Baltimore Rapper JPEGMAFIA came on the scene back in 2016 touting a very specific sound. Full of clicks and beeps and fuzzy ambience, his debut Black Ben Carson is one of the most abrasive pieces of music I’ve ever heard. His 2018 album Veteran is no less brutal in its sonic assault. A 47 minute ode to the anarchic and the absurd, featuring such song titles as “My Thoughts On Neogaf Dying”, “Macaulay Caulkin”, and “I cannot F****** Wait Til Morrissey Dies”.
Since JPEGMAFIA’s emersion, the rap game has changed quite a bit. It has gotten more alternative, more weird. Despite this, Peggy made it very clear in the roll out of his new album All My Heroes Are Cornballs that he was still an outsider. The album’s singles were accompanied by videos of Peggy playing tracks from the album for various industry insiders (Kenny Beats, Denzel Curry, DJ Dahi, etc..) and being met with their resounding disappointment.
I saw Jpegmafia perform at Baltimore’s Ottobar early last month. The place is simultaneously unequipped and perfectly suited for an artist like Peggy. I’ve talked about the Ottobar’s smallness and grunginess before, and JPEG took full advantage of this, crowdsurfing at one point, and shooting an arm up to pull himself up onto the balcony; elsewhere he parted the crowd with his hands and hopped down into the fray like a post-rap Moses.
JPEG’s performance was one of the greatest of my life so far, but the really impressive thing was the way he put his city on. He prefaced “1539 Calvert” leaning backstage shouting “anyone from the bell, you’re welcome to come on out here for this next one.” The Baltimore Rappers poured out of the backstage entrance in droves. I’m talking like 20 guys on what might be the city’s tiniest stage. “Ladies and gentlemen, JPEGMAFIAAAA!” roared a winter coat clad Fonlon in his best wrestling announcer voice. Peggy’s tourmate Butch Dawson stood to stage right, shirtless and holding chopsticks and what looked like a plate of sushi.
JPEGMAFIA dropped the beat and the group onstage began jumping with the music, chanting the words to the song as Peggy screamed them into the mic. In many ways this show felt like a victory lap, for everyone involved. JPEGMAFIA’s “Type Tour” is the biggest of his career, and Butch Dawson (who is still pretty underground) has gained lots of exposure as a result of his accompaniment. Fonlon, who is still a budding artist played a show for a massive crowd that an artist at his level doesn’t usually encounter. If the show was a victory lap, then this song was perhaps the group’s final few strides towards the finish line.
At the same time, as the group bounced around the stage and off one another, there was a hint of nostalgia on everyone’s face. One wonders if their eyes lit up for memory of a simpler time, when their rap game had yet to become a competitive sport.