JPEGMAFIA Has Plans To Unite The Underground. Up First: An Album With Danny Brown.
When I saw JPEGMAFIA perform in 2019 at a predominantly white university, he was met with boos and utter confusion. As I remind Peggy about this, he laughs and explains, “Of course, because no one told them to like it yet. I’m sure if they read a Pitchfork article first and saw me, then they would be like, ‘Yes, I understand,’ but because they had to give their raw thoughts, it was stupid, ignorant, and kinda racist.”
This is the sort of exhibition that JPEGMAFIA lives for: “When I go out into a crowd, even if it’s hostile, I’m almost prepared for it. I know I’m going to get a certain reaction from a certain person. I love that shit.” Born Barrington DeVaughn Hendricks, Peggy is no stranger to antagonism. Whether it’s online trolls on Twitter or coming of age in rural Alabama, Peggy has received constant pushback against his identity, both as a creative and as a Black man.
“I probably have similar memories to a lot of Black, alternative kids that make music that’s not basic and easy to understand. People are dismissive, rude, don’t believe anything you say, doubtful,” Peggy elaborates. Although the first JPEGMAFIA album was released in 2015, Peggy had been putting out music under the moniker Devon Hendryx since 2007. Dreamcast Summer Songs might have been a compilation of the first beats he ever made as a producer, but his lo-fi collage of sedated samples and low-vibrational hums laid the groundwork for Peggy’s fragmented style. “I was trying to be like the Avalanches’ Since I Left You,” he explains, “I was trying to make it all samples.”
On landmark releases like Veteran, his seminal 2018 debut on Deathbomb Arc, and Scaring The Hoes, his new project with Danny Brown out today, JPEGMAFIA has made a name for himself through his unconventional production style, a sound that has become synonymous with scouring the internet’s deepest crevices. Similar to an ambient artist that intertwines field recordings with their hushed tones to create a delicate atmosphere, Peggy builds soundscapes out of obscure audio clips and samples that exist purely within cyberspace. Veteran highlight “Real Nega” reworks Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s creaky vocal fry to pair the popcorning, operatic baritone with lyrics that wage war against the alt-right. Scaring The Hoes lead single “LEAN BEEF PATTY” pitches up Ginuwine and Mario Winans’ singing on Diddy’s “I Need A Girl (Pt. 2)” to create a chipmunk-soul snippet that diverts your attention from the bellowing 808s and the crunchy, distorted bassline.
“I really want to make something that tears you out of yourself,” JPEGMAFIA proclaims. There’s no competitive drive, per se, unless the competition is the archetypal conflict of man vs. himself. Peggy expounds, “I want to master my domain. I have a domain in experimental hip-hop that is my own. I’ve created a lane that’s just my own, and I want to double down and set myself in stone. This is my thing. You can’t do this thing.” And Peggy’s right; his style is an idiosyncratic archive of his internet search history. By stacking each song with a number of different micro melodies, blending jittery BPMs with sonic maximalism, Peggy creates a digital sound collage that might best be described as hyperrap.
Pulling from the chaos of hyperpop and the meticulous craftsmanship of pop music, Scaring The Hoes is an ode to hip-hop that exists as a testament to the genre’s range and influences. In an age where hip-hop is the most consumed genre of music in the United States, Peggy recognizes that modern-day pushback is the instinctual reaction to timeless efforts. “Pop music is the music that’s going to get hated on in real time,” Peggy says. “Look at TikTok – all of this shit is pop music from the 2000s that people said was trash. I was alive back then. All them motherfuckers said those songs was trash. Every last one of them songs the kids love right now, they were saying, ‘Shit’s trash. Get it off the radio. Play the underground shit.'” At the age of 33, JPEGMAFIA has generational experience navigating the cyclical trends of pop music, and culture as a whole. He posits, “It’s the most current thing you can make of the day, and that’s why it ages better than any other kind of music.”
