It’s the ad lib that seeps into all of his songs. A moniker a friend gave him after he got her speaking into his mic for an hour one day. Peggy, formerly known as JPEGMAFIA, previously Devon Hendryx, and sometimes just JPEG, is an artist without origin, making music that pulls from all kinds of sources. What he does with all of this is a creation of one of the most jarring, surprising, and downright impressive sounds in music today. Upon listening to his newest release, for the first time three weeks ago, I was taken aback: I had never heard anything that sounded like this before. The beats are complex with samples like no other, with some that are rage–filled and provocative while still being catchy raps. Since I first played that album, I have listened to it every day.
Fortunately, I had the chance to sit down with JPEGMAFIA before his show at Kung Fu Necktie this past week to get to know the man behind my current obsession in music. Sitting back with a DIY jean–jacket riddled with calligraphy and a luminescent green GameBoy Color earring, he seemed confident and ready to take on the night, despite having his car towed a few hours earlier in New York. What I learned from this conversation is that JPEGMAFIA is an artist with big ambitions who is creating a culture that is not afraid to speak its mind on the issues we are often too afraid to address.
After a short conversation about DC Comics, how "Sriracha" is overplayed, and his sleeve of anime/video–game tattoos, he began to share how he sees the punk culture with which he identifies.
“Punk to me is doing things yourself by all means. What encompasses that right now? Hip–hop.”
The presence of " is one aspect JPEG cannot stand in the rap culture of today. “When you pull up on them, they call the cops. That’s not what punks do. I’m punk; these ***** are bitch–made.”
His tough and unapologetic personality is something he touts proudly, but is rooted in a painful past. Growing up in Flatbush, New York and moving to Alabama at the impressionable age of 13, JPEG’s childhood experiences are filled with painful memories of racism.
“What I learned is that no one gives a fuck about you at all...I did all of my feeling sorry for myself when I was 13—14, but then I got over that shit and realized no one is going to give me shit. It’s been like that ever since. No one walked me through it. That’s why I’m so unapologetic. If I can take that at 13, then you can take me calling you a c***a every now and then.”
He takes this pain into his music. He delivers powerful lyrics that are clear statements of his thoughts. He lets his heart out on a track. Whether you agree with it or not, it is some of the most honest music coming out today. On songs like arguably one of the funniest and most polarizing song titles currently streaming, he calmly raps at the start:
“Tom, Varg, Morrissey
Bunch of timid white (BLEEP)
Who can’t fuck with me
My daddy told me these white (BLEEP) can’t keep a key
Fifth in his face
Got him singing C.”
Clearly, JPEGMAFIA does not beat around the bush. His blatant statements about the abundant racism he sees in our culture is his way of combating it.
"Rock 'n' roll is dead!" he shouts on his album, just as he shouts it in between songs as his concert goes on—a conversation in an intimate gathering that turned into one of the hypest concerts I have ever witnessed. JPEG is not shy to criticize. Through humorous, yet harsh lines such as the one above, he creates a satirical persona that addresses tough issues in a way that people can get behind.
“People who get satire as a form of protest, they get it; they don’t take themselves so seriously that they can’t joke around with things, ya know?...I like to use the rebel flag, I walk around with it because I’m disrespecting it. In the military you learn the importance of flags. For me, it is satire about something that is serious.”
The future looks bright for JPEG. He plans to continue making ridiculous beats using ridiculous sounds like the guttural throat noises on pulled from an . He used my pen at one point, clicking it rapidly to show me how he recorded the rattle–like percussion on That is just one of the many organic sounds he constantly produces, as he “tries not to be reliant on any one thing.” He admires the Soundcloud musicians of today, and is eager to one day work with people like Arca, Bjork, Kanye, and even, if the opportunity arose, George Bush. Needless to say, he has no boundaries when it comes to music; he will use anything and everything to manifest his emotions.
To conclude, if you aren’t listening to JPEGMAFIA, you should be. He is making music that sounds like no one else's today, with lyrics that make you question your own beliefs while getting you hype at the same time. He identifies with hip–hop, but has clear instances of country, techno, and rock layered throughout his sound. He is a humbled artist, constantly working towards improving his music and live performances as he realizes, “just because something works, doesn’t mean it can’t be better.” His only boasts are in broad statements criticizing the backwards world in which we live. After talking to him and then experiencing one of the most exhilarating 30–minute sets of my life, I am excited to see where his career takes him as I only see an upward trajectory. May more bonkers music follow the path which he is paving for himself.
JPEGMAFIA all caps, no spaces.