Album Review: JPEGMAFIA - 'All My Heroes Are Cornballs'
Owen gives us a run through of JPEGMAFIA's latest project, explaining exactly why his crack at the notoriously difficult second album is such a triumph.
JPEGMAFIA exists entirely within his own self-contained universe. Occasionally genre conventions and cultural signifiers of hip-hop will float through – a warped soul sample here, a tongue in cheek pop culture reference there. On the whole though, these drift by like little paper boats caught up in the torrent of ideas that seem to fall out of the man’s mind, before being pulled under and warped by the murky depths that signify a JPEGMAFIA studio album.
Like many people, I first encountered Peggy (as he is affectionally called by many fans and even some critics) off the back of 2018’s stunning and deeply bizarre banger-fest Veteran, on which he mutated many familiar sounds of trap rap, conscious hip-hop and SoundCloud rap into unfamiliar, despondent and even beautiful shapes. Mostly though, that record just went incredibly hard. The beats were laced with bass heavy bangers and challenging but often ear-tickling sound play, and the album featured quite a high number of (relatively) conventional hip-hop song structures as seen on tracks such as 1539 N. Calvert, Thug Tears and, my personal favourite, I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrisey Dies (real name). All My Heroes Are Cornballs is not that record.
'His gorgeous R&B smooth singing takes centre stage on many of these tracks, and it's the melodic moments on here that often steal the show completely'.
Opener and lead single Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot (again, real name) is the album’s mission statement in the form of a tight 2 minutes and 37 second hip-hop song. The dynamic between the restrained verse backed by distant keys, the blown out bass heavy pre-chorus and finally the gorgeous autotuned hook makes sure the song’s relatively conventional structure stays fresh. It also manages to encapsulate the kind of whiplash tone changes and variation in instrumental pallet that make this record so engaging. Additionally, it’s a strong demonstration of the newfound vocal versatility Peggy shows on this album. His gorgeous R&B smooth singing takes centre stage on many of these tracks, and it’s the melodic moments on here that often steal the show completely; the scarily rich and effortless hook on Grimy Waifu is a surprisingly emotionally potent ode to Peggy’s gun. Elsewhere, the hook on Free the Frail is the most nuanced and well thought out reflection of internet culture, accepting criticism and deconstructing your own art I’ve heard on any hip-hop song, ever. It’s also ungodly fucking catchy.
The songs on All My Heroes Are Cornballs are often much less defined and rigidly structured than those found on previous Peggy projects, but the effortless transitional moments and consistency of instrumental genius helps this quality work to the album’s advantage. The album plays remarkably well as a cohesive whole, despite Peggy constantly borrowing disparate genre elements from a variety of places. Examples include 90’s R&B (paying homage to TLC’s iconic 1999 hit No Scrubs on BasicBitchTearGas) and rock music, with a number of the album’s most visceral beat switch-ups and few mosh-ready moments being accompanied by punchily rough guitar sampling (PRONE!, Beta Male Strategies, Kenan Vs. Kel), playing to Peggy’s legendary punk sensibilities. The consistently despondent, eerie and crushing tone of the music on here ties the project together nicely.
'The album plays remarkably well as a cohesive whole, despite Peggy constantly borrowing disparate genre elements from a variety of places'.
This record is a massive step for Peggy and offers an experience I believe to be fresh and boundary pushing in the world of hip-hop at large. Listening to it feels a lot like first encountering Frank Ocean’s 2016 opus Blonde – an album that you could feel immediately and irrevocably shaking the pop album format as it played. Peggy’s unrivaled willingness to indulge any idea that appeals to him and his staunch refusal to be limited to sounds or styles that fit the stereotype of a hip-hop artist have allowed him to make music that may first come off as formless, but gradually reveals itself to in fact be an evolution of the form. Whether it be the pummeling and disruptive sub-bass on PRONE!, or the haunting choral synths that glisten all over the career retrospective stunner of a closer Papi I Missed U, this album displays an artist willing to utilise any genre or music idea from any era and location. It’s the first true internet rap album.