Personally, I can’t really have people show me new music, I need to be on my own and properly sit with the music before I can make a decisive judgment. In JPEGMAFIA’s case, I didn’t know how to feel when someone played me ‘Does This Ski Mask Make Me Look Fat’ for the first time. The meme-y song title, uncanny lyrics, and far from conventional sound really had me pressed—I couldn’t figure out whether I loved it or hated it. So, I chose the worst option of them all; I remained indecisive and didn’t listen to it again. But a little while later, I heard that he was headed to Australia and I became curious about digging into his discography.
As fate would have it, shortly after I’d dipped my toes into his back catalogue, I found out I’d be interviewing Mr.Mafia himself. The day of our interview I head to a busy Sydney cafe shortly before we’re scheduled to meet. When JPEG and his manager arrive we sit around making small talk about shoes—something JPEG says he cares little about—as he vigorously devours a plate of bacon something-something. We attempt to start the interview as soon as he finishes, but after realising it’s too loud, resort to wandering the narrow streets with an AirPod each—a necessity to record the interview—stopping occasionally to take photos.
From the onset, it’s clear that JPEG is very secure with who he is. He speaks with a cool confidence, imparting wisdom as we stroll around, and pausing to periodically puff on his vape. Over the next half hour, we discuss his latest album, his obsession with being an independent artist, and his frustration at people calling him out for his nonexistent sample use. And just for the record, I really like “Does This Ski Mask Make Me Look Fat”.
Peggy bro, congratulations, your new album All My Heroes Are Cornballs is now out, I really liked it.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
The sounds are so interesting. It’s like nothing I’ve ever heard from anyone else.
Oh, I appreciate that bro.
Discussing the album on Instagram you were saying it was something that you, “Put your whole body into”, and that it’s “The most ME album I’ve ever made”. What about it exactly makes you say that?
There was just no restrictions on what I was trying to do, not that there was before, but I mean mentally. It was more for myself, you know? I removed any kind of like mental restrictions, where I would question myself based on what some other n***a might think about it. But with this album, I cropped those n****s out because I’m not in the business of pleasing people who don’t want to be pleased and aren’t gonna buy my shit anyway. I don’t give a fuck. So there’s no point in me trying to appease these n****s. They just want normal shit and they can go do that shit. I operate in this space and I”m not gonna let anybody put their own intentions behind what I do. I’m not trying to appeal to anybody with what I do. This is what the fuck I do and I’m not gonna let anybody strip my intentions or anything like that. So when I say this is the most me album, I mean I’m taking a hold of myself and being like, “This is me and there’s nothing y’all can do about it”. Accept it or not, I don’t give a fuck. This is what I’m doing.
As an artist that’s a very important outlook to have. So taking that into account, why do you want everyone to be disappointed?[Laughs] The disappointment and honesty was just an illusion to people who might have been expecting a second Veteran or something like that. I’ve been making music for years and years and years and every time I make something, I always put myself into whatever I’m feeling at the time. I’m always morphing and evolving, people who caught me on Veteran might think that that’s just the shit I’ve done my whole life. So I was just letting them know “Look, I know y’all like Veteran but I’m sorry I don’t do the same shit twice”. That’s honestly where the thought process originally came from.
Again a very important outlook to have, because after a breakthrough album comes the pressure of a follow up which can sometimes see artists shift focus from creating the art they want and catering to their fan base instead.
They fall into a format of, “Oh this worked, so let me just like run that again and see what happens”. But no, I operate in this space. I’ve ridden the space of uncomfortability and I like to be out of my comfort zone.
I think the freedom behind this album is most evident through the track titles.
I’ll tell you the thing behind my track titles, I don’t really think about naming them until I’m literally uploading it or the thing is done. For me, a track title is irrelevant because I can name a track anything. Sometimes I’ll put track titles just to bait people. For example ‘Grimy Waifu’, that song is a deep song about my gun, trauma, and war really. If someone comes up to you and be like, “Fuck that ‘Grimy Waifu’ song by JPEGMAFIA, he’s an anime ass n***a”. I didn’t even mention any anime in it. It’s just called ‘Grimy Waifu’, it’s bait for n****s that don’t pay attention so that they are just ranting about something I’m not. Like n***a, it could be about anything.
I get the feeling that people’s false perceptions don’t mean a lot to you.
Yeah, because [false] perceptions are not reality. But, [false] perceptions are reality in this day and age. So some people have ‘this’ reality and other people have this ‘REAL’ reality and those people are just like duelling.
After your stint in the army, you moved to Maryland which is interesting because as an outsider, it seems that the place that would make the most sense would be LA or NY. So what drew you to Baltimore?
The scene and the artists. I had family there too, but the scene and the artists there were exactly my type of people. When I got there, I realised and confirmed it—those are still my people to this day.
How did moving there help your progression as an artist? Say you were to move straight to LA, do you think you’d be doing what you do now?
No. If I moved straight to LA I would’ve been doing me, but it would have been different. The thing about Baltimore is that it teaches you to have work ethic because everyone’s always working and not getting anything for it. When I was in Baltimore, none of us were getting love or making money. I started getting love eventually, but we just loved the art. That’s what I respect about Baltimore so much, is that they’re making shit when no one is looking.
