So, JPEGMAFIA’s Black Ben Carson is out.
Many people listened to it with the same ear as those who listened to Public Enemy, NWA or even 2Pac: an ear for the revolutionary, the dangerous, the threatening, the angry, the inspired. I would be writing about the album, right now, if…I wasn’t also interested in his old stuff as well.
I had figured out that he released plenty of other epic albums. Not just Communist Slow Jams, but also the self-titled and the Ghost-Pop Tape. The thing about these albums are that the last album he had released under any name is always integral to understanding the next one. So, what I decided to do was listen from beginning to end of this “newcomer’s” work. After all, nothing tells you more about an artist’s current style and uprising than how they began.
Dreamcast Summer Songs (as Devon Hendryx)
These were beats that he made that was dedicated to his Sega Dreamcast, and his approach was to put a multitude of beats into a few sets. One of the sets last as long as 13 minutes. Either way, what makes this album is the fact that so many of these beats show range in style and creation. from the shimmering collection in “Power Stone” to the slightly hazy and soul-syruped collection in “Bloody Roar”. My personal favorite beats being the psychedelic folk-fueled “Symone”, all the beats on “Phantasy Star”, “#What’sHappening”, and the sexy “How I Met Nola Darling”. It would put a questioning smirk on my face to say this beat tape was based on nostalgia, but Dreamcast Summer Songs can best be described in the middle word. The only beatmaker I can think of that sounds something like his work is Chicago’s own Sani.
JOECHILLWORLD (as Devon Hendryx)
JOECHILLWORLD. This album is where Devon decided that rather than make another beat-tape, he decides to spit rhymes. I guess you can say this is the beginning of JPEGMAFIA. You’d be both right and wrong. Right because Devon’s rapping style is direct, possibly offensive to whom he talks to, but always honest. Wrong because Devon hasn’t yet dove into the political side of his work yet, until his move to Baltimore.
The very first beat “Sabbath School” is just enough to make you want to recline your lazy ass and just live inside the breeze of the beat. But “Bully” will wake your ass up quick. Rhymes about not growing up with a dad, disowning black women, Mogwai mentions and dismissing hipsters who still champion old Iggy Pop pictures draw his ire in one whole track. Knowing what you know about JPEGMAFIA, this is when he comes into his own, and surprisingly, there is no sign that he was JUST starting to spit like there usually is in the very first recordings of MCs. This album is crucial, if you want to know Devon Hendryx as a person with very specific morals and guidelines as a male black outsider.
The motif of “Operation: Kill Stormfront” goes like this: “We are not equals/I will never sell out to rich white people/Never get a job, I guess I’ll be broke/And spend my time sniffing coke”. Distrust runs all through this album, as well a introspection on what he does with his time. This must have been the album that he HAD to make before shaping it into his now more-known JPEGMAFIA persona.
The Rockwood Escape Plan (as Devon Hendryx)
Now that you are all caught up on him as a person, let’s hear his thoughts on other things. On this album, he saves his biggest viles not only for music critics, but also for those who hop onto hip-hop simply for the moneymaking factor. Also, the beats would suggest something fairly calm and relaxing, it’s like Devon spit rhymes with his middlefinger in the air the whole time.
One of the tracks’ names is “I You Hip Hop But I Can’t Be Your Girlfriend Because That’s Gay”, which attacks the conservative attitudes in hip-hop, including the malecentricity of it all. “There will probably never be an Elton John of Freddy (sic) Mercury in Hip-Hop because the community would never allow it,” he says. “I wish I could sing or play the harp, but instead I’m stuck here rapping and trying to please people who don’t want to be pleased and aren’t going to listen to me anyway.” Between beats that could guarantee him a shoe-in opportunity to score a horror or an action movie and lyrics that hold nothing back, it was obvious he’s going to be as much of an acquired taste as he was going to be a hoot. Just listen to “Project Birdy”, which sounds like De La Soul or The Pharcyde at their wildest over a video game beat and “MissingNo” which samples, of all tracks a S Club song. Heh!
