The New Face of Experimentalist Rap

JPEGMAFIA sleeping. Photo courtesy of Spotify

JPEGMAFIA sleeping. Photo courtesy of Spotify

Matéo Hunter, Reporter

The face of today’s rap is constantly changing. Some consider it to be Drake, while others believe it is Kendrick Lamar or even still Ye. In any case, they all represent what we hear on the radio or mainstream rap. As this subgenre of rap grows popular, it has also brought other subgenres with it to the light. Experimentalist hip-hop or rap is a genre that tries to break the barriers of the mainstream rap mold and it has grown very quickly in recent years due to the New York native artist, JPEGMAFIA.

JPEGMAFIA, also known as Barrington DeVaughn Hendricks, is a retired veteran turned rap artist who mixes his dark-sounding voice with highly-produced beats to truly break the bounds of current rap. One of the albums that ensures his dominance is EP2!. It is a near-perfect album that demonstrates his understanding of musical complexity and rap knowledge. 

The first song, “LAST DANCE!”, begins with an otherworldly feeling synthesizer before it is cut by lofi-like drums. JPEGMAFIA starts singing on the track about his life in Baltimore and as the beat starts to solidify, he raps about the issues of the industry capitalizing off of Black artists.

The next songs are “INTRO!” and “FIX URSELF!” where “INTRO!” is a short introduction to the main song. A distorted trumpet is overlapped with a clear powerful brass sound that creates an uncomfortable feeling of tones until they meet together with a piano to create a melody. Hendricks then enters “INTRO!” with snippets of lyrics from the successive song in a foreshadowing manner. When the song ends, it immediately cuts to “FIX URSELF!” and while not changing the melody, the key changes to remove its previous discomfort. This new track is about JPEGMAFIA’s struggles in relationships and his questioning of sexuality. The lyrics, “I went from nothin’ to sluttin’, it wasn’t easy, babe/Shoutout my babes and my husband, I love y’all equally/Every mornin’ I body shame, I can’t stand my face,” show his sadness and how he is not happy with his past decisions.

“KELTEC!” is the next song on the album where Hendricks talks about his music and him just being him. He talks about him not needing praise and being very cautious of predators in the industry trying to make money off of his sound. The production is very relaxed with a synthesizer playing repeated chords and a simple drum-and-bass. This song is largely focused on JPEGMAFIA owning all of his music and how his “haters”, including other rappers, are “slaves” to the industry.

A few songs later and the final song on the album, “FEED HER!”, is JPEGMAFIA’s best example of his experimentalist style. It begins with raw snaps and clicks from a human that contrasts the drum and bass. He talks about what inspires him, which is simply his love for music and how he is proud of him doing it all on his own.

These songs and the popularity of this album brought experimentalist rap to a new light. Criticism of this genre is at large, arguing that it is changing rap for the worse. Nonetheless, JPEGMAFIA is at the center of it all and becoming the new face of experimentalist rap.