Features \

Digital Crate Digging: JPEGMAFIA on Anime Soundtracks, Lost Albums, and Rick Rubin

Across three proper albums and a handful of mixtapes, JPEGMAFIA has spun internet-age anxiety into music that provokes and incites. The Baltimore-bred rapper and producer born Barrington Hendricks folds elements of trap, vaporwave, R&B, and post-ironic noise rap into an unholy amalgam, carving out a distinct sound even as he rejects conventions of genre. The beats may be unwieldy, and the flows disorienting, but the anarchic sensibility is unmistakable. You always know it’s Peggy—as Hendricks sometimes calls himself—even if you don’t know anything else.

He’s an omnivorous and opinionated listener, immersing himself in artists as diverse as David Behrman and Hillary Duff and drawing oblique intuitive connections between them. Though he doesn’t concern himself with homage or imitation, he acknowledges that the music he absorbs during the writing and recording process contributes to his “own little space”—the mindset from which he begins work. “I kind of compartmentalize influence,” he told Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy in a recent promotional video for his third album, All My Heroes Are Cornballs, released September 13. Tweedy echoed the sentiment: “I don’t think influence should ever be overt.”

All My Heroes Are Cornballs turns away from the violent blasts of noise that characterized his breakthrough project, last year’s Veteran, focusing instead on whacked-out melodies and vibrant, unplaceable beat constructions. “BUTTERMILK JESUS TYPE BEAT,” one of many impeccably absurd titles on an album that also contains “Kenan vs. Kel” and “Post Verified Lifestyle,” builds off lucid piano and spacious drum programming before sputtering out with an arresting squeal. “Grimy Waifu” channels a meticulous, synthetic instrumental as a backdrop for rhymes about Tempur-Pedic. No two tracks sound alike, and yet they’re all of a piece. The influence is never overt.

Given the sheer range of sounds he works with, JPEGMAFIA made an ideal candidate for SPIN’s Digital Crate Digging feature—a series of freewheeling interviews about music discovered and listened to on the internet. While past interviewees went straight to Soundcloud or YouTube for conversational prompts, Peggy opted to mine his own extensive Apple Music library, offering insightful, unapologetic, and frequently hilarious commentary on each track. Our journey took us through recent critical favorites and past cult classics, with detours toward Peggy’s own All My Heroes Are Cornballs demos, his experiences with Rick Rubin, and more.

“If I wasn’t making music I’d still be listening to it and talking about it,” he tells SPIN. “That’s why I’m able to chill with Denzel Curry and then Jeff Tweedy, because the thing that’s linking us is music. I have nothing in common with either one of them niggas, really. But the music keeps us centered.”

1. Lana Del Rey – “Venice Bitch” 

JPEGMAFIA: Gotta get around to this Lana Del Rey album. I haven’t listened to it. I just listened to “Venice Bitch,” that’s it. She’s great, man. She names songs like I do. “Cum Queen,” shit like that.

SPIN: Does she actually have a song called “Cum Queen”?

I think she does. 

[Ed: She doesn’t, but JPEGMAFIA did fav this Twitter meme about an imaginary Lana Del Rey song with that name.]

2. De La Soul – De La Soul Is Dead

I bought this CD, De La Soul Is Dead, and Stakes Is High, and put ‘em on my computer, because their label won’t let them put it on streaming or something. A young kid has no idea these albums even exist, because they’re not on streaming, and that’s where all your visibility is. If it’s not on streaming it doesn’t exist. So this is like a lost album almost. It’s a classic. This is like the first rap concept album ever.

3. The Knife – Old Dreams Waiting to Be Realized 

This song is like 20 minutes and it has no music and nothing happens. It’s just this.

Some of these albums just got lost in the shuffle. No one really remembers Shaking the Habitual, but it’s really good. These are the kind of albums that somebody ten years from now will find it and it will change everything. Like the Velvet Underground album, the banana shit. Nobody gave a fuck about that shit when it came out, probably. But like 20 years later, niggas like, “Damn, that shit slappin’.”

