JPEGMAFIA talks bad movies, stan culture and continuing to divert expectations

22 February 2021 | 3:10 pm | Parry Tritsiniotis

With the release of his fourth record in four years titled 'EP2!', Balitmore's JPEGMAFIA remains firmly in control, unpredictable and bold.

JPEGMAFIA is an internet rap star. Bursting onto the scene in 2018 with his captivating breakthrough album ‘Veteran’, he achieved widespread positive acclaim from fans and critics alike with the project's pop culture heavy, glitchy tracklist fuelled by a sense of chaos and franticness. It was confrontational, both introspectively and politically, and it opened a giant gap in the hip-hop market for rappers being brutally honest, both in their messaging and sonically.

The following year in 2019, JPEGMAFIA (Peggy) released ‘All My Heroes Are Cornballs’, an album with just as much tenacity and grit which elevated his sound to a new level of brilliance. It covered almost every genre under the sun, yet remained cohesive and engaging from start to finish. This collage-like record cemented JPEGMAFIA as one of rap's most out and out punk stars, reaffirming his complete rejection of conventions, traditions and boundaries.

In 2020, after a string of singles including 'BALD!' and 'BODYGUARD!', JPEGMAFIA shook things up again with a nine-track EP titled exactly that: EP!. Fast forward to 2021, and he's back with even more from this era in the now-released EP2!, a 7-track vignette into a 2 week writing period last year. EP2 differs however from his other projects. He still wrote, produced, mixed and mastered every song like he has on previous releases, but there is less of that sense of frantic urgency. Where the previous albums excelled in their ability to cross genre, vibe, delivery and feeling with ease, EP2! hones in on a unique corner of JPEGMAFIA's brilliant ability to make songs that shouldn’t, but do, make so much sense. It’s lead single, ‘FIX URSELF!’ mashes a bold brass section and open lyrics with subtly brilliant piano chords. While often known to very much ‘attack’ his records with his delivery, records like “THIS ONES FOR US!” and “FEED HER!” both act as all encapsulating musical experiences. Walls of synths, strings sit equally in the mix with Peggy’s vocal delivery, forcing the listener to lean in and engage with the personal, political and intimate lyrics. A master of a sound completely his own, JPEGMAFIA remains fearlessly creative, boldly independent and standing on his own two feet stronger than ever before, and while we're not sure what he's up to next, the one thing that is certain is it will be 100% JPEGMAFIA — whatever that may be next.

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Peggy, how you doing?

Man, I'm good.

Last time I caught you was on tour in Sydney. At that show, you brought out Denzel Curry and Slowthai.

Yeah, I remember that show!

It was chaos. I was lucky enough to talk to Slowthai a couple of weeks ago. And he was telling me about your movie nights you had on that tour. I just wanted to ask, what movie did you play of the crew and why?

I played some bullshit! They always pick good movies, but I have really bad taste in movies because I don't really watch, I'm not a film person, so I just kind of watched them without no context. So I watched this movie called Idiocracy which is a really bad movie. Don't ever watch that shit. It's outdated and terrible and completely accurate to today.

I don't think you can be both a music person and a movie person. It's always a compromise there.

Maybe. I'm just not a movie person. Some people are like, "Yo, this film is blah, blah, blah." I'm like that with music, but not with movies. I have no context. I'm like, "Okay, that's fine."

I think I'm just impatient too. 45-minute albums is just enough. Anything longer than that, let alone a movie, it's 2½ hours.

I can take pieces out of an album. I can't do that with a movie. I got to watch the whole thing. It's like, "Man..."

EP2! is fantastic. I'm a massive fan, been a fan for a long time. When did you start to begin to see the EP form? Was it from the start, when you were writing songs like "I'm writing music for this project"?

No, it came at the end. I made it within a span of a few weeks at the end of making something else. I just liked the way it sounded because it was actually cohesive which is not something I usually do. I wanted one project where it was like, I sat down and it can all flow together, whatever the fuck that word people be using. It's all cohesive. That's it. It's all cohesive. But, I don't really care about that shit, man. I'd rather do what I want, but I like doing it this way. It put me in a different mode, but I enjoy just kind of just throwing shit to the wall rather than sitting down and trying to do something. I'm not a "let me attempt to do this" kind of person, but at least not when it comes to music.

Big time. And if it's coming from your voice, it's cohesive by default. No matter what anyone says because it's coming from your honest perspective. I read that you often talk about you're at your most organic when you're outside of your comfort zone, and you push yourself outside of your comfort zone. How do you typically push the boundaries within yourself to create something that is just deeply honest and cohesive and authentic?

It just kind of is. If you're just doing shit it just kind of happens. I don't really aspire to do it, if that makes sense. It’ll naturally form up that way.

Sonically, I think EP2! is slightly different from you. The reason I enjoy your music so much is because you mix things like hard drums with pretty chords and instrumentation. This EP though strips it down and really shows off the musicality. Was that the big purpose of this EP, just to show off that softer side of JPEGMAFIA?

It was kind of a challenge. I was challenging maybe. I just locked myself in a room and just made music with whatever was around. That's why it doesn't really sound like anything else because I didn't use anything else I usually do, but it wasn't intended that way. It just kind of worked out that way because there's no samples on it or nothing. I just did everything in a room with the little shitty equipment I had. So it was tinkering around with stuff, and that's what I got.

