“When it comes to this black power kind of shit or talking about white supremacy in music, there’s usually a cushion with it.” This frustrates JPEGMAFIA, even when it comes to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. Lamar’s “Alright” single is being hailed as a Black Lives Matter and 2015 civil rights anthem, but in the eyes of the Baltimore rapper/producer known as JPEGMAFIA it’s still coddling a white audience. “He went at the shit, but you can tell he didn’t want to upset his fanbase. The majority of his fans are the people he would be going at. But, I’ve never really seen anyone tear this shit down in a way that made me feel good.”
JPEGMAFIA is a reaction to the pussyfooting and coddling of a mainstream demographic. Since his debut Communist Slow Jamz released in April 2015, he’s put race issues on blast through tracks like “#NewBlack PSA”, “Once They Build A Starbucks It’s Ova”, and “I’ll Never Forgive Hipsters For What They Did To Brooklyn”. He’s simply making rap music that fills in the omitted context that his heroes and peers are afraid to address.
“When people think of racism, it’s usually just that redneck, right wing, clan hoody, obvious shit. But they don’t talk about the subtle shit. The liberal racism that can affect you in the same way. I wanted to be the vanguard to fight that shit, like I’m here and that shit is not gonna fly anymore.”
JPEGMAFIA has an astute bullshit radar. He’s the only rapper to criticize Amy Poehler and Tina Fey for their stance on Bill Cosby. On Communist Slow Jamz, he questions the double standard on “Waves” with “why the fuck don’t you make fun of Stephen Collins? Why the fuck don’t you make fun of Woody Allen’s pedophile ass? Roman Polanski.” And honestly, what’s stopped them? On that same record, JPEGMAFIA references Eric Clapton’s on-stage racist tirade in the 1970s, and then samples Steve Reich’s “Come Out” which was dedicated to the Harlem Six. He’s a studied individual in racial politics and with his recently released Black Ben Carson he’s reacting to his immediate political climate of disingenuous politicians playing a white man’s game and lambasting those who fall for its illusion.
The single “I Smell Crack” set the tone. “You niggas delusional trying to vote for Bernie Sanders, that nigga ain’t gon get shit done” he says over a grumbling low end. It’s a vacuous track of bass rattles and a hollow snare that leaves plenty of space for JPEGMAFIA to run some lip. He’s sworn allegiance, but it’s not the sort of candidacy endorsement you’d expect, “Guns registered and they voting Hilary.” Noisy, experimental production runs rampant across Black Ben Carson. Much like his Baltimore brethren Abdu Ali and fellow Southern brother B L A C K I E, JPEGMAFIA makes no sonic qualms or apologies for the aggressive manner of his music. Heavily influenced by Throbbing Gristle and Death Certificate-era Ice Cube, JPEGMAFIA is the brooding, roaring anxiety of a distressed black male who’s witnessed an uprising and still has no justice or comfort.
Stream JPEGMAFIA’s Black Ben Carson and read on for a brief interview.
Being that you’re from Baltimore were you aware of Ben Carson before this presidential run?
JPEGMAFIA: We had to read that stupid ass Gifted Hands book. I been knowing about Ben Carson. That’s why he’s so confusing to me. He used to be a flaming liberal.
I always thought he’d run for president at some point. He just became a Republican recently.
He was Seventh-day Adventist. He grew up in the 60s. He knows what’s up. He’s not stupid. He’s very aware of the stuff that’s attached to Black Lives Matter and the civil rights shit. He knows. It makes me feel like he’s playing the game to get in. Either that or the nigga is just crazy. I can’t figure him out. He’s a smart dude obviously, he’s a neurosurgeon.
So why did you decide to call the album Black Ben Carson?
He made a comment about rap music that’s been made a million times. It’s killing black people, blah blah blah. I was just reading what he was saying and thinking, damn this dude really doesn’t want to be black. He should rename himself white Ben Carson. It clicked like wait, I can be Black Ben Carson.
What is the Drake Era and why are we in it?
It’s this era, yo! I want to make something clear. I don’t have a problem with Drake personally. I don’t know the nigga. It’s more about what he represents. This era is just full of pussy ass, following ass, singing motherfuckers and it aggravates the shit out of me. When there’s a few of you that sound like that it’s cool, but how many niggas got to sound like Drake?
It’s time to move past that shit. Especially recently with all the cop killings and civil rights shit. We need some N.W.A.s, some Ice Cubes, and some fucking Ice-Ts. We don’t need a Drake. He can exist, but why is the “Hotline Bling” nigga at the forefront of a genre that’s a soundtrack to civil rights movement?
What had you learned from previous records that helped to make Black Ben Carson?
Communist Slow Jamz, lyrically I got my point across better than I ever have before. Darkskin Manson it was a step up in production. I was talking about the same topics, I just expanded on it. It’s like when Radiohead released Kid A and then dropped the leftovers with Amnesiac. That’s what Darkskin Manson was. Black Ben Carson is an amalgam of both. The production is stepped up from both the albums, I believe. Lyrically I’m more aggressive and tactical. Whereas on Communist Slow Jamz it was really raw and Darkskin Manson was abstract. Black Ben Carson is the perfect mesh.