If 2020 was the year of chaos, then 2021 is the year of closure. Normalcy finally feels like it is within our reach after months of uncertainty, and at the culmination of all the challenges and obstacles we faced is a newfound acceptance of ourselves. After years of creating wild sounds and high–energy beats, JPEGMAFIA begins 2021 like the rest of us—trying to develop stability within himself in an unstable world.
Released as a collection of songs made during quarantine, JPEGMAFIA’s new EP EP2! is a distinct entity from his previous works. His mixtape Communist Slow Jams established his identity as a rapper who knew no bounds, and the subsequent debut album black ben carson solidified his niche as a maximalist hip–hop artist. While his past albums Veteran and All My Heroes Are Cornballs feature even more unpredictable structures and experimental production, EP2! ventures into more familiar melodic territory accompanied by a softer sound.
Opening the first track “LAST DANCE!” is a soothing steel drum, an appropriate instrument to introduce JPEGMAFIA’s new style. With additional elements such as distorted drums, horns, and his signature auto–tuned voice slowly added to the production, the song evolves into what one would typically expect from the glitch–hop artist. The sense of uneasiness from his own work is still there, just subdued to reflect the darker undertones present throughout the EP. As he exclaims, “Since I bought a Glock, no more drama in my life,” JPEGMAFIA establishes his individuality while also tapping into his vulnerability. Although a material possession gives him protection, JPEGMAFIA is still very much searching within himself, trying to find his comforts in a place away from his fans and his critics.
“INTRO!” and “FIX URSELF!” go even further into the low–key cloud rap theme. Originally combined into one single, the two tracks are now sonically split by a deep bass line that seems to gradually build until it suddenly stops. It lurks in the background as a constant pulse, similar to the feelings JPEGMAFIA expresses throughout “FIX URSELF!.” In the pre–chorus, he says, “Every morning I body shame, I can’t stand my face,” showing that any mirror is a nagging reminder that he still can’t accept himself. No matter how much JPEGMAFIA can boast that “My success killing all of my exes” for instance, he is still trying to find peace within his inner self. What might seem to be a highly extroverted personality can still be someone who needs time to soul search, and JPEGMAFIA attempts to highlight this point throughout the EP.
As JPEGMAFIA continues to open up about his life and his personal struggles, he reminds himself of his Air Force past on “KELTEC!” Named after a firearms brand, the track features heavy synthesizers and warped beats that create an uneasy feeling of disturbed tranquility. This permeates through the verses and chorus until the instrumentation is abruptly replaced with a robotic voice that states, “All representatives are assisting other veterans,” a haunting reminder of the stress veterans face. In an interview with The Guardian, JPEGMAFIA described his time in the military as “extremely scary” and “isolating.” It’s clear that he is still grappling with this part of his life. Even his everyday relationships are tainted by his past feelings of seclusion, but this does not stop him from looking deeper and reconciling his inner and outer selves.
JPEGMAFIA turns to more global and political issues on “THIS ONES FOR US!” as he discusses racism perpetuated by the media, but these issues are still relevant to his life. He recalls his time looking for a job, saying, “Black, beautiful, and damn, I’m gifted / You being white just got you that position.” Affected by stereotypes within the music industry, the rapper presents his frustrations with a difficult life, veiled in a wider attack on the predominantly white reporters and news channels. This is yet another glimpse into a more vulnerable artist who is typically unabashed and brazen, and there is no doubt that his identity is even more complex than what he tells us on EP2!.
While old fans may be disappointed in JPEGMAFIA’s new style, EP2! is the artist’s successful first attempt to show off his other dimensions. Despite being only around 17 minutes long, the EP still manages to encapsulate the intricacies of JPEGMAFIA’s persona. More than anything, EP2! is the product of a mid–pandemic mindset. JPEGMAFIA is more personal than ever, trading in his past pompous grandeur for somber introspection and allowing fans to understand the mastermind behind one of the most avant–garde and innovative artists today. Finally, it’s as much of an EP for us, the listeners, as it is for him; through his stream of consciousness style rapping, he is finally able to find peace and closure within himself.