You are super meticulous either in a creative way or humorous way about track titles and album titles. These two EPs are unnamed. Was it to create no expectations or is it not that deep?

It was to be blank. That was basically it, to divert expectations. Because if I called it something specific, some weird shit like 'My Nintendo DS Controller is a Republican' or something, then before people look at it, they would get an idea that maybe wasn't it. And before, I was doing that on purpose. I was like, "Let me put these titles that were literally, whatever I'm thinking when I upload it." But with this one, since I was doing it in a different way, I wanted these EPs to be just blank. There's no nothing. It's just music on there. It's nothing to expect, really. So, you're right, it was to divert expectations.

The opposite of clickbait.

Hell yeah. It's de-clickbait because now everything is fucking clickbait, man.

I guess that works in your favor as well because people see an EP called EP2!, and they're like, "Holy shit. I want to see what the hell is going on here."

It's just straight to the point.

On my favourite track, KELTEC!, you talk about co-signs. Do you feel like not having a co-sign in the past has helped you formulate your unique sound or placement in the world of rap?

Definitely. It's definitely helped me a lot because I depend on nothing. So everybody can strip this shit away right now, and I'd be fine. I'd be like, "Cool. Back to square one."

Is that why you make no friends?

Yeah, man. I mean, I just don't have enough friends because I'm just an evil person, man. Usually it's smart to not have any friends, but me, it's kind of like I'm just an annoying motherfucker. I'm really negative.

You write, produce, mix every song on the project. And congratulations, I feel like artists only now are really getting properly credited for having their hands all over their project like that. What do you think one of the major challenges of doing that is other than the direct insane amount of workload?

You just get tired of hearing the same shit over and over again. Other than that, there's no downside to me because I remember exactly what it was when I was leaving it up to other people, and that's way worse. Way, way worse. So I'll take all the stress that I put up with. It's not really stressful to me. It's just part of what it is. It's part of my process. I don't even think about it like that. When I was letting other people mix my music, that shit was terrible [laughs].

It's expensive as well.

It's expensive as hell and not as detailed. It's completely counterproductive to anything you're doing. But at least for me, I'm just very specific. If I want something specific, I don't want to hear nobody bitching at me about it. I'm just like, "N****, I'm paying you. Shut the fuck up. Get your ass in there. Open the Pro Tools. Let's go. Giddy up!" Because that's how I do. I'm like, "Oh something needs to be fixed? Giddy up. Let's go." But other people don't work like that. So it is what it is.

In hip hop, I think, people wrongly oversimplify it into beat, bars, delivery. I feel like you're one of the rare artists that has all three in their music. Is being engaging in all three of those worlds high up in your value system as an artist?

Maybe subconsciously, but not really. For me, it's just about fitting in where I need to on what I'm doing. If I need to sing, I'll sing. If not, I won't. You know what I mean? It's just all about how I feel on this. It's not something I aspire to be. I'm not trying to be, "I want to be able to do all of it." But being able to do all of it allows you a lot of freedom in music when you're creating. You can just kind of go wherever. So it's good to do, but it's not something I'm trying to do for any reason.

I feel like artists that make experimental music, and I don't know if you agree with this or not, have always an extremely unique connection with their fans and audiences. How do you take on and engage with or respond to, say, stan culture?

I mean, on one hand, I guess it's kind of invasive because people just be all up in your business. But on the other hand, I appreciate it because I could just have no fans [laughs]. I could have no fans and nobody give a fuck at all. So I would rather people overly care than not. I'm a stan of certain artists, so I know what it's like to be a stan. So I can appreciate it on that level too. I like it. I mean, it's not problematic for me yet. I guess it kinda has been but not really. It hasn't caused me any real issues yet.

What was the most rewarding thing for you, writing and creating this EP?

Just knowing that everything I said on here is correct and truthful. That's really it, just having peace of mind. Knowing everything that I said is factual and true to me and true in real life. It's good stuff to me because it feels good to place it somewhere. But that's the best part about it is it's cathartic, I guess, to place it somewhere in public. It's nice.

How does JPEGMAFIA measure success? What do you want the JPEGMAFIA project to achieve for someone listening to you?

I don't really define success by just monetary or making chart-topping hits. That is part of success as well. But for me, having success, I see it in a different perspective. I look up to artists like Julianna Barwick who, by some people's measures, is not that successful, but to me, I saw her when there were five people showed up at this show and I was blown away. She gained a lifetime fan because she was just good at what she did. It's the same thing with MF Doom. He is successful, even though he wasn't some chart-topping rapper or anything like that. He's a complete success. You can't look at MF Doom's life and career and say he failed because he wasn't a top 40 hit-maker, but it's just all relative, is what I'm trying to say. I measure success by how good are you? How consistently good were you in everything else after that? How many fans did you have? Did people fuck with you, blah, blah, blah, stuff like that. So it's really... I guess it's a long-winded way to say it's all relative, but I just don't measure success by strictly who got the most money or who got this and that, but that could be part of it. If that's part of your success, then that's it. But, I guess the people I looked up to, I didn't require them to have to be huge.

EP2! is out now.

Interview by Parry Tritsiniotis

Image: Supplied