Review Summary: LP! demonstrates that JPEGMAFIA’s brazen dedication to raw lyrical expression and polychromatic tactility in the realm of production has found its fullest, most complex expression yet.The following review was the result of a collaboration between users deathofasalesman, DavidYowi, CottonSalad, and robertsona.
JPEGMAFIA is a smartass, but that’s what makes him interesting. It’s no surprise that the rapper came to regret his late-2010s contract with EQT Recordings, of which LP!
is the final recorded index–the last in a slate of material obligations for the label, coming from a guy to whom deference as a concept seems ontologically anathema. Rather than react to his unfortunate situation with pure bile and antisocial energy, JPEGMAFIA has instead crafted his best album yet. Before LP!
, the “interesting smartass” formula was a bit muddier in its rendering: 2019's All My Heroes Are Cornballs
is steeped in late 2010s Internet lingo and positively cascades with a plethora of snide remarks, and while I wonder how well that record will age, beneath that torrid surface was a showcase for an accomplished sonic architect gleefully deploying whatever melody or audio trick would amuse him in the moment. LP!
, graciously now widely available in both “online” and “offline” iterations, contains all the unconventional playfulness of Cornballs
but with nary a hint of irony poisoning, as a result letting all his idiosyncratic ideas stand on their own merits.
The admittedly ironic feel-good sentiments of opener “TRUST!” work because they’re both ironic and not: irony, it seems, is the very means through which JPEGMAFIA “feel[s] good,” “look[s] nice,” the very job he has when he’s about to “go to work”. The bubbly, complex, kind of stunning musical backdrop over which these multivalent statements are uttered confirms this feeling: although he hasn’t given up his antisocial bona fides, with LP!
, JPEGMAFIA is in his element. He has settled, here, into something of a groove.
The genius of LP!
is that even as it scans as more casual and unaffected than his previous releases, it feels as if it draws from a more expansive fount of personal and emotional material than did Cornballs
or 2018’s Veteran
. “END CREDITS!” highlights Peggy’s love of wrestling and playing the heel. “DAM! DAM! DAM!” contains the weirdly indelible refrain “Workin’ all day don’t take no sick leave” and lines its closing moments with a sample from a particularly dramatic moment from 1970s sitcom Good Times
. Direct and dreamy at the same time, “TIRED, NERVOUS, & BROKE!” serves a similar purpose to Cornballs
’ “Free the Frail,” but is given more room to breathe, making it feel more emotionally impactful. Then there’s “HAZARD DUTY PAY!”. Oh, “HAZARD DUTY PAY!”. His signature syncopated flow gravitating around Anita Baker’s immaculately chopped vocals, a smooth synth bassline, and dense percussion, Peggy effortlessly evokes his musical confidence to such a degree it becomes intimidating. JPEGMAFIA, at his supremely confident best, is on some performative
***, in the classic J.L. Austin way: his bars do what they say. LP!
, all over its runtime, labors to refine JPEGMAFIA’s sound and lyrical approach to this end, while continuing to open doors to new and ever more vibrant sonic possibilities (on the aforementioned “END CREDITS!”, Peggy raps over Animals as Leaders).
JPEGMAFIA's lyrics and the relationship they stage between artist and Other may give the impression that one of the project's goals is to expose that everyone is the enemy, but LP!
's sonic narrative offers a starkly different view. There's an invitation here: no matter whether your ears are drawn to sleek twinkly synths, gospel, djent, distorted grime, 90's pop, glitch - Peggy wants your attention. The indiscriminate spray of lyrical bullets at propped-up targets on past releases posed the question: Attention to what? On LP!
we are provided an answer, an approach or philosophy that the artist wants to teach us or at least express in all its complexities.
“Gotta take more shots, get a good lead / Keep takin’ them shots ‘til the rim bleed,” goes the beginning of that aforementioned “DAM! DAM! DAM!” refrain, and the unsettling drip of the imagery harmonizes with rather than vitiates the message of persistence. Ever the existentialist hero, Peggy here polishes and immeasurably clarifies his desire that everyone be themselves, that we all ply our desired trade in the sordid hem of the world we are provided. He “teaches us it’s okay to be weird”; he employs a sports metaphor to throw us a bone as he works on our deeper feelings and thoughts all the while. An unexpected access to the experience of joy in the midst of abjection has long been key to JPEGMAFIA’s magnetic spirit as a musician. Those listeners will be especially gratified who possess the negative capability to see and feel that JPEGMAFIA is as sick (tired?) and nervous and broke as he is “feeling good” in a manner I dare say is spurred on by his “workin’ all day”. So nod your head vigorously when this particular deadeye promises to “keep takin’ them shots”: LP!
, above all, demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that JPEGMAFIA’s brazen dedication to raw lyrical expression and polychromatic tactility in the realm of production, to being a smartass but also really really interesting, has found its fullest and most gratifying expression yet.