I Would Love For Someone Super Racist To Review Me: JPEGMAFIA Interviewed

Ahead of his appearance at Le Guess Who? festival in Utrecht, left-field US rapper JPEGMAFIA talks to Tara Joshi about journalism, Throbbing Gristle and his forthright track, ‘I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies’

“I’m just working towards some new music for the next year, the next business quarter… Nah, I’m just kidding, I’m not a stock investor.”

Barrington DeVaughn Hendricks, aka JPEGMAFIA, is laughing down the phone from his home studio in Los Angeles. He’s working on a beat that he’s not especially happy with (“It’s going to be trash, I can confirm”), and is wry on the topic of new music in general – at this point, he says, there’s not all that much to say.

Though he’s been making his left-field, noise-infused rap for nearly ten years, it was earlier in 2018 that saw him breakthrough into hip hop’s more mainstream consciousness with one of the year’s most fascinating rap releases. Indeed, his latest album, Veteran – a play on the 28-year-old having been in the music game for a while, but also a reference to his four years serving in the US air force – struck a chord with a jarring world, cathartic in its dissonance, its lithe sexuality, and its visceral, vital undercurrent of frantic rage and a kind of jaded indifference. This is a sound very much borne out of the internet, teeming with glitches, irony and pop culture references – but if your average Soundcloud rappers are sad, Peggy is straight-up nihilistic, channelling Throbbing Gristle and ODB in equal measure.

Ahead of a couple of UK dates in November and an appearance at Le Guess Who? in the Netherlands, we had a chat about the study of journalism, freedom of speech, and – of course – his track, ‘I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies’.

So I know you did a journalism masters – I did one too. For me it made me extremely jaded, and I was just curious if it had the same effect for you?

JPEGMAFIA: Yeah there was that same one, actually. It didn’t have an immediate effect because my school situation was different, ‘cause I was in the military, so I wasn’t doing classes in a room like other people were doing it. So it didn’t make me jaded until afterwards when I tried to do stuff with it and I started meeting people who are actually journalists…

Do you feel like in your art you have more freedom to provide commentary that maybe journalism should be providing?

JM: Somewhat. I guess, for me, I was trying to do journalism because I just loved music, so if I wasn’t going to do music I wanted to write about it. But I feel like journalism’s responsibility is only to report: do the reports and bring information to people. I guess a lot of journalists are just caught up in their own personal petty shit, I don’t know.

Is it something you’d ever consider going back to? Writing in that way?

JM: I have the knowledge but I’d like to take it and hopefully write something from the perspective of an artist, because I feel like an artist’s perspective is lacking. Like, you remember when Lou Reed reviewed Yeezus?

I really loved that piece.

JM: Exactly! I like it too because it’s artists talking about other people’s art and that was the best thing – I mean, I don’t know what Lou Reed listened to, I don’t know if he had any interest in this weird ass Kanye West album at the time, but he was just like, ‘Uh yeah I like this, this and this is like…’ — because he makes music too, so he gets it, on a certain level. It’s like when those commentators who used to play sports are now sports commentators – they understand it because they do it. It was literally a review free of bullshit, that’s why I like it. There was nothing else in there but, ‘Yeah I like this song’ and ‘It kinda sounds like this.’ I also make music so I’d like to see more shit like that.

I would like to see shit like that… but I’m also conscious of being out of a job.

JM: [Laughs] I don’t want journalism to end. I think people can report and talk about whatever they want, I just feel like this one perspective is dominant, and there’s nothing to counter it. I mean, people are just looking into their own truths and shit anyway, you know what I mean? The purpose of the news is to give information, but now people decided they don’t even like what’s on the news, so they just go to their type of news that they want to hear instead of what actually happened and shit. So put that in [music] journalism too.

If you could pick an artist to review your work, who would you pick?

JM: I would love for someone super racist to review this shit – I would love for, like, Varg from Burzum to review my record. I would want that because those are the people I hate and those are the people that I’m screaming at on the record, so I would like for them to listen to it and just to see their reaction, see what they really think. Are they going to look at it objectively? Are they going to get offended by it? I don’t know. I think that would be interesting. Either that or…I don’t know…I wonder what Taio Cruz would think of my album? That would be fun. Or Jason Derulo. I’ll get him to review that shit, it’ll be fire.