4. Lil B – “Sexy Boy Based Freestyle”

Your Lil B Collection is extensive.

This is not even—I have all his tapes, I even have the 500… the 500 whatever.

I was too scared to download that.

Yo, I downloaded the whole thing, that shit is hilarious. He has a song on there called “Heartbreak Kid,” and it’s just like this wrestler’s theme song. But he didn’t do anything to it. He just put the wrestler’s theme song on there. And it’s just like the name of the song. And then the next song is the same song, but he’s rapping over it. And it’s named the same thing. I don’t even, like—I’ve never listened to the whole thing, but if you actually just sit and listen to that for a while it gets mad weird.

[Ed: It’s apparently called “Sexy Boy,” which is the title of Shawn “The Heartbreak Kid” Michaels’s entrance music.]

5. Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz – “Who U Wit” 

The whole crunk era—I look at it kind of different now. All the beats are so like, “What the hell is going on?” This album was out in 2001. It does sound dated, but like… and this cover? What the fuck? I wore the confederate flag in 2015 for a specific reason, and people would try to call me edgy. I’m like, bro.

Lil Jon’s been doing it.

It’s the internet. It’s like niggas with no info got everything to say. It’s like, nigga we have the internet, you can literally Google this shit. Stop being dumb. There’s no reason to be dumb anymore. Wikipedia that shit or something.

That’s a theme on your new album too, even in the song titles, just things that people say on the internet. Like on “Beta Male Strategies.”

It’s like the idea, the beta male. It’s a hot topic right now, because they keep shooting up schools and shit. So I think it’s interesting to take their language and use it in my own way, strip it away from them. They don’t know what they’re doing with it, they have nothing to really be mad about. They’re just corny and entitled. So I don’t mind mocking them. 

I really hope all them niggas die, yo. Like, anybody who gets offended by my shit. If anybody hears my shit and gets offended by it—it’s literally supposed to do that. I’m drawing you out. So when a nigga come to me and they be like, “I don’t like your lyrics, I like your beats,” I’m like, you’re literally racist, my nigga. I know what you’re trying to tell me, you’re trying to say you don’t like how much I say cracker. It’s all good! I get it. But you’re a bitch. You need to be more honest with yourself.

JessicaXie_JPEGMAFIA_SPIN-web-02-1569867387
CREDIT: Jessica Xie for SPIN

6. The Beach Boys – Smile 

This album was made in the ‘60s, but I think Brian Wilson went crazy, or he couldn’t handle the pressure or something, so he stopped making the album in the middle of it and never finished it. And it didn’t get released until 2011. So it was kind of a lost album, and people bootlegged it and shit.

This album’s incredible. I probably listened to it more than anything when I was making my album. But I’ve been trying to avoid saying that, because—especially for, like, an old white nigga—as soon as you say I was influenced by it, they’ll be like, “Oh, Brian Wilson produced your album. He literally is the reason it exists. You literally copied him.” You know what I’m saying? But I wasn’t listening to it to imitate him, I’d heard the album years ago already. I’ve just been returning to it with different ears.

7. JPEGMAFIA – “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am a Thot” (demo version)

I made 94 songs for this album, and I made all these in a certain amount of time. And then I put the ones that were good enough in a playlist and chose from there. These are the demos, so it sounds like ass. Then I had to mix it up. I really know how to engineer. I’m not really the one to be like, I can do this or that, but one thing I know I can fucking do is engineer a record. If I can’t do nothing else, I can do that.

Did your approach change much after Veteran blew up?

I made even more songs for Veteran, actually. 119. But yeah, my process hasn’t really changed at all. The execution has changed, but the foundation of it? No. It’ll change when it needs to.

I saw a picture of you with Rick Rubin. What happened there?

Shit, I played him some beats. And he played me a bunch of crazy shit. He’s produced everything from “Baby Got Back” to Johnny Cash. It was really surreal. I still don’t really believe it happened, to be honest. We chilled, and he played me a bunch of Comethazine songs. It was so random. But it was fire. He just loves music. Like me, if I wasn’t making music, I’d still be listening to it, and talking about it, and whatever.

