Since two years ago, when this album originally released, there's been numerous points where I've come to hold it as less of a monument and more as an afterthought; that is to say, its striking merits have been slowly smoothed out after days upon days of collective re-listening. Part of myself is upset at that change and how I've come to know this album too much; the other part is ecstatic I ever had the chance to listen to it at all.
JPEGMAFIA and the person behind the name is doubtless many things, but there's only so much to gain from an outside perspective as simply an observer. Without a doubt though, the only truly public piece of him is his art, which has been shown since his 2018 breakout to be nothing short of sincerely confrontational, biting, and truly iconoclastic, something that serves as a near-complete reinvention since his earliest works. There's a punk air about everything he's done to this point, and that's part of what makes this album such an anomaly in his discography; Veteran's clicking rage is a style he seemed to hit a stride in, before completely flipping everything around with All My Heroes Are Cornballs, an alt-pop and r&b set of ballads with simple hints of that experimental edge.
But LP! as an artistic statement feels freer, something that instead of being the slight trailblazers that those 2018 and 2019 works were, is more content to contain similar but more apt messages in a more opulent package. To some extent, each element of the tracklist exemplifies that lavishness. It's an aesthete's dream; it's true jabs of artistic vision, surrounded by production that sounds like a future standard.
And since its initial release, it's been updated, remastered, and altered more than a few times across its runtime—which can no doubt work to diminish some of the original beauty of it as a completed, finished work. But much more often than not, despite my initially mixed reactions, these current changes have served as a very welcome update, an addition to a record that—even if it really didn't need much help at all—has refined a lot of what's here. There's a few spots that might have changed slightly too much for comfort, changing enough as to feel a tad jarring to someone who's grown so fond of that original download they got off of Bandcamp in late 2021—but I digress. It's made re-listening for the sake of this review even more thrilling, sort of airing things out and shining a brighter light on pieces to this artistic puzzle that make it just that little bit more fulfilling. They accentuate what I already loved, sometimes so much that I can't help but admit they're substantial improvements (hello REBOUND!), though most is contained to the mastering and updated low-end, adding just that little bit more bite when it needs to have it.
Its opening quartet, to this day, is one of the most enigmatic to me across his mainline albums; it trades the smooth to brutal switch-up of Veteran and the blaring, acid-trip blends of Cornballs with a two-part dive into trusting only his process, and no one else, with TRUST! and DIRTY!. Both are put to instrumental backings that, compared to anything he's hit out of the gate with, are brooding in their spaces, shining only when he is too, with his own brand of twitching energy only he can pair well with. It's a battered-down, still striving note that marks exactly what this album means coming from him, marked explicitly in the music industry maneuvers mentioned in those Bandcamp liner notes. And he keeps that up with NEMO!, perhaps his wildest, most genuinely fascinating left-hooks ever; to this day, it feels the most opaque of any listen in his catalogue, some kind of unnatural and amorphous glitch. It is just so effortlessly itself, insanely extra for only its own sake, and made for no other reason. END CREDITS! as the fourth of this initial, off-putting ramp of tracks keeps that same energy flowing, but it's maybe the track that I come back to the least. The down-pitched new version gives it a bit more humanity as opposed to its blistering speed in the original mix, but the rock backdrop is still the main step that leaves me interested, as maybe only being consequential for being the last leading step before fully leaning into a sprint.
HAZARD DUTY PAY! is the first lap to follow, the only track of its kind that Peggy has ever made. Its outward statement as showing his fantastical ability to line up a single, never-compromising verse over a chopped soul sample is unreal, the anomaly in his artistry that proves yet another ability in his arsenal—without ever dipping towards some undercurrent of repeating that formula until he's left behind. It is his one track ever made in this vein, and it's done perfectly, proving that he could be perfect at that style too—if only he cared not to push himself, his art, and his vision.
GOD DON'T LIKE UGLY! serves almost as its epilogue, a kind of statement that expands just enough on what this album has hinted towards, pointedly criticizing this cultural space we're in and its content, annoying lack of pioneering as the result of ugly souls. WHAT KINDA RAPPIN' IS THIS? is its second part though, a sequel that may be the best jumping-off point to a newcomer to this whole ethos; it's effortlessly smooth despite the jittery and sparkling synths, with its own eclectic blend of absurdly catchy jargon. It's the track that may be the most effectual at capturing what this album was meant to accomplish, even if specific aspects of its composition are fleshed out better individually on other cuts here.
The following THOT'S PRAYER! is the most wonderfully absurd track on the record, a recontextualized interpolation of a Britney Spears classic, with maybe the smoothest lyrical moments on the project. The ability for an LP like this to veer so far in one direction right back around to the next best thing here is astounding, serving as another difference between it and his other albums. It's a catch-up guessing game of sorts, a beautiful collage that on the surface feels disjointed but shows some amazing depth of talent, more than anything else exemplified by this track alone.
