Music

JPEGMAFIA Is Doing It All Wrong

Story by Michael Love Michael / Photography by Jess Farran / Styling by Joe Van O

When JPEGMAFIA, the rapper known to fans and friends as Peggy, hops on the phone, he quickly admits he's got the munchies. The fluid conversation that follows speaks to how he, an Iraq War veteran raised in Flatbush, Brooklyn before moving to Alabama then Louisiana, is more thoughtful shape-shifter than mindless stoner.

Peggy and I are hardly talking about his third album, the perfectly-named All My Heroes Are Cornballs, so instead we talk about everything else, from Britney's Instagram to being a Black person in America with inherent duality — interests and lived experiences we share.

All Peggy is willing to say about his new release is how "disappointing" it is, which is how he's been teasing it online and in interviews. "This shit is just not good, man," Peggy says. "I'm just telling you how it is. I'm cutting out all the bullshit. I'm putting your expectations at the bottom of the floor, so you don't even get past it when you hear how wack it is."

Mask: Telfar, Necklace: Vivienne Westwood, Pants: NIHL

In a recent video announcing the album, Peggy's famous musician friends, from James Blake to Wilco's Jeff Tweedy panned it as some version of garbage. At the time of our conversation, only "Puff Daddy," "Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot" and "Beta Male Strategies" had been released — funny, stark bangers that are certainly not horrifying. Perhaps his music, which is impossible to describe if you're obsessed with labels, is an acquired taste.

Peggy's first album Black Ben Carson, came in 2016, and established him as a genre-defying noisemaker, with blunt, politically charged raps often delivered with a winking self-awareness and self-deprecating humor. That and a couple follow-up EPs, including 2016's incendiary The 2nd Amendment, gained Peggy criticism from what he once called "lazy" bloggers last year in an interview. But Peggy has always said what few were willing to.

Speaking on the hypocrisy of Second Amendment supporters in 2016, Peggy told PAPER at the time that gun culture and the NRA "have always had coded language against Blacks." He added, "And part of the reason some people are so dedicated to keeping their second amendment is because they believe it gives them the right to kill black people with no fear of repercussions."

Clothing: No More Buildings, Necklace: Louis Vuitton, Scarf: Anointed Vintage

Despite criticism, on last year's Veteranhis breakout album — Peggy doubled down on his political statements, dismissing naysayers in the opening track, "1539 N. Calvert." "Fuck a blog, fuck a fan, hope my record get panned/ Least I made you niggas dance," he raps.

As his story goes, Peggy first developed his skills as a self-produced musician. During a four-year military stay in Japan. Peggy recorded music as Devon Hendryx and formed a short-lived group called Ghostpop, which gained traction in Tokyo, before returning to the U.S., where he settled in Baltimore in 2015 and hunkered down on making mixtapes.

This unapologetic approach has worked quite well for Peggy. His electric live shows, including crowd-pleasing sets this year at Pitchfork Music Festival and Firefly, have grown into mosh pits. (It is not uncommon to see plenty of angry white men in the crowd thrashing their way toward catharsis — an ironic byproduct of a Black man in Trump's America seeking his release.) Peggy has collaborated with everyone from Denzel Curry to HEALTH, and Tommy Genesis even appeared in his "Puff Daddy" video. (She is among the droves of fans in his IG comments begging to be disappointed.) His image and visuals have become more genderfluid and visceral, best seen in videos like "Jesus Forgive Me I Am a Thot" during which he serves glamour amid light-smeared California street scenes.

Top: Thoom, Pants: Telfar, Gloves: Shay Gallagher, Bandana: Vincent Guerrero, Rings: Anointed Vintage

On that song, Peggy zooms between provocative humor and harsh reality. "Pray for my babies, they doing time/ Pray that these crackers don't Columbine/ I just pray that I peak before my decline/ Make 'em hit recline." Then there are these quotables: "Pray that I end up like Charlize Theron [...] Dressed in your grandmama's hand me downs [...] Britney this a sign, pray you grow healthy and hit your prime."

But don't think that Peggy is unfocused in any way. It's 2019 — an extraordinarily confusing time for all. In America, news cycles about mass shootings coincide with incessant updates on Kardashian cheating scandals. Kanye West openly supports President Trump. Surprise ICE raids of migrant families are taking place nationwide. Britney Spears wants out of her long-standing conservatorship and posts random closet tours on her Instagram. If anything, Peggy's music will fuel conversations that are already happening, while standing apart in a disorienting time when anything goes.

