Hailing from Baltimore, JPEGMAFIA is not only a rapper but a songwriter and producer as well. His latest album, All My Heroes Are Cornballs, is a commercial follow-up to his breakout sophomore record, Veteran, after a label switch to EQT Recordings.
JPEGMAFIA, who often goes by “Peggy,” is a creative force on Veteran, mastering enigmatic sounds with his beats and presenting a confrontational, satirical and provocative approach to his lyrics and flows.
The album is strange and even slightly off-putting if you aren’t used to hearing a rapper spit relentlessly over a looped sample of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s screamed intro on “Going Down.” Even though there are many bizarre characteristics about the album, there is also a tangible basis of mainstream trap present in the flows and beats that make it somewhat palatable for a wider audience.
All My Heroes Are Cornballs is a progression for JPEGMAFIA in nearly every aspect but especially instrumentally. While there were some beats on Veteran that conjured a strong sense of melody from a sample or keyboards, his latest album takes it to a new level.
Though it’s about the same length as its predecessor, Peggy’s latest album is much more cohesive and textured. Sure, the same methods of vocal and sonic manipulations, delays, glitches and intricate sampling are used on every song here, but the results travel into new territories and even genres.
The beats on “Beta Male Strategies,” “Kenan vs. Kel” and the title track include some of the most insane production coming out of music right now. The melodies and tones constantly orbit, shift and glitch with atmospheres so thick it feels like you’re struggling to breathe.
Some beats on this album are influenced by artists such as Death Grips and clipping, with a cloud rap twist that fans of Clams Casino’s production on A$AP Rocky’s Live. Love. ASAP mixtape would recognize. There are some instrumentals and vocal melodies that are surprisingly reminiscent of pop-rock ballads from decades ago, such as “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot” and “Free the Frail (feat. Helena Deland).” And yet, Peggy’s subversive approach to song structures and beat production make it all work and come together seamlessly.
The area in which AMHAC most closely resembles Peggy’s previous project is the lyrics, where the audience gets another helping of funny, scathing criticisms and masturbatory brags rife with wordplay and absurdity. Peggy spends the run time on this album castigating the alt-right, politicians, feminists, internet trolls, sensitive people, fellow rappers and pretty much anybody else one can think of. The way he writes and delivers the bars doesn’t come off as an attempt to patronize but rather to provoke and add to his own character as an artist.
Peggy portrays himself similarly as Eminem or MF DOOM would in their prime: a mischievous character who isn’t afraid to say something crazy or even utterly repugnant. For example, on the closing track, “Papi I Missed U,” he raps, “Ha, I’m a terrorist (Yeah), I don’t spit raps, b----, I spit rhetoric / And I be in your kid’s mind, gettin’ leverage.”
Lyrically, its familiar territory for JPEGMAFIA, but it’s still fun. An album written and produced almost entirely independently should come off as a vivid, uncompromising depiction of its artist, and that’s what the listener gets with the record.
The most obvious change the album features is the unexpectedly high amount of singing that Peggy performs on many of the tracks, such as “Grimy Waifu” and “Rap Grow Old & Die x No Child Left Behind.”
Peggy belting out “You better count your blessings for real, amen” on the chorus of the opening track is a passionate tone-setter for the vocals listeners can expect to hear. It’s not something entirely foreign to JPEGMAFIA’s sound, but it’s the most he has experimented vocally on any of his projects thus far. Above all else, it’s very good and fits any aesthetic Peggy concocts with his instrumentals.
It’s difficult to compare the album to Veteran because its aspirations are different. While the lyrics still bring the signature fire fans have come to know and love from JPEGMAFIA, instrumentally it is much less aggressive, caustic and dark. But it’s a welcome change of pace for an ear that yearns to hear artists continue to experiment and progress their sound. It’s an enchanting album that contains some of the best rap tunes so far this year and will certainly grow on the listener as time goes on. All My Heroes Are Cornballs is an ambient rap music odyssey with an allure that pulls even the most reluctant listeners into its grasp.