JPEGMAFIA is a hip-hop artist from New York City. His debut LP, Black Ben Carson released in 2016 to critical acclaim and was quickly followed by a collaborative effort with fellow Baltimore artist, Freaky, entitled The Second Amendment. Peggy immediately became a staple of the buzzing experimental hip-hop scene and, with his 2018 LP Veteran, he established himself as one of the most formidable forces in that movement. Now, just over a year later, Peggy returns with one of the most daring projects I’ve heard in years, All My Heroes Are Cornballs.
Without a doubt, this is the most experimental record in Peggy’s catalog, and that’s clear across nearly every second of the LP. Certainly the most experimental moments come on shorter interludes like “JPEGMAFIA TYPE BEAT,” or the later “BUTTERMILK JESUS TYPE BEAT.” These short moments are bursts of near chaos which do stand out, but the entirety of the LP is laced with explosive periods of noise, but these are balanced against tracks like “Life’s Hard, Here’s A Song About Sorrel,” which are so sparse and disconnected that it seems the album could easily just fall to silence at any moments.
JPEG is at his best here when he finds a way to mix these two tendencies. On cuts like “PTSD,” and “Prone!,” he dynamically bounces from calm, grooving moments into overwhelming madness and back again. Often, the album seems just one strange sound away from falling apart before catchy hook or commanding flow pulls it back into reality. The disconnect and lack of concern for traditional structure is jarring to say the least.
Because of these constant switches, the record is almost perfectly paced. Even later tracks like “DOTS FREESTYLE REMIX,” and the closer “Papi I Missed You,” feel exciting and interesting. There’s never a moment that seems to drag or run long and, in fact, at times it feels almost a bit too fast despite the near 50 minute runtime.
Large portions of this album, though, are fairly low-key and atmospheric. Tracks like “Beta Male Strategies,” achieve this with creative instrumentals and simple melodies. On the other hand, tracks like “Free the Frail,” or the title track build their atmosphere with a wide array of soundbites and spoken sections which are genuinely fascinating. The entire LP is covered in these well placed sound bites with everything from a dinner order at a drive through to a young girl joking about a “weed song.” It builds a world around the listener that you can’t help but want to sit in for a long time.
On the other hand, there are a handful of accessible and well written hooks. Take a cut like the opener, “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot,” or the later, equally well named “Grimy Waifu.” Here, JPEG’s ear for melody comes through with killer sung hooks which, though they often don’t repeat or stay around for long, leave a lasting effect on the listener.
Beyond this, his vocal performance is simply excellent. This is true for well-sung lines on “Kenan Vs. Kel,” as well as the bombastic flow on “Thot Tactics.” It’s also true in terms of the hilarious lyrics and professional wrestling references on tracks like “Rap Grow Old & Die x No Child Left Behind,” or “Post Verified Lifestyle.” Peggy brings an intensity and a dynamic range on this record that is just intoxicating. It may take a couple listens to even notice the strong instrumentals or production as JPEG’s lead steals the spotlight at every opportunity.
All of this is helmed wonderfully by Peggy’s wonderful production. Throughout the LP, he mixes muted percussion with explosive synths, plays with peaking and cut-outs, and crafts a near disorienting project by stacking layers of raw sound and pealing them back to reveal simple, minimalistic soundscapes. Tracks like “BBW,” and his cover of TLC’s “No Scrubs,” which is entitled “BasicBitchTearGas,” stand out, but this is the case across the album.
All in all, this is a fantastic album. Peggy’s punk influences and carefree style is distilled into a daring collection of tracks which range wildly from white hot chaos to smooth, atmospheric beats, often within the same song. For my money, this album surpasses earlier works like Veteran and sees JPEG finding his niche in a brilliant way.
All My Heroes Are Cornballs is a powerful and disorienting LP and an exciting addition to one of the best catalogs in the game.