a telephone help line: “All representatives are assisting other veterans / Your call will be answered in the order it was received”.

Although its highlights never quite reach the dizzying heights of ‘Veteran’ or ‘All My Heroes…’, ‘EP2!’ does much to show that, even when the abrasiveness is dialled back a bit, Peggy still stands out among the most engaging and inventive artists making music today.

Details

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Release date: February 12

Record label: EQT Recordings/Polydor Records

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