Abstract expressionism. That’s what comes to mind when I listen to this album. Prior to 2018’s Veteran, JPEGMAFIA was completely unknown to me. The Baltimore-based rapper calls himself the black Brian Wilson (the lead singer of The Beach Boys) on his third studio album. However, I would say he’s closer to being the black Jay Meuser, a California painter from the 50’s. He was a master of water color. In the 40’s he garnered acclaim for painting realistic portraits of various U.S. presidents. They even hung his portrait of FDR in the White House. Once he devoted his life to painting, though, circa 1949 his art became much more conceptual. When asked of this sudden change, he had this to say: “It is far better to capture the glorious spirit of the sea than to paint all of its tiny ripples.” On All My Heroes Peggy enters his prime.
What separates an artist like JPEGMAFIA from, say, Jackson Pollack is the former’s on-the-nose social commentary. Pollack’s medium was paint. And his instrument a dripping brush. Since JPEG produces all his own material, the abstraction he displays rests in his experimental sonics. He uses two primary instruments: a laptop with infinite sound combinations and his ego-slicing voice. Here he layers brash, target-practice bars amidst vulnerable, reflective tunes. Doing so creates a surreal listening experience designed to ruffle feathers. While his lyrics are anything but abstract, his soundscapes highlight a frantically brilliant mind. Nearly every track on All My Heroes Are Cornballs switches beats or energy levels at will. Throughout these 18 tracks, nothing is safe and nothing is sacred. Yet everything remains connected. Album opener “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am a Thot” prepares listeners well for one helluva ride. Self-awareness is this album’s greatest weapon. Here he consistently asks:
“You think you know me?” Just when you think you have this album figured out, it takes a sharp left turn. While not all of these lead to a definitive destination, the journey itself is more than half the fun. The album’s first half is stellar. A flurry of punk-rap threats to Internet trolls and surprisingly beautiful vocal performances push Peggy’s art to new heights. Although I did enjoy Veteran as a whole, I find it somewhat difficult to return to on a regular basis. The beats are wilder and organically inventive. However, these off-the-wall sounds tend to drown out his bars. JPEG exudes a bolder confidence across All My Heroes in both his deliveries and writing skills. Few postmodern rappers have the ability to incite fight-club behavior one moment and heartfelt inspiration the next. The latter comes with “Free the Frail,” a song that refuses to exit my brain.
“Don’t rely on the strength of my image, hey / If it’s good, then it’s good / Break it down, the shit is out of my hands.” These are a small sample of the plethora of thought-provoking lyrics living within this record. He conveys precise truths about American and Internet culture that many are too afraid to utter. His art is pure in the sense that he does not allow external forces to steer his creative direction. They do hop in the back seat on occasion, though. Peggy keeps his ears to the screens and screams of his fans, delivering signature content with brass fists and sarcastic smiles. The album sounds dope on shuffle and in sequence due to its attention-deficit tendencies. For established JPEG fans, y’all don’t need any further instruction. Conversely, if you’re unfamiliar or unsure of how to digest an uncomfortable record like this, start with “BasicBitchTearGas.”
The nostalgic cover song should warm you up to his style a little better. The record transitions into itself well, in my opinion. Alas, as much as I love it, All My Heroes Are Cornballs is not a flawless start-to-finish product. To me, there are two tracks in particular that should have been cut from the tracklist. “Life’s Hard, Here’s a Song About Sorrel” has no overt function within the context of the album experience. I’m sure JPEG has a personal meaning behind it, of course. Nevertheless, at a mere minute in length, it simply exists without adding anything unique. Also, “BUTTERMILK JESUS TYPE BEAT” lacks frame of reference. Even though I’m familiar with Buttermilk Jesus as one of his nicknames, he does little to establish the style of this alter ego, which only litters the sequence with filler. This electric collection has left a permanent impression on me nonetheless.