JPEGMAFIA: Abrasive and Innovative Rap for the Digital Age



JPEGMAFIA has brought industrial beats and candid, emphatic lyrics to the rap scene.


“You yuppies ain’t real, let you live for a fee. We takin’ Brooklyn back, you can leave the coffee.” So snarls JPEGMAFIA over a sparse, floating beat that features an occasional stab of drums and quick electronic notes. The track is called “Williamsburg,” and it appears towards the tail end of his most recent album, “Veteran,” which was released last year to critical acclaim.

Hailing from Baltimore, JPEGMAFIA has been releasing music since 2009 under various aliases, but he has only recently seen widespread commercial success with “Veteran.” He handles the majority of his own production, and his beats have been noted for their experimental, busy and industrial sound, often including elements like sound effects sampled from video games and niche audio clips from sources as strange as a cheesy family internet usage guide video from the ’90s.

But perhaps the most impressive feature of his music are his lyrics. Pointed and politically charged, they are nothing short of incredible. On songs like “Once They Build A Starbucks It’s Ova,” JPEGMAFIA unleashes a tirade against hipsters and gentrification throughout American cities and the hypocritical “fake woke” culture surrounding the kind of people who “memorize every Chief Keef verse” but “call the cops [when] they think you wanna steal their purse.”

In other words, he calls out people who claim to be an advocate for the rights of the oppressed minority groups but harbor closeted racial resentment that seems to sit in contrast to their desired image.

His lyrics also often explore a dichotomy that has plagued rap culture ever since the massive success of Eminem: white rappers pushing black artists out of the genre and culture that they invented. These words ring strong in a digital age where do-it-yourself online services like SoundCloud and YouTube let any preppy white Chad, Brad or Thad upload their generic “Lit Bangers” mixtapes featuring poor rapping over stolen beats to gain a following.

JPEGMAFIA has developed somewhat of a cult following among Fordham students. While not the most popular rapper on campus by any means, those who have listened seem to enjoy him. Liam Kenny, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’22, favors JPEG’s “Veteran,” noting that it “takes an approach that is misanthropic yet exciting and raw.” Kenny also praises its concept, which he says is to “attack everyone and watch as they love it.”

For Justin Mazur, FCLC ’22, JPEG is “quite far out of [his] comfort zone musically” but says that “‘Veteran’ has a lot to like about it and allows someone like me to get a lot out of it.” He explains that JPEG has a little bit of something for everyone to enjoy, whether they like rap or not: “He is a very versatile performer and varies between yelling, singing and rapping so well that it made me question how many different people were on the album.”

JPEGMAFIA arrives as a breath of fresh air in today’s rap scene, coming out swinging with industrial beats that push the genre to its limits and charged, compelling lyrics to back them up. With a new album on the horizon and a handful of singles recently released to build the hype, it seems like he is only getting started to make this year something entirely his own.