Picture this; a small venue packed with sweaty college students, drooling and gnawing at the waist for something like chaos, validation, or an all-righteous sound, embodied in one man the audience is craving to see; JPEGMAFIA. Barrington DeVaughn Hendricks is an American rapper, producer, and self-proclaimed experimentalist at 28 years old. His fans know him as JPEGMAFIA, or “Peggy.” Peggy started his rise in 2016 with albums The 2nd Amendment and Black Ben Carson, with hammering, explosive verses and multi-faceted tantrums on tracks like The 27 Club or I Might Vote For Donald Trump. While JPEG was certainly blazing the trail for a new wave of noisy, abrasive hip-hop, it wasn’t until 2018’s album Veteran that many people outside of the experimental rap scene were aware of him.
This September JPEG Mafia performed at The Philamoca; a mausoleum-turned-venue in Philly, where everyone from high school music junkies to Lindsey of Snail Mail lined up to witness something many of them knew would be a night to remember. Someone who never heard of JPEG’s music would be a virgin going to see Madonna: vaguely terrified, and oblivious to the enlightenment ahead. As the opening band played, it was clear what the audience was fiending for. People piled in, and JPEG showed himself. The small venue became smaller, shrinking down until the walls were the shoulders of those next to you, and suddenly the crowd was one being, moving in synchronized motions, like waves of heavenly bodies, and the music began.
It was like being by a car. When the music can’t get any louder, think again, and bring earplugs. The bass alone rocks you, but what is most striking is how in-your-face each note becomes. JPEG’s live sound can be summed up in one word: Confrontational. Peggy was a force on stage, but one that didn’t come off like stardom- in fact, he pulled up each track right from his laptop and paused when his computer suggested a “restart” to download new software. His response? “Remind me tomorrow, motherfucker.” Once one’s ears adjust to the abuse, listening to JPEG lyrics proves noteworthy. He screamed with a cut-throat intent on a crowd favorite titled I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies and gave a nihilistic approach to several pop culture references, mentioning Tinder and promising to never dye his hair blonde like Kanye. Just when positive of the atmosphere, it would grow more animalistic.
JPEG jumped into the crowd, or walked calmly off stage and his audience would make way for him, and Moses parted the sea. To an outsider, it read as if each young white kid with a false mental pass to say the “N” word worshipped their performer, but despite every attempt to be a wallflower, it grows harder and harder the more this ocean of skin rages on. One will find themselves smiling and baptized in sweat by the end of the night- guaranteed. JPEG finished his musical crucifixion and announced he’d stay to take pictures with fans.
A merch table was set with shirts plastering JPEG’s face, and groups of kids blocked the doorway to take pictures with their entertainer for the night. Even after a 45-minute show in a venue that might as well have been a jungle, Peggy’s loyalty to his fans was evident and commendable. Without a single complaint each concertgoer got their photo, and soon the Philamoca regained its’ walls.
JPEG Mafia is rising with no end in sight, and even for someone who has never heard a single song before the music stands on its own. JPEG is the experimental rapper to see live if you’re craving an insatiable crowd, bursting mosh pits or an artist with a big enough reputation to bring passionate people together, but a small enough following to keep each show personalized and interactive.