Take the most bizarre, abstract ideas you think could ever live in tandem with the virility of hip hop, and standing before you will be JPEGMAFIA. The Baltimore by way of New York rapper/producer has crafted one hell of a sound collage with ‘Veteran’. With every unique production twist and every anti-ethnocentrism verse, this is the project where we learn that the multi-talented JPEG really is a one-man mafia.
The words “damnnn Peggy” swing through the speakers throughout ‘Veteran’, a sentiment echoed by those who crave thrilling beats and monstrous soundscapes. A twisted, stretched out vocal sample of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s voice is the core loop of the song ‘Real Nega’, as Peggy’s aggressive vocals tussle over the beat. A constant, tremolo click is juxtaposed nicely with a sweet synth line on ‘Thug Tears’, as Counter Strike and Mortal Kombat samples dance around. ‘Germs’ feels fittingly unclean, with sludgy, gooey effects acting as the track’s diseased skeletal base, and ‘Panic Emoji’ boasts a Kanye-esque bass track.
The middle portion of ‘Veteran’ has a few too many moments where the emphasis lies a little too much on attempts at far-out instrumentation and layering, but even these sections are admirably glitchy, with Peggy frequently glorifying the ‘experimental’ in experimental hip hop.
Who likes wrestling references? Peggy’s got ‘em. Alongside “Damn Peggy”, the most prominent sample is the “you think you know me” intro from WWE superstar Edge’s theme song, uttered at least five times over the course of ‘Veteran’s’ near-fifty-minute frame. Some are humorous, some are splendidly clever, from “black man, white fam, I feel like Jason Jordan” from ‘Macauley Culkin’, to “got so many styles, they should call me Peggy A.J” from ‘Baby I’m Bleeding’. There are many more, but some people will care more than others…obviously.
As you’d be able to tell from a few of the titles, some tracks are very socially-confrontational, with many attacks on various political groups. JPEG condemns desperate alt-right nonsense, while taking a few jabs at the left and mockingly referencing pseudo-political buzz terms on ‘Libtard Anthem’, a song that sees guest vocalist Freaky do all but flatter, even when humorously stating “word on the street, you say ‘yee-haw’”.
Then there’s ‘I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies’, which is as black and white as it is family friendly – it’s an aggressive reaction to Morrissey wearing a shirt with James Baldwin’s portrait, claiming he feels black on the inside. Other than that, lyrically, JPEG is making up the numbers with basic but creatively conceived bars, worthy of Wu-Tang, with fun lines like “put the Hawkeyes on him, heard he like mash / you gonna rust in peace, heard you like thrash”. Wrestling references, check, Metallica references, check.
If Kanye creates a new sound, if Clipping bring the noise, if those no longer with us drop the first ever collaborative mixtape from Heaven, ‘Veteran’ will still be one of, if not the most, substantial hip hop albums of 2018, that’s how damn good it is.
‘Veteran’ is out now via Deathbomb Arc