JPEGMAFIA All My Heroes Are Cornballs 8/10

All My Heroes Are Cornballs


JPEGMAFIA aka just JPEG or ‘Peggy’ (Barrington DeVaughn Hendricks) follows up 2016’s breakout LP Veteran with another innovative album full of intense rhymes, emotions and beats. Peggy’s genius is to be completely free within his compositions: to rap, sing, lay out some soulful grooves and then smack them down moments later with some banging beats and random blasts of noise. All in the same song, or even within a single minute of the same song. You’re a guest in Peggy’s world when you put on All My Heroes.

The production draws from a palette of rap, soul, noise, rock and punk all in one. The first thing that hits you listening to his music is the schizophrenic nature of how the sounds shift and change rapidly, with soft and loud elements tightly juxtaposed to create a fascinating musical tapestry for his rapping and singing, and many tracks with two or three different parts within one short song. This may drive some listeners up the wall, but if you’re not shy of some experimental and cut-up production, singing and rapping, then there’s plenty to savour in All My Heroes, one of the most striking releases of the year.

Peggy brings the anger on many of the tracks, spitting lyrics about guns, cops, violence, indifferent politicians, internet trolls and other topics that confront African Americans daily. His experiences as a teenager growing up in Alabama, then a military career in the U.S. Army, have certainly given him a lot to rail against.

Standout tracks include Rap Grow Old And Die X No Child Left Behind, Free The Frail, Papi I Missed U and the title track, among others. But really, the whole LP experience washes over you like a kaleidoscope of sounds and feelings, alternating abrasive and confronting, then turning to laid back contemplation at the drop of a hat.

Free the Frail is a smooth soulful number, with slow, fat beats and a head nodding swagger. Peggy comments on his place in contemporary music: “Don’t rely on the strength of my image/ Hey if it’s good, then it’s good/ Break it down, the shit is outta my hands”, with guest Helena Deland chiming in “Such a cool chord change” as the track does exactly that. Confident stuff. Rap Grow Old Die continues in this vein, offering this nugget: “Go in like Bobby, end up like Michael/ I guess that it’s just a vicious cycle”, indicating an underlying mistrust of the corporate hit machine.

In some ways, JPEGMAFIA’s jump-cut attention span is a kind of parallel to the, in this case, ‘loud-soft-loud’ format of classic indie rock. The contrast of these hard and soft, sour and sweet axes keeps you constantly off balance as the album plays. Moreover, as the album gravitates towards the intense and experimental, in the end I found the quiet, soulful passages to be the most affecting. Not just out of mere exhaustion, but out of a profound stillness within these tunes that hints at depths yet to be properly plumbed.

Closer Papi I Missed U exemplifies this dynamic, with shredding rhymes over a slow mournful beat, creating an emotional release at the end of the album. Classic.

All My Heroes Are Cornballs is another bold projection from Peggy’s mind, fearlessly presented with jarring production and assured vocal delivery. Given his life experiences and experimental proclivities, it’s probably a little more intense than your average hip hop LP. Nevertheless, Peggy’s music is fully alive and original, pushing avant hip hop to new heights.