‘All My Heroes Are Cornballs’ is is internet rap at its finest

JPEGMAFIA experiments and reflects, creating one of the most unique albums of 2019

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JPEGMAFIA performing as part of Vince Staples' 2019 "Smile You're On Camera" tour.

Courtesy Flickr

JPEGMAFIA, born Barrington Hendricks, is perhaps the ultimate exemplar of the grungy, DIY hip-hop that has found a home on the internet in recent years. His forefathers include Death Grips and Danny Brown, some of the biggest names in indie rap, but JPEGMAFIA ups the ante by blending their hardcore sound with erratically shifting soundscapes and readily memed song titles. JPEGMAFIA — or Peggy, as he calls himself — embodies the schizoid, irony-poisoned nature of the internet more than any artist currently working and for this reason alone is worth studying. At the same time, he’s also symbolic of the creativity and individuality that the internet age at its best has produced.

On his latest album “All My Heroes Are Cornballs,” Peggy continues to reference Twitter and people who are “brave with a board and a mouse” over glitchy beats that constantly crash into each other. Songs that often have three or four distinct segments in the span of two and a half minutes are reminiscent of browsing social media — ideas revealing themselves and then quickly fading into the background to be replaced by something new.

For example, the song “Beta Male Strategies” begins with a vocal loop and Peggy mumbling under his breath before launching into a rap. The song then switches to a fuzzy, industrial section that functions as a chorus, with Peggy bellowing a single expletive over and over again. Following this is a heavily distorted guitar solo, which fades out, revealing the loop from before. On this album, song structure is basically meaningless: tracks are cobbled-together loops, samples and vocal phrases, with JPEGMAFIA struggling to create order from this chaos. 

Thematically, JPEGMAFIA acknowledges the pressure which the acclaim of his previous album “Veteran” generated. On “Free the Frail,” the closest thing to a traditional ballad on “All My Heroes Are Cornballs,” Peggy confronts the level of feedback the internet brings artists such as himself. Over an airy synth beat, he intones, “Don’t rely on the strength of my image, baby (hey) / If it’s good, then it’s good.” For an artist this intouch with his internet following, the temptation to listen to fan responses and try to make a “crowd-pleaser” must be tremendous. His reflectiveness about his place in the media ecosystem even showed during the album’s promotion, when he would often tweet that the album was a “disappointment.”

But it’s hard to see how any fan of JPEG’s work could be disappointed in “All My Heroes are Cornballs.” Some songs, like “PTSD” and “PRONE!,” show off Peggy’s aggressive flow over dark electronic beats: the kind of music that invites Death Grips comparisons. On the other end of the spectrum are “Free the Frail” and “Post Verified Lifestyle,” self-referential rap odysseys that cram musical ideas into three minute, thirty second run-times. While on first listen, Peggy’s frenzied stylistic swings, referential lyrics and eccentric delivery can be overwhelming, repeated listens bring out the artistry behind the madness.

By the time the album finishes, the listener has gone on a kaleidoscopic sonic journey and returned back home. En route, they’ve been bombarded with every form of glitchy distorted beat under the sun, and vocal stylings ranging from yell-rapping to autotuned crooning. Calling the album “messy” — which it certainly is — ignores the record’s raison d’etre, which is to create a window into the mind of its enormously self-aware, offbeat creator. While those unfamiliar with hip-hop this noisy and weird may blanch, adventurous hip-hop fans will find a lot to love in Peggy’s unorthodox style. 

While JPEGMAFIA is sometimes too ironic for his own good, for the most part his eccentricities seem genuine rather than affected. With “All My Heroes Are Cornballs,” he has once again shown his talent as a unique rapper and producer whose modus operandi is to share as many of his ideas as possible. His experimental nature may be abrasive to some, but those who can stomach the unconventional will find this latest album a rewarding listen. 

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