Scaring The Hoes is the natural evolution of JPEGMAFIA’s experimental hip-hop, conjoining his approach with traditional rap fundamentals, from turntablism and DJ scratches to constructing an album entirely made on a hip-hop artifact: the Roland SP-404. Inspired by the Madvillainy sessions — in which Madlib solely used a turntable, a selection of vinyl, a tape deck, and a Boss SP-303 sampler to create the cult classic — Peggy challenged himself to use only one machine. His 404 became a symbol of his resourcefulness, an homage to Madlib and J Dilla and all of the great beatmakers that came before him.
Exclusively using his Roland SP-404, Peggy worked to produce a project that’s equally progressive as it is tantalizing. He met up with Danny Brown behind closed doors for recording sessions over the course of the year, with Brown choosing from a selection of beats produced with him in mind. Eventually, Scaring The Hoes naturally transformed from an album based on Henning Schellerup’s 1973 Blaxploitation film Sweet Jesus, Preacherman into an expansive demonstration of the pair’s chemistry. Nothing is off limits. Ski Mask The Slump God’s “BabyWipe” slips into the beat change of “God Hates Ugly” before swiftly cutting to the jubilant gospel of a church choir; “Run The Jewels” is a howling trumpet solo, tensely restrained by the player’s trumpet mute; “Garbage Pail Kids” is a haunting children’s tune mutated alongside a heavily distorted electric guitar, nearing the feedback of shoegaze.
The collaboration with Brown was a no-brainer for JPEG: “I approached Danny because – shit, Kanye’s a Nazi now, so he’s my #1 rapper at this point.” Always an earnest student of hip-hop, Peggy had been watching Danny perform since he was about 20: “He didn’t even know who the fuck I was.” The Scaring The Hoes sessions would have seemed like a pipe dream to a young Devon Hendryx (not even JPEGMAFIA at that point). “I would bring him shit and we would lock in for a week, I would leave and go work on it, then I would bring it back like, ‘This is what it sounds like, here’s some new shit,’ and we’d keep going,'” Peggy reminisces. After roughly a year of periodically working together, the project was finally marked complete with the stamp of a five-word tweet this past Feb. 10: “THE DANNY COLLAB IS FINISHED.”
By embracing the taunts of chronically online white incels, Scaring The Hoes aims for legacy over mass appeasement. Peggy laughs as he explains the title: “People say that shit about my music. Any music that isn’t basic and normal and completely formulaic is going to be put in that category. It’s a phrase originated by n****s that don’t get pussy.” The title is a cheeky statement towards white criticism of Black art: “Take away one little thing you can say about us and now you have to talk about the music.”
Almost seven years after his only collaborative mixtape, The Second Amendment with Freaky, JPEGMAFIA has his eyes set on coalition-building within hip-hop’s underground and its independent voices. Peggy clarifies, “I had this idea, I wanted to unite the underground. You look at all the mainstream dudes and they all make songs together. Every album’s got a Lil Baby feature, Lil Durk feature, Future feature. All these n****s work together, they get money together and they come up together and they give each other strength. It’s like a spirit bomb.” After years of making art for the sake of art and watching his music be reproduced on the internet by fans and peers alike, Peggy questions the needless division: “Bigger artists pillage from what we’re doing, so why do we gatekeep it?”
JPEGMAFIA is proud to be unequivocally himself. He’s proud to be an “independent, creative Black man who is doing literally whatever the fuck he wants.” Take away the success and Peggy is still the same person. In a bleak moment of reflection, Peggy delineates: “Ideally I would like people to see me as someone who’s good at what he does, someone who respects his craft, and someone who takes care of his business. But I understand, in this day and age, being Black and being good at what you do is just not enough. It’s not entertaining enough for white incel teens online, so I understand that this is not how I’ll ever be perceived until I probably die.” He refuses to sugarcoat. He refuses to accommodate your entitled requests. He refuses to censor himself. JPEGMAFIA only has one request: “Ultimately, no matter what you say about me, just say the beats were hard. Just don’t forget that.”
Scaring The Hoes is out now on PEGGY/AWAL.