I’ll be the first to admit that I’m terrified of large crowds, let alone mosh pits. When A$AP Rocky called for a mosh pit at my second ever festival, I saw my life flash before my eyes (despite being far, far away from the front of the crowd). Maybe I don’t like the idea of being thrown around a mass of sweaty bodies, of having my toes stepped—no, trampled—on. Maybe it’s because I know that my small, wiry frame is incapable of asserting any sort of presence in a mosh pit. Maybe it’s because in 1993, 21 people were killed (and 63 injured) in a stampede just 5 minutes from my house.
So how did I find myself at the very front of a JPEGMAFIA show, a place that is guaranteed to break out into a notoriously raucous mosh pit? It’s simple: my love of JPEGMAFIA and his music trumps my fear of Death By The Mosh. JPEGMAFIA and his distinct brand of glitchy, experimental, hyper-online rap has brought him to the forefront of alternative rap over the past two years thanks to 2018’s Veteran—one of the best releases of that year—and this year’s All My Heroes Are Cornballs, which is making an exceedingly strong case for AOTY status. JPEG’s show at Great Scott last year easily sold out, and as it turns out, upgrading to The Sinclair—a significantly larger venue—didn’t change that fact. The place was packed from front to back, and the crowd buzzed as they anxiously waited for the show to begin, smooth jazz playing from the venue speakers all the while.
Opening for JPEG was fellow Baltimore-based rapper Butch Dawson—after an hour-long set from his DJ, who played a mix of rap bangers from the past few years (for the record, they’re really not lying when they say that “Mo Bamba” and anything by Playboi Carti will send White college boys into a frenzy)—Dawson took to the stage, delivering a rowdy and aggressive set that took the energy emanating from the already hyped crowd and turned it up to 11. Being sure not to thoroughly exhaust us before JPEGMAFIA, he threw water bottles into the crowd throughout his set, advising us to all stay hydrated.
Shortly thereafter, JPEGMAFIA came out to begin his set, introducing himself to the crowd by saying “I’m JPEGMAFIA… and I’m high as fuck right now.” Thus, I immediately knew that I was in for one hell of a performance. Almost every single JPEGMAFIA track is a banger, but JPEG still picked the perfect song to open his set, launching into “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot.” As soon as the opening notes hit, the crowd lurched forward, and I eventually found myself resting on the belly of a guy in an Unknown Pleasures t-shirt, where I would remain for the rest of the set. Peggy shifted between shouts and autotuned croons, and the crowd chanted every word back at him.
JPEG followed with “Real Nega”, a short yet punchy song that somehow managed to amp the crowd up even more. His frankly ridiculous stage presence elevated the song’s energy. Peggy jumped up onto the speakers, stood at the very edge of the stage, and threw himself into the crowd—name one other artist who crowdsurfs by the second song of their set. You can’t. Before beginning the next song, “Beta Male Strategies”, he led the crowd in an acapella chant of the song’s intro, something that had everybody in the venue pumping their fists in the air.
It’s impossible to limit a JPEGMAFIA song to a single genre, as his songs all rapidly shift between different sonic styles and influences. At any given time, he might be engaged in an auto-tuned balladry like on “Grimy Waifu” or “Thot Tactics”, covering TLC’s “No Scrubs”, or delivering rapidfire bars with a frenzied, manic, fully punk intensity, like on “Thug Tears” or “1539 N. Calvert.” Regardless of style though, Peggy easily had the crowd completely enraptured, jumping about, and screaming. Throughout his set, audience members crawled onto the stage and dove off—it was easily the most engaged and enthusiastic that I’ve ever seen a crowd be.
JPEG was also charming and funny as hell, which helped take a bit of edge and seriousness off of things. He told the crowd to chant “fuck you Peggy!”, began a “fuck Donald Trump” chant after performing an untitled freestyle, spat in a few people’s mouths, and worst of all, threatened to play Kanye’s “Sunday Service.” He also remarked that “this next one’s produced by a cop” before jumping into the Kenny Beats produced “Puff Daddy”, which as expected, had the crowd going completely mental. Best of all, he dedicated a song to his “least favourite musician in the world” and then jumped into the perfectly titled “I Cannot Fucking Wait Til Morrissey Dies.” My personal highlight of the night was “Baby I’m Bleeding”, a thumping, raucous, and harsh track off of Veteran that I had been dying to hear live. Peggy went all out, shouting the song’s lyrics so fiercely that I could hear his voice turning raw and hoarse.
There’s a Brian Eno quote that I really like: “Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit—all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided. It’s the sound of failure: so much modern art is the sound of things going out of control, of a medium pushing to its limits and breaking apart.” That’s exactly what Peggy’s work is: the sound of a world rapidly spinning out of control, the sound of an artist who is breaking through the boundaries of rap. His music is often glitchy, heavily distorted, and indescribably chaotic. That night at The Sinclair, we were all privileged to witness this meteoric performer, the herald of a new rap era revolting against the decay of the world.