ALBUM REVIEW: JPEGMAFIA’s ‘Cornball’ is a Searing Manifesto for the Internet Age

The experimental rap firestarter returns with a fragmented, complicated work that capitalizes on the increasing hype around his name.

It’s hard to accurately pin down the contradictions that attach themselves to JPEGMAFIA’s creative output. His music is delightfully radical and relentlessly confrontational, filtering streams of glorious vitriol through layers upon layers of Internet Age irony, eviscerating right-wing trolls with their own bad faith tactics, proclaiming himself a “left-wing Hades.”

Yet, at the same time, JPEGMAFIA manages to be starkly earnest, finding grace and vulnerability in the crossfire. It can be loud, aggressive and riotous, but it can also be placid, ethereal and euphoric.

These contradictions were more subtle on Peggy’s terrific 2018 breakout, Veteran, where the soundscape had these little moments that balanced undeniable beauty with a sense of chaos. A song like “Real Nega” could begin with rapid-fire drums and a disembodied wail from Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and manage to transform it into something almost heavenly.

On his new record, All My Heroes Are Cornballs, he expands on these moments. He opens up the militant sonic template and fills it with dense, sprawling soundscapes that seem to spill from all sides, all in the name of creating an audacious collage that pulls from everything from TLC to a video of Soulja Boy playing Fortnite. The scope here is unprecedented, encompassing abstract explorations of internet culture, gender identity, police brutality and white supremacy.

It results in some of JPEG’s boldest songs yet. Lead single, “Jesus Forgive Me I’m A Thot,” jumps from heavenly synths to bracing bass pulses at a moment’s notice, hitting high notes and bouncing through crowd noise. He sends comical threats (“Say what you said on Twitter right now”) on “Beta Male Strategies,” building from a hypnotic loop into something more panicked, more urgent. He pokes fun at incels on the start-stopping synths on the title track, name dropping Anne Hathaway, Ann Coulter and an absurd drive-through order to close the song.

What’s more, Cornballs is filled with some of Peggy’s most accessible tracks yet. On “Free The Frail,” he gets an assist from Helena Deland, providing an honest-to-god hook that sticks in your head as he compares himself to Carly Rae Jepsen on one of the most unabashedly pretty songs here. He gets weirder on the hilariously-named “Grimy Waifu,” an absurd love letter to his gun that manages to stand out as one of the best songs here, helmed by pretty guitars and some autotuned crooning.

It leads right into the next song, “PTSD.” The title is a bit of a fake-out, ignoring a connection to Peggy’s time served in the U.S. military, instead focusing his righteous anger into a cutting verbal assault of the American police force. It features Peggy’s fiercest, most intense delivery, unloading a poised barrage of thinly veiled hurt over this ghostly, morphing beat.

With namedrops of Trish Stratus, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell and Uncle Fester, “PTSD” almost functions as a sort of thesis for All My Heroes Are Cornballs. Pulling together leftist rage, crafted beatmaking and a well of pop culture references, the record is a triumph; a fractured, visionary and vividly rendered depiction of the chaos in our world.

Score: 🌽🌽🌽🌽🌽/5