If the persona behind ‘Thot Tactics’ or “‘BasicBitchTearGas’ had a physical counterpart, what would they look like?
I’ve seen people saying I’m taking on a persona, but like I said, this is me and there’s no persona there. When I’m doing stuff like that, I’m just approaching masculine ideas from a submissive kind of foundation. ‘Thot Tactics’ is about taking somebody out, but using thot tactics to do it, as opposed to being like “I’m going to come and beat the shit out of you”. You know what I’m saying? Like it’s real and it happens. If anybody listens to it and really understands, they’ll get it. ‘BasicBitchTearGas’ isn’t a persona either, I just love that song.
When it comes to the creation of your music, how much of your process is freestyled?
It’s funny, I freestyle it in my head and that’s how I commit it to memory. It’s really weird and doesn’t really make sense, but that’s how I do it. Everything is in my head first and that’s where it formulates. I used to type it and read it but I changed the process on this. I started doing it in my head and then writing it down somewhere and never looking again. I wrote it down and put the lyrics out on that PDF. That’s why there’s so many typos and shit, that’s the first time I wrote it.
One of your signature tags is “You think you know me”. Where does that come from?
The one I’m using right now is me, on the album it was all me. I redid it. No one noticed though. [Laughs]
I’ve seen you talk about that before, say certain times you can’t clear a sample, you’re like, “Fuck it, I’ll just remake it myself.”
Of course, I have a keyboard, I can play a keyboard—
I’ve seen you tweet something like that before as well, saying people try catch you out for samples.
Yeah cause bro, I swear to God, people be fucking tweeting me saying I sample shit. It’s weird to me because, I don’t know why I don’t get the benefit of the doubt. It’s really weird. Every time I make a melody, somebody wants to give that shit away like, “Oh you sampled this”. What? No n***a I didn’t. All it is, is that if they can’t find the preset, then it’s a sample because these n****s are basic. Everything is not a sample yo, people can do shit, and work hard to do that shit.
Do you think it has something to do with you being in the “urban” category?
Yeah. No one would question that shit otherwise. They would assume that I’m like classically trained, you know what I’m saying? As cliche and as redundant as that sounds, it’s still the truth. Matter of fact bro, if I was white they would probably champion me even harder. I mix and master my own shit.
The Internet has really given artists the freedom to take full control of their art, like you said, from mixing and mastering to production, vocals, everything. How do you feel being able to do all that?
They need to, and I’m glad. I feel like it’s great because we are so not in control most of the time, especially as young black artists, we get taken advantage of so much that we have to take control out of necessity. Somebody who is not black will probably take control and want to do all this shit themselves and be their own manager, all this shit. It comes from a different place, they just want power. The reason I do all the things I do, is not for some ego trip, it’s because I couldn’t fucking pay for mixing and mastering and I wasn’t going to pay some corny white n***a 2000 fucking dollars to fuck my shit up. I fucked that shit up myself and I’m not about to pay no producer and chase this n***a down for the stems. N****s don’t have stems. N****s aren’t dependable. I had to be self sufficient because n****s ain’t shit. That’s basically it, you know what I’m saying? N****s need to do that bro, because you can’t depend on anybody. That’s why I do what I do and I’ll continue to do what I do. The one thing that never changes with time is people never get more dependable, straight up. I depend on my motherfucking self, because when I was depending on my motherfucking self, none of these n****s was paying attention and now people are paying attention to me and n****s won’t have shit to say.
I feel like you’re fully the next level of independent because not only do you make all your own music, but you DJ for yourself too.
The reason I do that, I’m not really sure. It just randomly came up, I didn’t have a DJ and I just never got one. Being self-sufficient and even DJing for myself, I want people to know that it’s a symbol. My show is going to morph and I’ll add things to it as I grow, blah, blah, blah. But the fact is, I’ll always be up there with just me, and my computer at the core of it.
Just solely you, I get that.
That’s it, I want the connection to be that no matter where I go from here on out, people know when they see me up there with that computer, no matter what else is around, they know this is how I’ve been since there was two n****s watching me. This is it, it’s important now. It didn’t mean anything at first but it’s developed meaning over time now to me.
Your music is quite focused on your experience of being black in America. How does that translate when you see your music’s impact around the world?
I mean being a black artist and making any kind of art, unfortunately the reality is, black art ends up being misunderstood by white people every single time. So it is what it is. It’s just a reality you have to accept as a black artist, they asked Public Enemy the same thing in the ’80s and now 30 years later people ask me. It’s the same reason back then as it is now. You know what I’m saying? White people have the power, the most expendable income. They’re going to consume this shit, it doesn’t matter what you do. At the end of the day, you go to a crowd and you will see crackers in there. That’s why I’m accepting anybody who gives love to me, I reciprocate love back to them. My shit is rooted in [the] black experience, but anybody who has gone through some kind of things can relate to it. I’m just speaking it from my perspective because that’s my truth. I’m not trying to speak from anybody else’s.
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