Rick Rubin is interesting. He doesn’t wear shoes, I think? No wait, he wears shoes. He’s like a old school hippie type nigga. He’s very zen. You can tell he’s very objective, he doesn’t have a bias towards anything. And that’s the type of person you need around, really. I understand why people cling to him, outside of just his talent with production and engineering. He brings everything level. And the music is threading him through everything. That’s why he can work with Jay-Z, and Slayer, and Johnny Cash, and whoever else, and LL Cool J.

I want to be like that, man. I want to be like the old black Rick Rubin when I’m his age. Just flying niggas out everywhere and being like, [terrifying Rick Rubin voice] “Yo, I like your music, my nigga… you wanna hear some Comethazine?” Nah, I’m just playing.

There are crazy sounds all over the place on your album. How much do you deal with samples? And how do you find these sounds? Where do you even start?

For me, sampling is a high art. Most people don’t see it that way, but it’s a beautiful thing. I wouldn’t know anything about music if it wasn’t for samples. My entire interest in any kind of music deeper than rap was from sampling. I discovered all these old records that they sampled, and it breathes new life into shit sometimes, man.

But lately I’ve been leaning away from just sampling straight records. Samples are annoying as shit. I’m very fiercely independent, with music especially. The idea that I have to go ask somebody permission for some shit I made—it’s like, fair, because they made it and I used the shit. But that power being in some other person’s hands, who then has to judge me—it’s weird. I would rather not do that ever again, lowkey. 

I had to clear a couple samples for this one. There’s like two samples on there. And yeah, I’ll never do that shit again. It just strips the joy of music away. People have dumbass reasons for not clearing shit. It’s just like, “You said ‘fuck,’ you can’t use my record,” or something. That’s not my particular case, but I’ve seen that happen. For me, it’s not even a money thing, it’s just that the people will straight say no.

If you ever hear me with an obvious-ass sample again, like the “Real Nega” sample or something, it’s probably going to end up on Soundcloud somewhere. I won’t put it on DSPs. I’ll still sample and put shit out, but I’m not begging no more old white people to use their songs. They can keep all them shits and die with ‘em. Fuck ‘em. Never again.

JessicaXie_JPEGMAFIA_SPIN-web-03-1569867374
CREDIT: Jessica Xie for SPIN

8. Mort Garson – Plantasia 

This album is so weird. I’m guessing Pitchfork reviewed this or something, some blog put this up somewhere. Because every nigga at once started listening to this, and sent it to me. I’m like, all you niggas did not just discover this random plant album at once. Someone put this somewhere.

I think Sacred Bones reissued it.

Ah, that makes sense. Like, DJ Dahi was bumping it. I was like, how did you get it?

9. Kenji Kawai – Ghost in the Shell original score

I love soundtracks. I used to have three iPod classics: one with regular music, one with soundtracks, and one with demos on it. I really fucking like music bro. It’s not a game. I have like 20 gigs of music in hard drives. I like the Ghost in the Shell soundtrack.

There’s a wave of anime-core trap music now, too.

Yeah, trap songs with anime samples and shit. I think it would be more interesting to just make something akin to the floaty emptiness in those anime songs, try to imitate it, rather than just loop ‘em up and throw trap shit over it. But that’s cool too, to be honest. In Baltimore, we used to do that as a joke. “Yo, load up the Rurouni Kenshin soundtrack, we’re about to fucking flip the whole thing.”

10. Killdozer – Intellectuals Are the Shoeshine Boys of the Ruling Elite  

Ok, that’s the last one. Killdozer. I think Kurt Cobain used to listen to them a lot. They’re a band from the mid-’80s, and when they sing they sound like they’re doing like an Irish play or something. It’s an acquired taste, but I like this raw mid-’80s punk. There’s something very genuine and scratchy that the punk from that era sounds like. Bad Brains and all that shit. They really wanted to, like, kill Michael Jackson, or something. They wanted to be the opposite of whatever was—Madonna, all that shit. This is true counterculture.