JPEGMAFIA is obsessed with what he calls “a new genre” of movies. These are thrillers like Unfriended and this year’s Searching that take place entirely on computer screens, confining their horrors to the spaces we spend most of our time gazing into. “That’s what we see every day,” he says, grinning. “Can you imagine if Unfriended came out in the 50s? They’d have no fucking idea what’s going on.” The undercurrent of mischievous glee, of delight in how weird the future ended up being, is one that’s apparent throughout the talk, if it wasn’t already so in his music. Born Barrington Hendricks but known affectionately to his fans as “Peggy,” the US Air Force vet from Baltimore went from Bandcamp curio to underground sensation off the strength of this year’s Veteran mixtape. The album’s harsh production and sharp, crude, hyper-referential lyrics have painted the rapper as a soothsayer for the Trump era, able to navigate the minefield of being Online while being literate in its most hateful language.
Speaking at Toronto’s Adelaide Hall mere hours before a sold-out show, JPEGMAFIA details his specific ideology of “taking the form” of the reactionary right like some kind of rap game Ditto. “[The alt-right] use that language and no one checks them,” he says, “so when I use that language and people check me I’m like ‘why you ain’t checking them?’” Though he’s firmly against hate in all forms, he does share some similarities with the 4chan denizens he mimics, including an interest in anime. Naturally, we asked him about it in-depth. Watch video of the interview highlights below, courtesy of our pals at Daily VICE, and read on for the rest of the Q&A.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Your tour is called the“Reverse Christopher Columbus Tour.” Can you explain that name to me?
Hell yeah. ‘Cause man, that n**** was stupid. [laughs] He got lost. He was literally looking for India. He was on the other side of the planet. Whatever they sent him to do he fucked that shit up so I’m just gonna go and redo it. We just gotta do it correctly but I’m not colonizing nobody. We’re just coming and tearing the city down.
What issues do you want to bring to light that you feel aren’t covered?
Honestly, in real life? There’s people who go to jail for suspended tickets and stupid shit like that. You don’t need to have n****s who like, didn’t renew their license in there with motherfuckers who are like, vandalizing shit and pooping in the street, doing weird shit. I think there needs to be a cap on that kind of shit and some kind of buffer. The maximum can’t be jail for shit like that.
You’re really well-versed in 4chan’s… unique vernacular. What’s your history with the site?
You know what’s funny? I have no history with 4chan. People think I do, but I just let ‘em think it ‘cause they’re stupid as shit. Honestly, it’s free promo. I’ve been on 4chan maybe once in 2007 and I saw a bunch of people saying random shit about Black people and I was like “yeah, fuck that place.” And that’s basically it. I’ve had people come up to me like “I know you’re on [4chan]” and I’m like “sure man, whatever you say.”
How did you learn the alt-right/channer language, then?
That’s just YouTube comments, man. It might’ve all originated in 4chan but that shit just spills out everywhere. You don’t have to go to 4chan to get any of that. 4chan hasn’t innovated or done anything interesting in fucking 14 years. No one fucking cares about 4chan, no one’s looking for that shit to do anything.
Cool, I also know that one of your biggest inspirations is anime soundtracks. I’m pretty big into that stuff myself, not in a weird way, and-
Nah, I’m into it in a weird way.
[laughs in disbelief] Okay, but what I was gonna ask was this: is it the background music in anime or the opening and ending theme songs that you’re more inspired by?
Both. Usually, if I like the opening theme song, I get the whole shit forreal. Just to see what’s on it. I just like music that doesn’t have the context of [North America]. [Anime composers] didn’t grow up here, they probably don’t know anything about here, they probably don’t care. They’re just making music with a completely different mindset so it’s interesting to hear the rhythm of someone who doesn’t have the context of us over here.
That’s fine. Which one do you feel was the most influential to your music?
Maybe Cowboy Bebop cause it was one of the first ones I heard but all of them have been influential in their own way. The thing I took the most from them was the strange rhythms and just the weird things they do. Like, they’re making music for an anime so their whole mindset of what this music is supposed to be is totally different. So sometimes they’ll pull these crazy melodies out, they probably don’t even care. It’s a melody for a scene, but it makes me cry.
Gotcha, back to the “boring” stuff now. Do you think anyone can afford to be apolitical right now?
If they want to. That’s their obligation. I’m very much a person of free thought. You can do whatever the fuck you want. There’s gonna be consequences for it though, so if you’re apolitical and you’re trying to bitch about the political climate, I don’t believe it. You didn’t do anything! [laughs]
So it doesn’t bother you to have people who fundamentally disagree with you be fans of your music?
It’s like… I see lots of people online making fun of me cause at my shows there’s a bunch of white people. I’m just like, “Okay n****, who doesn’t have a white fan base besides Tank?” Whoever likes my music, I’m gonna reciprocate that same love back to them. I’m not trying to alienate anybody. So if someone who disagrees with me but is trying to be open-minded listens to my music and comes to me like “look I don’t really get everything but I respect you,” I don’t see how I could hate on that.
Well, as corny as this sounds, it seems like you’re saying your music is unifying even though it’s so divisive in form and content.
That’s it. What else is working?! The only time people unify is to hate some shit. Every single time, bro. Look at history. Maybe that wasn’t my intention at the beginning, but maybe now it could be that. I would love for it to be that. It would be fantastic and it would be ironic as shit and it would be internet as shit.
You’re making music to be hated?
Yeah. That’s my next mixtape title.