JPEGMAFIA is one of the most exciting rapper-producers in hip-hop. His breakout album Veteran, released in 2018, introduced a new sound imbued with the oddest samples imaginable, including ASMR of someone sucking on a lollipop, audio clips from Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and Halo 5 sound effects.
His ingenuity mainly lies in his ability to take such odd, seemingly unmusical sounds and transform them into head-bobbing beats. One might ask, “Why would one take on such a challenge?” but they’d be missing the point — it isn’t a challenge. Rather, it’s an aesthetic choice that JPEGMAFIA chooses to make, and it has resulted in the most unique sound in the hip-hop scene today.
In his 10th studio album, SCARING THE HOES, JPEGMAFIA collaborates with rapper Danny Brown. Both of them get an even split of the verses, with JPEGMAFIA doing 100% of the production.
When one first pulls up the album, the cover is not only shocking but artistically relevant. The cover has a vaguely western style with JPEGMAFIA himself at center stage in priestly robes against a rounded cross in the background. He’s holding a gun in one hand and a bible in the other.
Aside from the woman kneeling under him and the other one lounging to his right, Brown is sitting on the cross to Brown’s left with a maniacal smile, a handgun in his right hand and a double barrel shotgun pointing toward the front in his left hand.
The western style, as well as the religious imagery, does make its way into the actual content of the album — both in the beats and the lyrics — but it by no means sticks to this theme throughout. The tracklist can best be described as “schizophrenic.”
With titles like “Steppa Pig,” “Garbage Pale Kids” and “Jack Harlow Combo Meal,” one thing is made apparent even without listening to the songs themselves: This album is made to be purposefully incoherent, messy and playful.
That being said, the beats aren’t always aggressive. The tracks “Orange Juice Jones,” “Jack Harlow Combo Meal” and “HOE (Heaven on Earth)” all have chill, laid-back beats. “Orange Juice Jones” samples Michael Jackson’s song “Dear Michael,” with both rappers giving clever, funny lyrics on their sexual experiences.
“HOE (Heaven on Earth)” features the creative use of a gospel sample, with a stuttered rhythm and complex time signature, which is eventually settled with steady claps in the background.
During the latter half of “HOE (Heaven on Earth),” Brown gives a verse referencing his time spent in jail for drug distribution, manufacturing and possession. Brown connects his run-ins with the law to his friend’s same difficulties, repenting for himself and his brothers.
“Jack Harlow Combo Meal,” in spite of its silly and deliberately ridiculous title, has perhaps the best beat and most conscious message of the whole album. The track is introduced by standard jazz played on piano and upright bass but is quickly shifted and distorted to form a more sinister, industrial melody imbued with a rolling, fast-paced beat.
Brown takes the first verse, speaking in general terms about his distaste for some strands of current hip-hop. He ends the verse with a telling lyric: “Man, I can’t f*ck will y’all n*****, y’all let Jack Harlow sell y’all chicken,” showing us the meaning of the title in a more serious light.
I don’t want to put words in Brown’s mouth, but the line undoubtedly gives the impression of his distaste for the success of white rappers like Jack Harlow, who come into a Black-created genre and find the highest levels of success despite their lack of creativity and experimentation.
In a sober moment, the backing drums fall away, and JPEGMAFIA starts rapping slowly over a different piano melody, delivering the following lines with a performance resembling slam poetry:
“Uh, this that irregular wave / I'm smokin' somethin' unusual, but to me it's just regular haze / They comin' to clean out my cuticles / Tired of smokin' these regular strains / You get used to these cr*ckers accusin' you / When you Black, it's a regular thing”
In these lyrics, JPEGMAFIA expresses his perspective on his role within the rap game and how white fans and artists might accuse him of going too far outside the norm. For his part, JPEGMAFIA is tired of the “regular strains” of the music industry and hints at the fact that rap was generally born out of genre-pushing projects that were their own “irregular wave.”
Pointing towards the hypocrisy of mainstream artists scoffing at “experimental” rap, JPEGMAFIA rightly makes the argument that his production is pushing boundaries for something greater than the developed traditions of hip-hop.
The far more bombastic tracks, such as “Burfict!” with its triumphant horns and “Garbage Pale Kids” with its sampling of a Japanese Nintendo advertisement for the Famicom Sports Collection Commercial, are incredibly catchy. “Lean Beef Patty” features a strong, rhythmic synth over a high-pitched sample of P. Diddy’s “I Need a Girl (Pt. 2).”
If there are lowlights on this album, I would first point to the ending track, “Where Ya Get Ya Coke From?” — a rare case where the aggressive, staticky horns are simply annoying. The brief periods with the much softer clave-Latin beat are more soothing, but the lyrics are a bit hard to follow. The annoying horns also come back, disrupting any momentum the song gained in the meantime.
In another moment in “Garbage Pale Kids,” about halfway through the song, the beat gets consumed in strong hard-rock guitar, changing the steady beat into something brash that shifts the vibe of the song completely. These moments are a byproduct of the same experimental, schizophrenic nature of the production that makes this album so special, but it’s also proof that some transition between conflicting elements is necessary for an easier listen.
All in all, this album is mostly about two brilliant artists indulging in their respective “underground” styles and having fun. The concept implied by the cover art is present in some songs like “God Loves You,” “Run the Jewels” and “Muddy Waters” but completely absent in others.
If there is any concept present throughout the production, lyrics and overall tone of the album, it’s more or less the same approach JPEGMAFIA has taken throughout his whole career so far. The playful title is indicative of the album itself: They’re “scaring the hoes” on purpose, and it’s beautiful.
The whole style has the air of a throwback album to a genre that never existed, meaning it feels familiar in some respects and totally alien in others. Though it is brash at times and might be off-putting to people more familiar with mainstream hip-hop, this genre-bending album will challenge your taste in an incredibly refreshing way. Besides, it’s good to be scared sometimes.
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