by Will Dancer / Staff Reporter
Weaving in and out of aggressive, lowkey and airy vibes, Baltimore experimental hip-hop artist JPEGMAFIA is back again with his latest album curiously dubbed “All My Heroes are Cornballs”. Following up 2016’s “Black Ben Carson” and 2018’s “Veteran” JPEGMAFIA, nicknamed Peggy by his fans, showcases more expansive vocal and musical motifs this time around.
While his song titles remain unapologetically in-your-face, the album’s sound is a bit more depressing than his earlier releases. Singing permeates much of the album, with songs such as “Grimy Waifu” and “BBW” consisting almost entirely of Peggy breezing through vaporwave-inspired beats. Many songs are transitioned by singing and it is a common theme that his standard glitchy and chaotic sound gets quickly interrupted by something much calmer and spacey. This juxtaposition works well and it demonstrates JPEGMAFIA’s ability to expand beyond his expected sound.
The album is all over the place, but it keeps the listeners attention by not hanging on any one thing for too long. Fans of other experimental hip-hop artists like Death Grips will love the moments of static-inspired absurdity, fans of RnB will appreciate Peggy’s willingness to expand his autotuned range (sampling TLC’s “Scrubs” at one point) and fans of Kendrick-like bangers will be contented with frequent assaults of heavy bass and Peggy’s sporadic and irregular flows.
The lyrics deal with themes of living as a black man in Trump’s America, the pressures of fan expectations, fame and Peggy’s own sense of identity. While it is certainly impressive and consistently humorous, I do get the sense that the lyrics take a back seat to the increased production value. I would venture to say that track’s lyrics are somewhat overpowered by the soundscape of noise that fills this album.
The album has a stream-of-consciousness aspect to it that requires the audience to give it more than one listen to grasp the points JPEGMAFIA is trying to make. While this is common for many albums of the genre, “All My Heroes Are Cornballs” seems to be moving at an advanced pace. It is not easy to get your bearings on the themes and language on the first playthrough, which I could see as a turnoff for some listeners.
All the layers may distract listeners initially, but the album does a pretty good job at balancing it out. As soon as it begins it seems to conclude, which puts the listener in a 45-minute bubble that demands their attentiveness. While it may not be as strong as 2018’s “Veteran,” “All My Heroes Are Cornballs” is a wacky and fulfilling step forward for Peggy. Even with all the new soundscapes, I hesitate to call it a transitory album for him because of the way he unapologetically owns it. There are no real standout tracks because of the way they all flow into one another and the production keeps your ear for the entire runtime. Even if it is somewhat rough around the edges and potentially unfocused, the sense of scale it provides the listener gives one the understanding of what direction JPEGMAFIA might go in the future. It is a bold and exciting album that can easily stack up to its current competition.
Rating: 7 out of 10 Torches.