Alternative and experimental hip-hop has always had a thriving underground scene since the early nineties and even into the new millennium. Today the genre continues to prosper thanks to fresh artists willing to experiment with sound and push the envelope with lyrical content. Whether its unorthodox beats, eccentric flow or radical bars, this niche section of hip-hop is sustaining its life with the goal of exploring new boundaries in the rap game.
Baltimore producer/rapper Barrington DeVaughn Hendricks, known by most as JPEGMAFIA, encompasses these traits a little too well and is the most promising artist in DIY circles right now. With the release of his sophomore effort Veteran, Hendricks displays his growth as a visionary, but also as speaker. He commands attention and leaves you feeling uncomfortable in the best way possible. He doesn’t care who you are or what you have accomplished. His unapologetic and sometimes (actually most of the time) humorous style makes him unforgettable, as he is not afraid whatsoever to tell you how he really feels.
Being extremely vocal about today’s politics, pop culture and whatever the hell is happening in the world can be a daunting task in music, but “Peggy” will give it to you straight. On his proper first release, hilariously titled Black Ben Carson, he laid the groundwork of what his individual sound would form into. With Veteran, everything is more refined and developed. The out of this world beat selections and sampling are in harmony with the full throttle bar deliveries, to the point where you are hooked from the first listen. Veteran might be the most exciting hip-hop album to come out within the last few years.
The album opens up with its most accessible song “1539 N. Calvert,” an ode to the former Baltimore underground studio and venue Bell Foundry. The instrumental is a catchy pop-rap type beat that sounds like something Playboi Carti could easily jump on. Peggy’s first line is as provocative as you can get on a first track as he disses Drake and calls him a “pussy boy.” It’s the most incredible first verse and it lets the listener know right away that JPEGMAFIA is really out here ready to take shots at whoever.
The next track takes a completely different turn on the eerie but intriguing sample of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Goin’ Down.” It’s very off-putting and somewhat creepy on the first listen but the way the sample transitions almost into backing opera vocals with Hendricks loud and energetic bars on top of a dirty trap beat creates a dynamic shift in the track listing. Most of the songs on this album are in the same experimental vein. On “Thug Tears,” the clicking and spazzed out beats make it a roller coaster of sounds. Another highlight of JEPGMAFIA’s experimentation is on “Baby I’m Bleeding,” which features a raucous vocal sample that bends and repeats all throughout the song.
Another great reoccurring theme on the album is his unrelenting hate of the alt-right and white rock music. On the track “Rock N’ Roll Is Dead,” he screams, “We don’t fuck with alt-right, y’all have never been a threat, if y’all come to Baltimore we gon stick ‘em for their racks.” “I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies,” is not only a diss on The Smiths’ lead singer but also calls out The Sex Pistol frontman, as Peggy belts out “Fuck a Johnny Rotten, I want Lil B.” JEPEGMAFIA showcases his humor and witty one-liners consistently throughout the project alongside his tough, violent manner.
The final element that makes Hendricks’ brand of Hip-Hop so enjoyable is his influences of different genres that play into the experimentation on the album so well. On the more high-energy tracks there is feeling of punk rock vocals to the flow, which give it a rowdy edge. Tracks like, “Baby I’m Bleeding” and “Curb Stomp” display this perfectly as some lines are aggressive, and in some cases screamed. On the slower paced songs you can hear a clear vaporwave and cloud rap influence from the low-pitched samples and slow dance type beats. “Rainbow Six” is a good example of the vaporwave like instrumentals, as Peggy uses auto tune over a slow and menacing beat that samples singing vocals slowed down to half their time.
Veteran is an exhilarating joy ride with a huge middle finger sticking out the driver’s window. It flows well together while also being diverse sonically. On the instrumentation side, it’s quite dense make it interesting on first listen, but also interesting enough to make you want to come back and listen. Lyrically, it’s everything you want from a rap album; it has hilarious lines, unsystematic flow and great hooks. If you are looking for something uncanny and high energy, it will deliver on all cylinders.
It’s crazy how JPEGMAFIA released the most exciting hip-hop album of 2018 so far, yet it seems to still be flying under the radar. However, with tracks like “1539 N. Calvert”, it can be easy for Hendricks to create something with more mainstream crossover appeal. I think he enjoys the sound and experimentation he did overall on this project, which should only encourage him to continue to push boundaries in the alternative rap scene.
Favorite tracks: 1539 N. Calvert, Thug Tears, Baby I’m Bleeding, Rainbow Six
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Dylan Rodriguez is a music enthusiast from Orange County, California who enjoys crying to sad songs and attending live gigs. Thinking about eating pasta is his most noteworthy talent. If you enjoy laughing at subpar content and unapologetic music takes, follow him on Twitter @OC_Mommy.