I would 100% read that. I guess Morrissey would be an interesting one? My editor said he nearly wept tears of joy the first time he heard ‘I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies’.

JM: [Laughs] That’s funny as shit. He’s like the fourth person to tell me that – security guards at this venue one time told me, ‘Man! That motherfucker came through here, man! I hate that motherfucker, man – he made us put all the chicken away! I wanna beat his ass!’ It was funny as fuck. He just comes off like he’s just an unpleasant person. I don’t know, he seems like an asshole.

He seems like such an asshole. But to talk about more positive people – in terms of influences, two that really stand out: one would be Ol’ Dirty Bastard and then the other one is Throbbing Gristle? And not to generalise, but it’s not often that you would hear a rap artist mentioning Throbbing Gristle. What do you take from them?

JM: The first time I listened to Throbbing Gristle was the first time I got trolled in music. Because I listened to this album that they had, 20 Jazz Funk Greats, and I thought that shit was a library record. I thought it was some generic shit and I put it on and the first song is like a trap beat down there and I’m just like – how did they make this in 1979?! Like what was going on? I find them interesting because they push the art in a way that’s weird as fuck but it still makes sense and it’s catchy. It just really strikes a chord with me because it’s as harsh as it needs to be, and sometimes it’s as droney as it needs to be.

And what about ODB? He’s kind of all over Veteran.

JM: What can you say about ODB? He’s the original. Before the internet even was a platform, ODB was as weird as any Soundcloud rapper is today – but he wasn’t doing it for any attention or anything. He was a genuine weirdo. So I think ODB should be appreciated, especially in this era where we really gravitate towards strange people.

What do you think of the current climate in rap – Soundcloud rappers and all?

JM: I think we’re in the golden age of hip hop. I think this is the best era because there’s so much you can do, there’s something for everybody here, and I think that should be appreciated. It will be, because everything is eventually. When Golden Era rap was happening it was the same shit that they’re saying now – like, ‘Man we miss rap from the 80s’. In 20 years people will be like ‘Fuck – I miss all the Soundcloud rap!’ but right now some people hate it. I live very much in the present, I appreciate all the good rap.

So much rap right now is really sad. But with you I wouldn’t say what you’re doing is sad so much as it is kind of nihilistic?

JM: Extremely. I feel like what you’re hearing on my record is indifference. A lot of times there’s nothing I can do about some of these situations, they’re just what the situations are, so I’m dealing with it as it comes to me. So I would say nihilistic is a good word to describe it.

You wrote that track, ‘I Might Vote 4 Donald Trump’ and the message seemed to be that the whole system is fucked so it doesn’t really matter who gets elected. But then at the same time you look at what the Trump administration is actually like, and what’s actually happening – surely you have to have some kind of optimism that even if the system is fucked, it would still have been better with a Bernie Sanders at the helm of it?

JM: In my opinion? Yes, it would be better. But my point wasn’t so much ‘everything is fucked’. I know we need to vote in order to get shit done. My thing was more that this specific candidate is a joke and he is a representation of how fucked the system is, because this guy is now being considered and can win. So I was like, ‘I might vote for him’ because this is the candidate that America deserves – this is literally America personified: a big, racist white dude who just doesn’t care about anything and has too much money to be harmed by any reputation-smearing incident. It’s just some goofy shit. He’s an objectively bad person, he’s shit, but for some people? They just voted for [him] because he says racist shit every two weeks so they were like, ‘Good for me! that’s all I need.’

Racism in the UK is perhaps more insidious than what happens in the States, but it’s very much here. Do you think there’s at least something to be said about the fact that the conversation is being had relatively openly in the States right now?

JM: Yeah, absolutely! Two, three years ago, no one was talking about this shit. No one cared – I don’t remember seeing any conversation about black people, people of colour, women, gay people, anything. So now I’m happy that there’s at least a conversation to be had – I looked at the Grammys and they put women and people of colour all in the front: ‘We celebrate n////s, we celebrate women!’ It’s a fucking PR thing because it’s a thing to do now, but you have to go to those extremes to balance shit out. So when a woman wins something no one has to be like, ‘Oh! We are so open-minded we love girls!’ or ‘Oh! We’re so open-minded we love black people, look how many we nominated!’, it can just be actual equality.

