Published Aug 30, 2018Baltimore-based rapper JPEGMAFIA says he reined himself in on his latest album, this year's Veteran. He called it an exercise in editing his craziest impulses. Live at Fortune Sound Club last night (August 29), though, he came unhinged and ran circles around a packed crowd. He kicked up live wire mosh pits with his frenetic, industrial noise-rap.
Moshing began right away as JPEGMAFIA descended into the crowd for set opener "Real Nega." The song's relentless pattering and the clacking, crackling beat on "Thug Tears" sounded ready to explode, like hand grenades with their pins pulled. The sound of machine guns fired off on "Real Nega," but the beats themselves on "Curb Stomp" and "Baby I'm Bleeding" sounded like the emptying of magazines, too. During the screechy "ALL CAPS NO SPACES," his fans mobbed him and almost pulled him to the floor, but any time he did go down, it was on his own terms.
Neither the alt-right nor neo-liberals are safe in JPEGMAFIA's crosshairs. He calls the left "fake wokes" and singles out figures like Lena Dunham. He spent his four-year tenure in the Air Force standing up to racism and toxic masculinity amongst his peers and superiors, the same behaviours he tears down and burns up in his scathing political call-outs. (Yet, he escaped the military with an honourable discharge.)
Though JPEGMAFIA fights fire with fire, catchy and even playful moments exist within his digital-maniacal assaults. He drops references to Nintendo 64 games Conker's Bad Fur Day and Golden Eye alongside ones to Spider-Man, The Walking Dead, Mortal Kombat and professional wrestling. A sample of the spoken question "You think you know me?" from WWE Hall of Famer Edge's theme music appears throughout Veteran. The sample also cropped up in JPEGMAFIA's set during "Real Nega" and "Panic Emoji": "Now that was a motherfuckin' mosh pit," he said after the latter.
JPEGMAFIA has been a target of hate since before he was old enough to understand the concept of racism; he's so used to being on the defensive — and the offensive — that he says he does not know how to react to love. But as the Vancouver crowd raged and raved with him and chanted for more, he could only express gratitude. His performance was a full-body experience that left the heart beating at a different rhythm.
JPEGMAFIA knows his fearless, scattershot approach to political action alienates some audiences, but he still aims to be a mainstream star. And seeing his fighting spirit in person, mainstream stardom might not be such a lofty goal.