By Dan Guarino 
Elm Staff Writer

Barrington Hendricks, or JPEGMAFIA, is a quintessential Baltimore rapper. Born in Flatbush, N.Y., Hendricks lived out most of his teen years in Alabama before eventually serving a tour in Iraq. He then briefly lived in Japan before moving to Baltimore in his mid-twenties.

JPEGMAFIA’s newest project, “Veteran,” is a harsh, chaotic collage that strings together unexpected samples and dynamic instrumentation to create uniquely textured tracks. While the style is cohesive, the songs still have tonal variety. From the smooth, almost relaxing, “1539 N. Calvert,” to the intense and hypnotic, “Thug Tears,” Hendricks uses abrasive sounds to divert the listener’s expectations, contradicting the typical music palate in a way that still has musicality. The screeching of windshield wipers might not sound like it would be effective percussion, but Hendricks’s production finds a way to make almost anything rhythmic.

And over these beats, which he produces himself, Hendricks shares his unfiltered observations on everything from politics to his contemporaries. “Alt-right want war, well that’s fine then/B***h n****s in the way, well that’s common/White boys getting mad cause of my content/Y’all brave on the web, keep it in the comments,” he says.

In this line Hendricks makes reference to the intense amount of backlash he gets from the alt-right community because of the political nature of his music, including threats of violence on a near daily basis, and why he chooses to threaten them back.

“I have no problems confronting someone, and they don’t want confrontation, they want to say s**t in the dark,” he said.

That’s where Hendricks finds a lot of criticism, in that his lyrics are overly violent and distasteful, but every violent lyric on his album serves a purpose. JPEGMAFIA could never release a radio friendly album, because the world he’s experiencing is not radio friendly. He grew up poor, his brother was murdered by gunshot when he was just 13, and he served a tour in Iraq. Hendricks is, quite literally, a veteran, but the name functions on multiple levels. Not only is he a military veteran, but he’s a veteran of the underground music industry, and a veteran of a system he sees is failing him and failing those around him.

“It’s ironic you talk jail time but you ain’t never seen no central booking,” he says on the track “Baby I’m Bleeding.” In this line, we see Hendricks calling out both his peers who put on a front to act tougher than he believes them to actually be, and possibly people who support, or comment on the prison-industrial complex without having personal experience.

That’s what violence in music comes down to personal experience. These words may be distasteful, and they may be hard to hear, but JPEGMAFIA and others producing this type of music never had an option in confronting these problems. Hendricks faced them head on, and continues to do so in his real life. That is why allowing violent lyrics in music is critical, as it allows people to voice their frustrations and life experiences in a way they see as most accurate.

You can find JPEGMAFIA’s “Veteran” on all streaming services, as well as his follow up single, “Does this Ski Mask Make Me Look Fat?”

The Elm

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