On introspective EP2!, JPEGMAFIA simmers and shines

Photo of JPEGMafia album
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Grade: 3.0/5.0

Last December, Baltimore rapper JPEGMAFIA offered some words about the direction of his latest project: “[It’s] triumphant introvert music. If ur confident in yourself, I can’t do anything for u. I’m sad and full of hate. This uncertainty in my spirit hits different.” The recently released EP2! stays true to JPEG’s initial description, and is full of some of his most somber, reflective music to date. In this introspective mode, Peggy shines.

Uncertainty seems to be the general consensus of the world right now, as is reflected by much of the music released in the past year. With EP2!, JPEG’s music turns downtempo, favoring spacious ambience and auto-tune-inflected melodies over his normally industrial punk-rap sound. Written and largely self-produced in a period of time described by JPEG as “3 weeks locked in a room with synthesizers,” EP2! is the sound of an artist emerging from seclusion having used his creative outlets in search of a better state of mind.

EP2! continues JPEGMAFIA’s move towards more a melodic sound, an odyssey he began on 2019’s All My Heroes Are Cornballs. The flow of opener “Last Dance!” is wavy and smooth, a far cry from the abrasive stomp of earlier JPEGMAFIA songs like “Baby I’m Bleeding,” as JPEG runs off a myriad of references from Joe Biden and Love Island to Metal Gear Solid. The brief “Intro!” highlights this transition, as JPEG’s singing begins to meld together with horns and guitar. Even the EP’s most high-energy moment, the James Blake co-produced “Panic Room!” is sonically far from a traditional banger, with rapidly pinging keys and glitchy noises shimmering across the surface of the instrumental. Dialing up the anxiety produced by the swift drum hits and deep bass, the track finally releases the tension with a sparse acoustic guitar breakdown.

Though the instrumentals have forgone their sharp, abrasive edge, Peggy’s flows have not. “This Ones For Us!” tackles systemic racism with cold-blooded fearlessness over bright, flowy piano chords and slowly fizzling production. The song’s warm melody, drenched in autotune, disarms listeners before Peggy fires off unflinching lines such as, “You vague with your threats, I’m direct with my pistol.”  On “Keltec!,” Peggy unloads a dizzying rant on frustrations with the music industry, the steady, luxurious beat and low-key delivery making him sound as if he couldn’t care less while on his victory lap.

Throughout the EP, JPEG’s lyrics switch back and forth between vulnerable and fierce, often within the same verse. On “Fix Urself!,” stream-of-consciousness style bars detail distrust and paranoia amid the rapper’s romances and rising success; smoothy delivered ironic jabs like “I love my baby like Trump loves Putin, in the deepest way” sit alongside lines about experiencing body shame and sexual assault. Over compelling, brassy synth chords and marching band-type drums that switch into a trap beat, it’s like hearing the rapper triumph over his internal struggles in real-time.

There’s no single moment on EP2! that defines the EP’s new direction, only a central feeling reflected in the general malaise that engulfs its songs. Like EP! that came before, JPEGMAFIA’s latest offers a glimpse into the various corners of the artist’s mind in a period of physical and emotional isolation. The weight of Peggy’s music, which used to come in the form of hard-hitting grime and aggression, finds its way into the subject matter. For the first time on a JPEGMAFIA release, the production can be described as elegant and occasionally euphoric, serving as auditory relief from the relentlessly gloomy themes.

JPEGMAFIA’s music isn’t any less intense than it was before. This time around, the firestorm comes in the form of a heavily concentrated simmer.

Vincent Tran covers music. Contact him at [email protected].