Mask: Telfar, Necklace: Vivienne Westwood, Pants: NIHL, Shoes: Syro

Not to start off heavy, but how are you feeling about America these days?

I'm glad you asked because I've been thinking about it a lot recently just cause of the random ass shit going on. It's like today is the most divided we've ever been in the world. Everything is going to shit. I view myself as a nice person who has had to adjust to the harsh realities of life. I approach all these topics from race to equality, with a very open mind. And then what I am sometimes given back in reality is hostility, so I've had to adjust to that. What does that make me think about America in general? I realize how America sees me and now I operate by just having that knowledge, which is important for a Black person to have. Cause it's just like shit is presented in a certain way but there's a different set of rules that we have to make up on the spot. I don't know how to explain.

Well, being Black in America requires redefining the rules as you go.

We are always having to think on our feet and always having to adapt or adjust to the people around you. You know what I mean? I just feel like I've seen when I was growing up people be apologetic for just being Black. Myself included. And you know, that's like the learned thing. My bad, I'm getting exasperated.

Dress: Blunt Object, Scarf and sunglasses: Anointed Vintage

I've seen some of your live shows, and I've noticed a growing number of angry-looking white men thrashing around.

I mean, angry white dudes make up most of the population. I'm coming from a very genuine place, so I think anybody who has anger about anything can identify with that, but that's maybe why I draw them out. And you know, white dudes are going to gravitate to weird shit like that anyway. But I don't know, they're just there and pissed off I guess.

Your music is meant to be played loudly. Perhaps some feel encouraged to rage openly as a result.

For me, I just find a way to channel any rage I might be carrying into a live show. When I perform, I just get to be me for 40 minutes and wild out. You can't really do that in public. You can't go to Whole Foods and just be loud.

Mask: Telfar, Necklace: Vivienne Westwood

Not if you're Black, I guess. I don't know. Maybe someone else could.

You definitely don't want to do that. You see what I'm saying and how it ties to what I had said before? I was on a boat one time with three white dudes. And I remember thinking to myself, "Yo, I'm about to die." Like, they might just throw me into the river for shits and giggles. You know what I'm saying? Some crazy white boy shit. You never know...

Like Get Out, the sequel?

Get Out the sequel! [Laughs] Nooo. Right, or just Jackass shit. They may just be like, "Oh, fucking punch buggy!" and they may just throw my ass off the boat. You never know, yo. That pervasive fear that something bad might happen in a situation because I'm Black. It's always around.

Clothing: No More Buildings, Necklace: Louis Vuitton, Scarf: Anointed Vintage, Shoes: Syro

Especially in such unpredictable times. I get it. One day it's a mass shooting, the next there's a riot. Do you have thoughts about this?

It's a really wild thing watching mass shootings happen over and over again, and people always trying to blame something but the problem. Before it was video games, then it was rap, and now the people who are responsible for most of this are running out of excuses. People are starting to realize that we play the same video games, we got the same internet. No one is shooting up a school because of Grand Theft Auto. There's something wrong with a specific set of people and they have to accept their accountability but until that can happen, nothing's gonna change. But it seems like it's getting to a breaking point now — how much is enough, you know?

I totally get it. Shifting gears super dramatically: I think I heard somewhere that you love pop boy bands. What about them do you love?

These days, people have finally started to appreciate the height of boy band hysteria. But at the time, when that shit was hot, The Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync, Britney Spears, I was jamming that shit and it was really good music. It's just really well written, it's crazy. Like, who was producing this shit?

Top: Thoom, Pants: Telfar, Gloves: Shay Gallagher, Bandana: Vincent Guerrero, Rings: Anointed Vintage

I think Max Martin was largely responsible!

He was all that. This motherfucker is crazy, he should call me up. But yeah, it's all really beautifully written and it really touched a weak spot for a lot of people. I think some people thought it was corny at the time, but maybe not. After all, it broke hella records.

In terms of music, though, especially since your own is so polarizing, do you believe music can be "good" or "bad?"

