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JPEGMAFIA and How He’d Destroy the Music Industry

Fresh off the release of his experimental project EP2, JPEGMAFIA talks us through creating ‘triumphant introvert music’, the impact of MF DOOM, and what he’d change about the music business.

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Music is a lot like wrestling. You have your John Cenas and Hulk Hogans; those global superstars with million-dollar companies and marketing machines behind them. You have the upcoming prospects, who are paired with the existing superstars by the corporation to elevate them and make them relevant. You’ve got the opening talent, who night by night are performing matches to hype up a crowd and prepare them for the main events. Everyone plays their part for the brand that is the game, and some benefit more than others. 

But then, there are people like JPEGMAFIA, who are best described as journeymen. Instead of hitting the center stage every night for a little bit of shine, this Baltimore rapper/producer opts for the indie shows, ran by ambitious creatives and flocked to by pundits who are sick of the flashy lights, and just want to see art. Each match contains his heart and soul, whether it’s the chest-thumping weaponry of Veteran, or the versatility move-set of All My Heroes Are Cornballs. He performs these on the outskirts of a converging world between music and tech, and he does it free of the gimmicks of a TikTok Challenge or calculated playlist placement. 

His latest contest exists within the realms of a new squared circle; EP2. This is a sidestep from his usual chair-shot hitting noise rap, and opts in for the intricate layers of submission grappling; he’s relaxed, but he’s still hitting. The sound of the project is what he’s described as ‘triumphant introverted music’, which rings true throughout the fluttering synths, autotuned vocals, and general sense of isolation. To learn more about EP2, we got Peggy on a Zoom call to chat us through its creation, the impact of MF DOOM, how he’d book the music industry, and more.

Peggy! Congrats on the new EP. How are you feeling?
I don’t even know, man, especially with just being inside and all of that. But I’m happy it’s out; for sure. 

You’ve described the project as ‘introvert music’. What was different about your mindset creating this compared to your past works?
I just wanted to harness the energy that’s both calming and hectic, because I haven’t created a project before that has allowed me to relax throughout the whole thing. An EP can take any form, so it was good to step out of the pocket and create something that wasn’t all over the place. 

What would you consider to be some of your favourite introvert music?
Off the top of my head, albums like Cat Power’s Wanderer, and that new Madlib record is introverted music. I listen to a lot of music like that, where it feels like it was created in a tight space. It feels like it’s made to be consumed in private, but also consumed in concert. 

I once read about the metal band Bring Me The Horizon, and how the frontman Oliver Sykes was so inspired by the support he received during a rehab stint, that he no longer wanted to make music to scream, but to sing. Do you think the adversity we’ve all faced this past year inspired a similar feeling in the creative process of EP2?
For sure. I think that’s how I feel in general right now. I think whenever anyone does anything, they are met with some sort of adversity. And I think in a way, some people need that to get by; they need that hostility and something to overcome. Especially in music, and when you’ve been doing it for so long. 

You’ve mentioned that you like to work outside of your comfort zone. But over the last year, we’ve been limited to our own houses, where there are restrictions on leaving your zone. How have you found new creative planes throughout the limitations?
For the most part, it was kind of just business as usual for me. I tend to be a pretty introverted person. However, it did take away the option to be extroverted, which I utilised a lot from time to time. Having that option disappear was pretty hard. 

As a fellow introvert, I missed those times where you tried to be extroverted. But when the time came, I almost found that I damn near forgot how to talk to people.
I’m the same, I don’t know how to talk to people anymore. I don’t know if I knew how to talk to people before all of this. Socialising almost feels like a burden now [Laughs]. It’s like “Damn, I gotta’ talk to people.” It stresses me out. Though, you have to embrace the fact that nothing makes sense anymore.

That’s a good thing to embrace, especially when you’ve also described this project as a triumphant moment for you. What is it about this project that gives you that victorious feeling?
What I win out of this can’t even be quantified yet, to be honest. I feel like I win every day because I am myself, despite who others pretend to be. And when you’re comfortable in yourself, you can step back and just look at others being hypocritical. That’s what I want man, just the peace of mind, and the ability to know who I am while being surrounded by people who don’t know who the fuck they are.

Someone who I think embodied the label of ‘triumphant introvert’, and always stayed true to himself, was the late, great MF DOOM. How do you feel like he impacted music today?
You can see the impact through the people who came out of the woodworks and paid tribute to him. No one disrespected the man, he was a legend. There’s never been anyone like MF DOOM, he can’t be replaced, and his influence on the game is almost too deep to quantify. He’s already influenced an entire generation of artists, and now people who weren’t aware of him can go back and discover how great he is. I’m going to make sure that his influence lives on because he’s had such a big impact on the way I create.

I think a common thread between you and DOOM is being creative without limitations. However, we live in a climate where the convergence of tech and music is growing, and it’s becoming more about data by the day. As an artist who can’t be boxed in, how do you navigate that?
I think that is the way you do navigate; you just stay true to yourself. All these other people can pretend to be whoever they want to be, they can stand alongside as many black people as they want, but we know who they are. They can keep being fake because the real will always prevail. Being myself can elicit a reaction out of people on its own. This peace of mind could be viewed as a weakness, but I feel like it strengthens me. Because what the fuck are the people who don’t like me even doing? I take great pride in having success being unabashedly myself. 

We’re both avid fans of wrestling, and it feels like the criticism that both wrestling and music receive is similar. Overly-scripted programming, limited creativity, etc. If you could book this industry, what would you change?
I would flip this thing on its ass! I would kill the music industry, and here’s how: I would make the rule that if you can’t make music, you can’t make money. If you’ve got no fucking talent and can’t do anything, you have to go somewhere else. This in itself would destroy it. Everybody at the labels would have to make the TikTok records [Laughs]. 

Man, I don’t know how the game would recover from Lyor Cohen dropping ‘WAP’.
I would pay top bitcoin to see that shit!

In wrestling, there are ways to become a star outside the traditional environment of the WWE. You have people like Darby Allin blowing up in AEW, who would be deemed ‘too small’ for Raw. You have double champions like Kota Ibushi in NJPW, who was heavily underutilized in the realms of a WWE tournament. I think it’s a testament that if what you’re doing is special, the people are going to come. Do you think these alternative streams of success can exist within the music industry?
That’s a good question. I think the best thing to do is to not play to those external forces. Worry about the people who worry about you, and that’s what creates the cult-like movements of an artist like MF DOOM. The real way to do it would be to form together and create something, but I don’t think that’ll happen. Just keep being abnormal, because we abnormal artists all have a unique product people can’t get anywhere else. That’s what separates us from the mainstream. 

Lastly, you’ve mentioned that this EP is merely a part of the season you’ve got planned through 2021. Where can we expect you to take us next?
The rest of the music isn’t going to be like EP2 at all. This was a one-time thing, a moment in time. I can’t say a lot about what the future is going to sound like, but it’s going to be different.

Follow JPEGMAFIA here and stream his new project EP2 below.

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