And on that same note, ARE U HAPPY? cuts briefly in, taking a moment for a brief affirmation preceded by a perfectly fitting spoken sample, its meaning mirroring the wordplay to follow. It's needed without a doubt, and maybe the track that has grown on me the most since that first listen two years back, its plucking percussion working beautifully with the panned, swirling melodies and sampled vocals pushing the space of the track. It's needed even more as the preceding, low-key cut before the brutal takedown of REBOUND!, which in its newest, expanded form feels even more deafening, an auditory solar plexus that is the most commanding track here, stealing the reigns and steering towards pure hardcore euphoria. It's just so much, in the most perfect kind of way, with the most effectual beat switch on the project right as DATPIFFMAFIA comes in blazing, just before Peggy's absolutely stellar thirds and fourths to follow.
💯 feels like an aftermath, re-sampling and re-interpreting a Young Dolph classic into a well-made intermission for the project. The track may be a bit weightless, but I think there's a lot to love about its skittering beat work and the smooth, deep synths on it that also grace the other tracks on the record. It's a connecting of the dots towards OG! and DIKEMBE!, two of the most compelling and well-flipped tracks he's ever made. The former's unabashed attitude and the up-beat machismo of Peggy's verse set over a flipped Just-Ice sample is appealing as can be, with just the fact that he up-cycled a hip-hop track from the 80's being astounding. The latter is the track that has been my most consistent listen on the project, flipping a beautiful sample, this time a classic from Stan Getz. The composition is genuinely amazing, marking both Peggy's preternatural ability to morph and mold off-the-beaten-path samples into even more eccentric and thrilling works—along with his mixing and mastering mastery with how dynamic and full his skillset can reach.
TIRED, NERVOUS & BROKE! is his most self-affirming work here, a beautiful exploration of every angle he's hit already with some more stunning production work. Its outro with Kimbra singing alongside him is an absolute gem, hitting upon something after the buzzing and sparkling track preceding it with a wonderfully atmospheric halo. This record is absolutely packed with gems similar to it, with each feeling more unique and sincere than the last—but this stands alone in terms of its perfection in its own specific lane.
With the final quarter in tow, 🔥, NICE!, and BMT! continue the barrage with a sandwich of hardcore hits that definitely lean on the bread, the contents feeling like the main black sheep of the tracklist. In a vacuum, its rumbling background and the newly added extended outro add a bit to its purpose, but it's the moment that cuts up the tracklist in the least appealing way to me—but the bread was always going to be the main selling point. The first of the two is a wonderful follow-up its preceding outro, smoothly ebbing and flowing in a perfectly jittery kind of way, while Peggy waxes and throws nods to Willie Nelson as an outlaw type. BMT!, post-NICE!, follows in the footsteps of his Veteran work with how utterly loud and thunderously abrasive its rhythm matches in stride with his own and the marching that starts it all. It may be a bit simple in its execution, but it's yet another hard-hitting, seething masterclass.
THE GHOST OF RANKING DREAD! is a sort of palette cleanser to that though, returning to the smooth synth croons with the help of a great Tkay Maidza feature, even if her presence is a bit brief and minimal. Peggy's verse contribution is a bit minimized to me now though, especially since what he mentions no longer apply to himself now, but the beat provides a smooth-flowing oasis, just before it completely breaks down in the final leg and offers some of the best instrumental work on the record, yet again. The complete beat change and reconstruction is absurd and completely smile-inducing, its tact outweighing any slight criticisms I have about the track's midsection.
And the final two tracks serve as a kind of mirror image to their enigmatic twin couple at the record's outset, with the former DAM! DAM! DAM! giving us a minute to cool off before more lyrical gems and that synth tone that's come to feel like home for this record to float on—which is, coincidentally, exactly what Peggy keeps doing for this penultimate treat. UNTITLED as the closer, to me, has had another retrospective reappraisal, where it felt a bit weightless at first listen but has come around in an interesting way; its instrumental is completely foreign even as the footer to an LP full of otherworldly experiments, layered in a ludicrously enjoyable way with some of his best lines coming up just as the bell rings.
Even if there's a few, albeit sparse moments that keep me from loving every second of this record, the project as a whole is venturing so far past anything I could've known, resulting in something that's difficult to pin down, with its own unique flavor of risk-taking and sincerity—while still being catchy as all hell.
It may not be futuristic or all that leading towards some new movement, though as a sincere expression I don't think it needs (or wants) to be. At the same time though, it can lean a bit too much on its rebellious, fuck-everyone-else attitude, at times pinning it to others' downfall in a cloying way, while simultaneously rising from the ashes as well. All that to say though, it's a well-wrapped package of effervescent hits, the kind of love child that only a one-of-a-kind artist can make on their own, a mirror-image of their self including everything that makes them a rebellious cynic.
And it makes me smile so much, knowing it's coming from the soul of one person, working on—sincerely—exactly what they want to do, pointedly sick of anything working to the contrary.
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