Are you being provocative or a bit of a contrarian when you do things like wrapping yourself in the Confederate flag?

JM: Not even [slightly]. People misinterpret things I’m doing as provocative because they have no basis. I was in the military. We handle flags, and anyone who knows shit about a flag, especially confederate people, knows you’re not supposed to do anything other than fly it as a flag. So you putting your ass on a flag, wiping it, putting it on your body is [a sign of] disrespect. So I’m actually just sending a shot to racists. But people who have no basis will look at that and say, ‘Oh yeah, JPEG is being edgy’ – but it’s not my job to police how people think. I just like that the people who have the information react a certain way and the people who don’t react another way. I just put shit out there and however you react is how you react. I’m rarely doing this stuff with no purpose to be honest.

Is there anything that you learnt while in the military that you still apply to your career?

JM: I developed a rigorous work ethic with my music when I was in the air force, so I’ve retained that. But the main thing I took from the air force is that there’s some shitty ass people in the world. And a lot of shitty ass people are protected by a lot of power. It made me realise that sometimes doing everything the right way will not yield the right results. Sometimes you have to do things the wrong way in order to do the right thing. Other than that, I didn’t really learn much in the air force, nothing I didn’t already know: white dudes are annoying as shit, everyone hates black people… I knew that years before I joined the military, so no, not much.

You make a lot of pop cultural references but do you have any desire to be more of a part of that mainstream of pop culture?

JM: Um… no, not really. I have interest in it in that I would like to participate in it just to be an observer, but no I don’t want to walk the red carpet and have my privacy invaded all the time. Absolutely not, no. Not even close. But I would like to go to the Grammys and be extremely high and wear a thong or something. Just be there and be like ‘Yeah. This is me at the Grammys.’ That would be fuego.

Muy fuego. How have you found living in LA versus Baltimore?

JM: It’s a lot nicer in LA. It looks nicer and it’s not as grim. It’s a lot happier, the weed is a lot better – allegedly.


JM: Allegedly. Personally, I’ve never smoked. I don’t do drugs – when Nancy Reagan said, ‘Say no to drugs’, I said, ‘Absolutely, Nancy!’ [Laughs] But yeah, the people is the biggest difference. The people in Baltimore are what makes Baltimore Baltimore. So those people aren’t here. That’s the main difference, other than that I really enjoy the flashiness of it. Even if I don’t particularly enjoy participating in the flashiness of it I just enjoy being an observer.

Is there anything else that you want people to know about you, about Veteran? A final quote?

JM: I don’t want anyone to interpret my music a certain way, or to think that I want them to interpret it a certain way – I want you to take what you want and react to it exactly how you want because I’m an advocate for free thinking and free speech – I feel like the Klan has the right to do whatever they want, and march wherever they want, just as much as I have the right to do what I want. I just also have the right to slap the shit out of the Klan if I see them. And they have the right to react how they want to react. Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences, I guess is what I want people to take away from it.

But do you not think that there’s a difference between freedom of speech and freedom of hate speech?

JM: Well there’s a blurry line – and yeah, because you can do anything, so that’s just free speech. You can do whatever the fuck you want. If you hate black people? Whatever, I don’t care. Just know that if you hate black people in my presence, I’m going to have a reaction as well, and you can’t get mad at that either, because I have the freedom to do that. So I feel like this is the best outlook, at least for me, because I don’t have time to cherry pick racist white people from non-racist white people. So a lot of times in my music I just blanket throw shit out there, because that’s how it was given to me. When I watch Fox news and they say something about [us] or I watch a n//*/a getting shot on TV by a cop, and they say, ‘What about black on black crime? Black people need to get it together!’ They’re not specifying. They’re just blanketing an entire [group of people], so I’m doing the same thing back to them, and watching them not be able to take it when I’ve taken it for 28 years, you feel me? Freedom of speech, not freedom from consequences. I’m a big advocate of that. So. Yeah. That’s my quote.

JPEGMAFIA plays Le Guess Who? festival in Utrecht on the weekend of November 8 – 11

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