Friday, February 2, 2018

JPEGMAFIA - Veteran Review

Much like how success in business can be derived from who you know, recognition in music comes from exposure. The quality of the music can only take you so far. If publications, listeners, other artists, marketers in the biz don't buy into your product, there's no hope escaping what's, at best, a niche crowd. It is, after all, the only reason myself, and hundreds of others, heard about Barrington Hendricks, otherwise known as JPEGMAFIA. That, of course, through the positive review given by Youtube's most popular music reviewer Anthony Fantano. Typically, I wouldn't make the review about this, but moments into Veteran, on '1539 N. Calvert,' Hendricks flaunts that he "needs a bitch with long hair like Myke C Town" (famed music reviewer of Dead End Hip-Hop). From the get-go, Hendricks knows his prospective crowd and how to attract them. The left field production leaning on eccentricity, the welcomed embrace of Internet meme fandom, the wavering political ideologies, and the constant criticisms of online critique culture certainly helps too. Veteran panders with the subtlety of a lead balloon, succeeding not from his commitment to alternative trends, but for his talents that are finally being spread amongst the masses.

To understand JPEGMAFIA's delirium, one must accept that inspiration is key. With no context, his erratic shifts through modern day Hip-Hop, with the addition of Alternative R&B, Wonky, Sound Collage, and Noise, would veer into amateur senselessness. However, Veteran's an all-consuming piece, one that acts as an easter egg hunt for Abstract Hip-Hop fans, much like a video containing a plethora of A-list celebrities meant to ooh and awe. Let's riffle through them. 'Real Nega' pounces through tribal drums relentlessly, much like the meltdowns by Danny Brown on Atrocity Exhibition. 'Baby I'm Bleeding' combats articulative one-liners a la Childish Gambino when he raps. '1539 N. Calvert' and 'Macaulay Culkin' treat conscious lyrics as lighthearted melodrama similar to Brockhampton. 'Germs' wipes grime on the walls like Father and his salacious ways. Hell, Bobbi Rush's contributions on the first half of the woozy 'DD Form 214' sound like a futuristic Kelela. And lastly, Lil Ugly Mane can be seen everywhere, in all Travis Miller's various incarnations. 'Rainbow Six's' abrasive filth recalls the era of Mista Thug Isolation, 'Dayum' acts as a fleeting interlude off Third Side Of Tape, and 'Curb Stomp' untethers violent emotion much like Oblivion Access, and especially that album's closer 'Intent & Purulent Discharge.'

This is to say that, yes, JPEGMAFIA borrows greatly from others who came before. At the same time though, throughout Veteran, the antagonistic emcee gives his voice purpose that separates. Left field conjurers typically eschew widespread popularity because of their unorthodox quirks in production or their meticulous penmanship. This applies to Hendricks as well. However, his extra layer comes in the form of the views he expresses. Track titles are handled with blunt assertiveness, regardless of whether they're handling lighthearted matter ('My Thoughts On Neogaf Dying') or something more serious ('I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies'). Much like how meme culture handles, well, everything with little sincerity, JPEGMAFIA treats his topics with an equal dose of mockery, unprofessionalism, and nonchalance. Lines like "word on the street you a libtard, heard rape makes you get hard" ('Libtard Anthem'), "piss same color as Logic" ('1488'), and "Pitchfork told me to never be abusive unless I'm moving units" ('Whole Foods') aim to rattle cages, trigger offenders, and cause an uproar. Not to mention his political views seemingly accept, and rebuke, both sides of the political spectrum. His explicit personality is refreshing, albeit a tad excessive as it correlates too well to the Internet cesspool.

All that's to say, Veteran is a remarkably entertaining listen. Musically, the rampant structuring that diverges on all paths equally bears resemblance to Gambino's unpredictable Before The Internet, an apt comparison given each album's reaction towards the virtual lawlessness festering online. While Glitch Hop dominates the sonic landscape, the cheap synths and crunching Industrial doesn't fully explain the illogical nature by which JPEGMAFIA contorts sounds. One of the best examples of this is Veteran's standout 'Rock N Roll Is Dead,' a fascinating listen that weaves through an endless stream of fluctuating noises, samples, and tones. Here, and elsewhere, Hendricks toys with volume and distortion, going so far as to drop the entire track down to nothingness, only to, less than a second later, bring everything back up. It's as if the bass is, quite literally, a black hole swallowing everything in its path. This curiosity defines his eccentricity, despite never drawing attention to itself throughout. It allows Veteran to retain that Lo-Fi aesthetic, regardless of the fact that the LP's immaculately produced. Problems with Hendricks' occasional lyrical edginess aside, and his poor singing which interrupts the flow every so often, Veteran is an absurd listen that delegates the senselessness of the Internet community to the confines of a 48-minute album.

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