JPEGMAFIA - All My Heroes Are Cornballs REVIEW

Writer: Kyle Wheelock

Back in January 2018, Baltimore based rapper JPEGMAFIA (a.k.a. Peggy) released his second commercial album, Veteran. Prior to this, I had never heard anything about JPEGMAFIA or his music; one day I just happened to find myself streaming this album I knew nothing about, but by the end of the fifth track, I was already sold. I’ve already briefly articulated my thoughts on this album and I’d hate to beat a dead horse, but to say Veteran was one of my favorite album of 2018 would be an understatement. Again, I’ve talked about it at length before (and I’m liable to do it again if no one stops me), so I’m only using it to introduce Peggy’s latest project: All My Heroes Are Cornballs.

Unlike with Veteran, I came into this album with prior knowledge. This time around, not only did I know who JPEGMAFIA was, but now I was fan with my own expectations on what another album could/should sound like. And, perhaps more importantly, this time I had some sort of background information on this album and what it would sound like. Over on his YouTube channel, JPEG has a series of videos where he hangs out with other musicians, they talk, he plays them tracks from this new album (though, we don’t get to hear these tracks in full and the footage is edited), and they talk about why/how a track came to be. These videos featured, Kenny Beats, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy (Hannibal Burress also appears), and James Blake, just to name a few.

JPEG’s guests give their feedback about the songs they’ve heard and pick his brain about his thought process, and here something interesting popped up. In both Tweedy and Blake’s episodes, JPEGMAFIA states that he didn’t do any editing, something he did a lot of on Veteran. Initially I was confused by this, what did he mean, how did he not edit any songs? Was everything recorded in one take and just added to the album as is? After a few listens, I think I get what he meant, at least I hope I do. Believe it or not, compared to this album, Veteran was very edited, and a lot more polished; it’s hard to articulate what’s going on in these songs but you know it when you hear it.

Vocals go in and out (seemingly randomly), various elements pop up in places on the beats without warning, such as the distorted, ear-grating guitar on, “Beta Male Strategies,” which jumps in the middle of this otherwise soothing and melodic beat. This pattern happens a lot, the rug gets pulled out from under you at least once a track, yet it never ruins the track. This album is 45-minutes of contradictions; it’s simultaneously rougher around the edges than Veteran, yet it’s smooth and refined in places.

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The tracks are largely less aggressive than Veteran, yet there are still moments that punch you in the mouth like the beat switch on, “Kenan vs. Kel,” or “JPEGMAFIA TYPE BEAT.” But then, on the opposite end of the spectrum you have, “Thot Tactics,” and, “Free The Frail," (featuring Helena Deland), the latter of which is a really beautiful, acoustic track where Peggy addresses the pressures of blowing up in popularity overnight.

The intricacy of the production on these songs can’t be overstated; if Veteran is like a rager of a party, then All My Heroes are Cornballs is the come down to Earth afterwards. By comparison, it’s rawer and more intimate both sonically and vocally. This isn’t to say that Peggy has never said anything of substance before, he’s always openly spoken his mind about any given topic. But on this project he plays a little more with topics like the effect of social media on, “Beta Male Strategies,” and even switches to rap from a woman’s perspective on several songs such as, “Thot Tactics,” and, “BasicBitchTearGas,” which has a really calming interpolation of TLC’s, “No Scrubs,” of all things.

On, “BBW,” (which Peggy flips to mean Black Brian Wilson), we hear bars about death threats and gun violence over a relatively lively, upbeat rock flavored track that, again, simultaneously sounds out of place and fits in where it needs to. It’s difficult to pick out too many moments that really stick out (in a good way) because really, despite it being 18 tracks, All My Heroes Are Cornballs flows beginning to end like one 45-minute piece with different movements in it.

When talking about the title track of the album, Peggy told Apple Music, “Structurally it makes no sense, but thematically it’s the most straightforward song on here…I feel like this one sums up everything because I’m not doing anything weird vocally, I’m singing and then I’m rapping, but the execution of it doesn’t make sense: It starts off one way and I’m singing, and there’s like a long-ass hook where I don’t actually say anything and then there’s like a verse, and then the other hook that comes in is different.” Although he was talking about one specific track, to me this quote very clearly sums up the entire project, and again kind of makes it clear what he meant by calling it unedited.

The songs here appear structureless in their composition, both lyrically and sonically. Despite this, they go together quite easily; on my first listen I couldn’t tell when one song ended and the next one began, and when the album came to an end, I was caught off guard. Compared to Veteran, JPEGMAFIA takes somewhat of a step back from the loud and in your face production that drew Death Grips comparisons (which he is not a fan of), and instead opts for songs that are more melodic but still uniquely him. Much like its predecessor, All My Heroes Are Cornballs has some of the most creative and challenging rap music on it that I’ve ever heard. It’s dense, with a lot of subtle sounds and references jammed into a bunch of short songs, and if you’re looking for something that’s like almost nothing you’ve ever heard before, this album is for you.

TL;DR All My Heroes Are Cornballs is a really great album thanks to JPEGMAFIA’s creative selection and placement of different sounds, and is unlike any other rap album this year.

Highlights: "Jesus Forgive Me, I Am a Thot,” “"Beta Male Strategies," “Thot Tactics,” "Free The Frail," and, "BasicBitchTearGas"