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January 29, 2023

JPEGMAFIA explodes into the public eye with his label debut

By WILL KIRSCH | February 1, 2018

Remember when Richard Spencer got punched in the head on TV? That was a great moment in the history of racists getting beaten. Our anonymous black-clad hero played Spencer’s head like it was a game of Bop-It; he snuffed him like a vanilla-scented candle.

That was an exciting moment for the American left, a rallying point, an act of propaganda by the deed itself, which set a precedent in dealing with the alt-right.

Now imagine that someone had taken that moment of righteous violence and — no doubt through the wonders of modern science — translated it into music.

Is that possible? Probably not, but if it were it would most likely sound something like JPEGMAFIA’s new album Veteran, released in January of 2018.

Those acquainted with Baltimore’s music scene may have already heard of JPEG, who was a Station North staple before he moved out to Los Angeles.

While in Baltimore, JPEG built a reputation for industrial beats laced with aggressive and political lyrics, all of which he capped off with song titles like, “I Might Vote 4 Donald Trump” and “Black Ben Carson.”

The rapper’s cross-country move occurred around the same time he was signed to L.A.-based label DEATHBOMB ARC, known for helping break artists like Death Grips and clipping.

So as tragic as JPEG’s leaving Baltimore was, it was probably for the best — a best which manifested itself as his latest album Veteran.

This album fucking goes; there’s really no other way to put it. Produced entirely by JPEG, Veteran carries all of his stylistic trademarks while incorporating some interesting new twists.

In general, the factory-basement-torture-chamber sound is intact, particularly on “Baby I’m Bleeding,” the album’s lead single, but JPEG has also brought some more melody into the equation.

On songs like “DD Form 214 (feat. Bobbi Rush)” — which, like the title of the album, is a reference to the artist’s time in the military — distortion is replaced by R&B drum rhythms, swooning samples and a beautifully sung hook. There’s more singing on “Thug Tears” and “Whole Foods.”

Alternatively, there are songs like “Real Nega,” built around the sample of a screaming bellow and pounding drums.

Another good one is “1488” (a number which is shorthand for the primary tenants of white supremacy) which sounds as though it’s made entirely of computer dial-up noises and glass shattering.

It’s completely fucking awesome, especially considering that one of the lyrics is, “heard he acting like Dex, beat his ass till he Russ.”

Much of the verses on Veteran follow into this sort of complexly clever and openly aggressive mold. Another good one is, “AR-15 built like Lena Dunham,” off of “Real Nega.” What does that mean? Who knows, but it’s hilarious.

A solid three-quarters of this album is a direct threat to the alt-right — “Kill Trump, did ‘em like Floyd did Gatti” — with the other quarter being obscure cultural references and satire — “Tell your b**** come here, like I work for Midway.”

JPEG has been great for a while, everyone in Baltimore knew it and now so does the whole country. His signing to DEATHBOMB has opened his unique style of politically-conscious, sarcastic and intense music to a new audience, one which has so far shown his latest release a fair amount of love.

Noted internet music critic Anthony DeFantano gave Veteran an 8/10 and Pitchfork ranked the album’s lead single, “Baby I’m Bleeding” as one of its best new tracks.

Yet despite his move, JPEG is still thoroughly Baltimore; the first song on the album is “1539 N. Calvert,” the address of the now-deceased Bell Foundry, which was one of the most active DIY spaces in the city’s music scene. He also shouts the city out on “Rock N Roll is Dead.”

Veteran still feels like a “Baltimore” album. It still has that certain character to it, beautiful and exciting in its unpredictability.

In its form and content, Veteran draws on the punk tradition of Baltimore bands like Stout and other anti-racist skinhead groups, interpreting that sound and philosophy into rap.

JPEG translates that power-violence into beats through bizarre sampling and unrelenting rhythms reminiscent of Baltimore club music. Lyrically, the album speaks for itself: a sermon on virtuous violence and a polemic against white supremacy and elitism.

One could easily describe JPEGMAFIA’s music as “abrasive” or “polarizing,” which it might be. Alternatively, it could be incredibly awesome in a really twisted, fuck-with-your-head kind of way.

Assuming the latter, it’s easy to see that Veteran is a great album and that based off of its reception, JPEG could be the biggest Baltimore musician since ever.

JPEG’S music is an amazing synthesis of the city’s disparate music scenes, all brought together to form a uniquely insane left-wing revolutionary anthem.

With Veteran, he has single-handedly soundtracked the forthcoming fall of the American government, and I can’t wait.

JPEG will be retuning to Baltimore on Feb. 15, appearing at the Metro Gallery alongside Milo and Euclid.

Tickets are only $12, and since this is the artist’s triumphant return to Baltimore following the release of Veteran, it will no doubt be a show worth seeing.

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