Hidden among the flashy rappers hitting it big in the mainstream lie idiosyncratic music makers with a rebellious style that pushes the boundaries, unearthed by quirky lovers of the art form that is hip-hop. One of the most innovative out there is Brooklynite JPEGMafia. Experimenting with crazy samples and genre-blending, his rap always feels otherworldly, perfectly backed up on his first critically acclaimed studio album, ‘All My Heroes Are Cornballs’. It’s a record which expresses some of the same absurd chaos as his fourth offering ‘LP!’.
One of the wackiest tunes on this experimental album is ‘BALD!’ which sees the Flatbush native randomly inserting the song’s title in between his lyrics, like a self-aware quip at himself and his shaven head: “Hairline proof God needs balance / Bald!”. Sampling a spaced-out version of the Ridge Rider Type 4 game soundtrack’s drum and bass tune ‘Move Me’, it harks back to JPEGMafia’s ‘Veteran’ album – especially ‘1539 N. Calvert’ – as they both utilise ethereal synth-led beats whilst JPEG delivers his lyrics aggressively. It’s a musical juxtaposition that always works for him. Using game soundtracks as backing tracks and pairing them with over-animated and cheeky lyrics brings to mind Lil B and his no-fucks-given energy, especially with Florida’s Denzel Curry on the remix.
A highlight of the album is JPEG interpolating Britney Spears’ iconic hit, ‘…Baby One More Time’, on ‘THOTS PRAYER!’. Reimagining the ‘90s classic with a The Weeknd-esque auto-tuned croon, it’s a weirdly haunting track that’s also refreshing, proving JPEGMafia’s uniqueness again. Who else would think to sample gospel tunes in order to turn a classic pop anthem into a cyber-rap banger? Only switching a few of the words in the popular chorus (“My loneliness is killing me inside / I must confess, I still believe and try”) he strips the song away from its once pleading love-song nature.
Elsewhere ‘ARE U HAPPY’ brings a slightly nostalgic feel to his irreverent rap style. You hear the Three 6 Mafia First Lady, Gangsta Boo’s ‘Hard Not 2 Kill’ in the background, repeating: “If you haters wanna know bring yo’ ana to the door”. Despite being born in the east and growing up partially in the south, ‘ARE U HAPPY’ definitely has the swing of Californian rap.
JPEGMafia has always been exhilarating, despite what tempo he’s at. With a cadence that is recognisable and endlessly charming, whatever he has been doing lately has been fun. Criminally underrated because he’s not making music like the big dogs, JPEGMafia still keeps his integrity no matter what – continually putting out a high standard of work in the process.
Label: EQT Recordings / Republic Records
Release date: October 22