The Ghost Pop Tape (as Devon Hendryx)
Wait, what? Devon is…singing?! Well, he did say that he isn’t a rapper, and he’ll slap you silly for saying such.
For those who have heard two things from the previous albums (that he’s not a rapper and he doesn’t mess with rappers who sing [i.e. Drake]), the few songs that open this album will come off as many things: A pisstake on the alternative R&B scene,= and the rappers who join it for monetary gain, proof that Devon was probably bullshitting the entire time or a middlefinger to let you know that he’ll do whatever the hell he wants when he wants. Judging by the chorus of “HBK” (“I’m just a sexy boy/I’m not your boy toy”), it may as well be the former.
But the then-newly minted JPEGMAFIA takes on the future R&B/shoegaze sound known to most bloggers as Chillwave, and puts more soul in it than most singers now. He raps on “Behold! A Pale Horse”, references Lostprophets over softcore porn on “Porn for Percussion” and almost sounds like a slick and mechanical shoutout to 90’s R&B on “God Bless My Homegirls”. But he does it just enough to squeeze in a bit of jest afterwards. The video that plays the whole entire album suddenly seems justified.
Plus, I want a poll here: how many people think that “Call Me Maybe” sounds better as a 90’s-era ballad?
Communist Slow Jams (as JPEGMAFIA)
Listening to this album, I can really understand why this album, of ALL that he has created, is getting so much more attention. This is an album of the times for black males.
As a witness of black culture, the story of Communist Slow Jams goes like this: black men are fed up with today’s bullshit. They have to deal with being harassed by the same cops who wouldn’t harass them as much as a white person, a government who stayed jerking their head at the idea of Obama getting elected, they have to deal with their blackness being gentrified by every color (including those in Japan) and they are only left to get famous off of ignorant, vapid and generally destructive music, and even their own women don’t want anything to do with them. The only reason the black man deals with women outside of their color (i.e. white women) has more to do with the booty than it has to do with having relationship-related. Oh, and the hip-hop sucks ass, too (as illustrated on “Rape Culture” [ex. line: “I know you want it, baby”]).
Rather, Communist Slow Jams is an album about unadulterated (calm yet confident) black male rage coming from a man who has seen and heard it all, and isn’t the least bit afraid to let his listening peers have it. Even if it means in order to do it, his record had to be put out for free.
Never saw that coming after just putting out a pre-dom R&B project, huh? Well, he still hates Lemmy from Motorhead AND all the metalheads afterwards.
Darkskin Manson (as JPEGMAFIA)
“Young black Sean Penn in this bitch. Young black Ronald Reagan in this bitch. Black Joan Jett up in this bitch!” Now that JPEGMAFIA crafted himself a classic, what does he do now? Now it’s action as usual, but the production is a little more…not raw, but abrasive. The way I see it, Communist was the sound of JPEG saying the hardest truths ever, and Darkskin Manson is when his enemies finally get to meet the business end of his gun. Examples of that are “Who Shot Me?” (“don’t pray for me, pray for my kids” ends one track) and “MC Ride Just Got His Reparations”, a tribute track to the reclusive rapper from Death Grips.
The least bit surprising part about this album is that this and Communist Slow Jams came in the exact same year. Where one feels like a venting of his personal problems as a black dude, after multiple killings and harassments by police, Darkskin Manson feels like he found a solution in his 2nd Amendment rights.
By following a Tori Amos sample with “Cops are the Target”, he instantly turned one song about rape into a song of vigilante justice, as if Tori’s rapist was a cop. This album is a true “fuck cops” album, even with a song named “MC Ride Just Got His Reparations”, where he tries to play the character in question. Devon explained in an interview that Darkskin Manson was theAmnesiac to Communist‘s Kid A. It’s understandable if the idea that it was a sequel that tells a whole story.
After listening to all of these albums, it makes more sense to me to share with you Black Ben Carson the next day. In the meantime, I’ll see you on the flipside! 🙂
Your 76th favorite black Aspergian musical polymath (Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, blogger, producer, poet) from Boston.