That's hard. It's really a subjective ass thing to me. I think most artists would say that. I mean, there's definitely shit I don't feel like listening to all the time. For me, it's really hard for me to define something like, "This is actually ass. I don't want to hear this ever and there's literally nothing I can take away from this." I don't know how to describe something being bad as, but you just know when you hear it. You just hear it, and you don't even think about it and you just turn that shit off. The idea of something being bad is just an opinion, especially these days when you can choose what you like from all kinds of sources. Rap is so broad too. Rap is such a young genre. It never got the acclaim and diversity that rock did. There are so many categories of rock and it's now kind of starting with rap.

Mask: Telfar, Necklace: Vivienne Westwood, Pants: NIHL, Shoes: Syro

You're right to say that rap is fairly young in terms of genre, but it has undeniably huge influence.

It's so modern that unlike other genres that Black artists got pushed out of, or are just erased or invalidated in re-telling history. Rap was getting popular in a time where there was just as much demand as there was pushback. Still, Black people stand at the forefront of rap, always making new paths. It's amazing that it's been the last genre that's been invented and now it's the biggest genre in the world. And it's mostly Black.

Do you think much about how your music fits into the rap genre?

The way I see it, this feels like the first time there has been an opportunity for upcoming rappers who make alternative type shit to have a shot of getting visibility and a lot of music out there. It's kind of like in the '90s when rock was the biggest genre and shit like Marilyn Manson became mainstream. And now it's something that would normally not be mainstream. I want to try to carve out a road there because that's what I love and understand. I just like making the type of shit that I make and it doesn't usually fit into structured pop music or structured whatever. If I could just have people that go, "Oh who's this?" and when I put some shit out, I know they're going to listen to it, I'm good. I'm in the alternative world, but this is still rap. This is the beauty of rap. We can still come with anything and pull in new influence and it's still rap at its core.

I read that you're a fan of Charli XCX. Is a collab in the works?

I still need to see her live! But yeah, I've been listening to her since True Romance. It's crazy to me what she is now, you know? She's like a genuine pop star. I would be honored to work with her. She probably has no idea who I am. But hey, you never know. She really collaborates with people that don't really fit into pop. They're in this weird-ass, deformed kind of pop music that's like super catchy and sticky and shit.

Dress: Blunt Object, Shoes: Syro, Scarf and sunglasses: Anointed Vintage

I also know that you'd love to work with Britney Spears.

Yeah. She's just confusing the masses, but is probably one of the best pop stars in history. What else can be said about Britney? You know how many cultural things have been centered around her in general? Her just not even doing anything, just existing. There was a whole meme based off somebody just crying about her. I love Britney, she's doing what the fuck she wants, she posted a picture of a horse once and I still don't know why. She to me is like the first Ashley O.

Where do you get your style tips from? I love how fluid it is.

Thanks, I wish I could say there was more thought behind it, but I am unfortunately just a really messy dresser and I just put things on. I don't have anything or anybody that I'm drawing from specifically, but I do have one of my best friends, my photographer Alec Marchant. And he's a good friend. He makes a lot of clothes for me and does a lot of good stuff. If I have a cool idea I could throw it at him. I feel like in 2019 it's not so much a thing. Coming from Baltimore, just coming from the states, we kept a space where anybody could be themselves and that's why I was able to flourish in Baltimore. I was doing this as opposed to when I was in the military and being super bro-y. In 2019, there's people out there who are not accepting of how people present themselves, but I don't know what to tell them because this shit is going to happen whether they like it or not. When I see someone who's not like that I just get sad at it. People are not gonna stop fighting for equality, so I don't know what these outdated-ass ignorant people are going to keep doing.

Clothing: No More Buildings, Necklace: Louis Vuitton, Scarf: Anointed Vintage

Why have you been teasing your last project as a disappointment or failure?

This shit is just not good. I'm just telling you how it is. I'm cutting out all the bullshit, I'm putting your expectations at the bottom of the floor, so you don't even get past when you see how wack it is. I can't believe this shit.

Does this mean you've been doing things wrong on purpose?

Yeah, you got to. Yeah, I'm rapping backwards. It's 2019, you gotta do it wrong. Everything's all wrong anyway.

Photography: Jess Farran
Styling: Joe Van O
Grooming: LB Charles
Photography Assistant: Grace Caroline
Styling Assistant: James Popple

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