The Break Presents: JPEGMafia
Curiosity has revealed careers for countless people and—for the truly lucky—their life's calling. Baltimore rapper and producer JPEGMafia was lucky enough to find both. It all started when he was a teenager, listening to one of his favorite rappers. These young and innocent days were long before he became known as a radical, politically charged rapper willing to take the government and society to task.
"I started producing when I was listening to The Diplomats," JPEGMafia (or Peggy, as he calls himself) tells XXL. "The first time I heard Cam'ron was 'Dead or Alive.'" The deep cut from Cam'ron's 2002 album Come Home With Me prompted JPEG to study and dive into production on his own. Rapping came next, spurred by both a West Coast legend and a desire to have more control over his music. "I never had any desire to [rap] until I heard Ice Cube," he says, adding that he was impressed by Cube's ability to rap about politics without being preachy.
A childhood that was defined by lots of moving—JPEG was born in Brooklyn, but lived in Louisiana, Alabama, Japan, among other locales—shaped JPEGMafia's artistry, but he didn't start recording under his moniker until he moved to Baltimore in 2015 (he previously recorded under Devon Hendryx, an alternate spelling of his middle and surname). Landing in the city after some time in the military, he began to put more time into music, churning out projects like Darkskin Manson, The 2nd Amendment and Black Ben Carson.
All of these set the foundation for his true breakthrough, the January 2018 album Veteran, a brutal-yet-polished summation of JPEG's feelings on being Black in America. Fans really began taking note, as the single "Baby I'm Bleeding" has amassed more than 1.5 million streams and "1539 N. Calvert" has broken the 2 million play mark.
Learn more about JPEGMafia in this week's edition of XXL's The Break.
Name: Barrington DeVaughn Hendricks
I grew up listening to: "The Diplomats. I really got deep into downloading music when I moved to the South and got a computer. So I was downloading the The Diplomats, AZ, Half-A-Mil, 40 Cal. That's the shit I was bumpin'. D-Block—I like violent New York music."
My style’s been compared to: "I been compared a lot to Brockhampton a lot. [Our] subject matter is wildly different, but musically is what they mean. Denzel [Curry], X[XXTentacion]. I get compared to anyone who's loud as fuck or anyone who's really strange. I've heard people say I sound like Childish Gambino. I love Because The Internet, so maybe I subconsciously sound like him."
My most slept-on song: "This song I have called 'All Caps, No Spaces.' Maybe this isn't slept on because in Baltimore, I know a lot of people that fucked with it. I have been performing that song for like six years and I never took it out my set. That summed up my personality perfectly, especially at the time, when I was angry and tryna get a rise out of people. It's one of the best songs I ever made it. No one talks about it."
My standout record to date has been: "1539 [N. Calvert]," because of how much the song means to me because of the shutting down of Bell Foundry. I think it's the closest I've ever come to making a pop song."
My standout moments to date have been: "There's a moment in my career, that is really big, but can't say it, because I had to sign a NDA. You'll see. I'm still living it. My album before got a little bit of notoriety, but not like this. This—2018 as a whole—is probably the biggest achievement I've ever had. When I was 18, I was like, 'I wanna make a living from fuckin' rapping.' And now it's starting to happen."
Most people don’t know: "I'm Jamaican. I don't really like advertise it, I guess. Guess what niggas—I'm actually Jamaican! Bet you didn't see that coming."
My goal in hip-hop is: "The goal is to take the skills I've amassed from years and years of just cultivating the shit by myself and really test the waters against other competition. There's a billion people out there that are working as hard as me and harder than me, that are better than me. Now that I'm in the world of hip-hop, I wanna make a stamp. When I die, I want people to be like, 'Respect the music.' I don't really care if you hate me or like me—what I want badly is the validation and respect of the people."
Where I see myself in five years: "I wanna be a pillar; I want people from all different genres to come to me. I would really like to work with Bjork, I still wanna work with Kanye [West], because he's just the best at what we does. He's a master of the final product. Radiohead, Charlie XCX, Joni Mitchell."
"Baby I'm Bleeding"
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