JPEGMAFIA’s EP2! is not a direct sequel to his EP! which was released in November of 2020 and represented a compilation of singles that Peggy had dropped through the course of the year. The similarities between the releases begin and end with the title and the artist who released them, and that’s it. While EP! felt like the young upstart rapper, progressively powering up his noisy nuanced performances and transforming them into their final, planet-pranking form, EP2! deescalates this delinquent ascension to embark on a different path.
JPEGMAFIA’s EP2! is the product of a period of isolation and self-imposed, self-sufficiency. In December of 2020, the songwriter and producer sequestered himself in a room and positioned his brain between a stack of synthesizers and a computer with some recording equipment on it. For three weeks he burrowed into the wormholes and molehills of his mind, scraping out clawfuls of nutrient-rich clay until he hit a placid reserve of, clean, desalinated water in which to float and think, like a mythic turtle-sage… or Tony Montana recovering on a floaty in an inground pool from a binge the night before. In the latter example, the drug of choice from which he required a reprieve is the rush of life itself… the most potent and deadly drug of them all. One with a 100% fatality rate. It might drive you crazy before it kills you, but it will most certainly kill you. These are the hard facts.
JPEGMAFIA’s EP2! can be understood as a sabbatical in search of a better state of mind. It’s certainly an understandable development after the year most of us had. The beginning of a period of total disruption of the normal cycles of life, punctuated by lockdowns and civil unrest, the first, necessarily politicized, and the second met by purposeful misunderstanding by some and self-flattering displays of “solidarity” by others. It was a bad year, that exposed a lot of ourselves, to ourselves. The defining miseries of which continue to be the most potent characteristics of our present (and will be for the foreseeable future), as much as we might like to pretend otherwise. When you can’t change the world, the next best thing you can do is attempt to be the change you want to see in the world. This usually requires a period of hermetic seclusion, which as fate would have it, is one of the few things that pandemic conditions can accommodate.
Mental well being has increasingly been a comfortable topic for hip hop artists to explore. And like the discussions that surrounded rock artists who embraced similar topics of depression and alienation in the past, there is a tendency in the press to attribute the success of a rapper’s work to the inner turmoil that their work examines. This is of course, untrue. You don’t have to suffer for your art, and suffering doesn’t make your art good. The quality of the songwriting and balanced production on EP2! is the product of someone putting things together in their head and using their skills to process emotions, not the result of a psychic unraveling. The tunes you will find here are easily some of the sturdiest sounding tunes JPEGMAFIA has composed, and while they have that lo-fi, gritty, garage-floor scrapings feel that so many of us love about his work, they also exhibit a sense of progression that his more wild, and more meme-able, material lacked.
Probably the best example of this new, more centered form is “Fix Urself!” where JPEGMAFIA rattles off swift and decisive bars about his unwillingness to take the bait of red and bloody, beef toss in front of him by strivers trying to drag him down with their drama, delivered over slightly bent, brassy synths and warped, guitar chord mimicking, sonic contortions. On tracks like “This One for Us!” JPEGMAFIA enters a frictionless, funk and r’nb bubble bath, full of self-affirming rhymes that tickle your sense like jacuzzi jets, pleasures dutifully offset by periodic sprays of firm-foamy truth, shot in sudsy spirts, directly into your eyes. Most emblematic for his mindset on this album though, is “Keltec!,” a snarling, lo-key, breath-of-fire, that barbeques industry pressure-mongering and the soul-deadening compression of commerce in general, a track that ends with the Veteran’s Association benefit help line’s hold recording. A chilling way to conclude the track as people die every year waiting on this line for aid that the government promised them in exchange for their service.
The message here is clear. All promises made to you have been lies. No help is on the way. You either fix it yourself, or it won’t get fixed. And that includes what’s gone wrong inside your own head.