Last year’s Veteran truly established JPEGMAFIA, aka Peggy, as a rapidly emerging and increasingly essential cultural voice. The unabashed album combatively laid down critical references that participated in but also dismantled political and URL facades. Now, on his latest full length All My Heroes Are Cornballs, Peggy quickly returns to continue the visceral nature of his prior work, but it is not as you might expect.
On “Papi I Missed You”, Peggy guesses, “I’m pretty sure I coughed on every fucking song.” And, this is exactly how he attacks All My Heroes Are Cornballs. It is a scatter of coughs that could not be contained, an overwhelming purge of a sickness that bubbled within. These frantic coughs spill out of an unfiltered mouth, relinquishing resentments against racists, political extremists of either end, groupthink critics, and online shitposters. Simply put, All My Heroes Are Cornballs embodies a very human reaction to the inhumanity of oppressive politics and online culture.
However, All My Heroes Are Cornballs delivers Peggy’s familiar energy in a new aesthetic. As he satirized on the “DISSAPOINTED” album campaign and teases with the track title “JPEGMAFIA TYPE BEAT”, our expectations will not be satisfied. So, his voice often flows from a trademark, highly confrontational delivery to an unfamiliar Auto-Tuned, pop-esque croon. Beats move away from ear-piercing noises to lush keys and reverb-laden samples. Now, it is apparent that the disappointment that Peggy teased is due to his move away from the familiar tones that made Veteran so enthralling. Sure, All My Heroes Are Cornballs is still very noisy at points, and great at it, as heard on the mosh-inducing breakdown of “Kenan Vs. Kel”. But also, this is the most melodic JPEGMAFIA project yet.
While All My Heroes Are Cornballs is not as loud as Veteran, it maintains the prior’s visceral nature more subtly. Peggy draws tension by consistently grinding together conflicting feelings and sounds. As such, the opener “Jesus Forgive Me, I’m a Thot” begins with shattering glasses and screaming audiences, but then, the noise quickly cuts out within seconds. Perhaps, on prior albums, this pressure would build into an insuppressible apex, but this time, it curtails into cathartic, gentle chords and an Auto-Tuned chorus.
Even more, the opener’s verses refigure thoughtful prayers into witty threats, maintaining flux and conflict throughout. Immediately, Peggy taps into a highly paranoid existence with these paradoxical affectations. Or rather, this paranoia can be understood as a necessary, heightened awareness for marginalized people who are systemically threatened. So, Peggy contrasts, “Pray for my babies, they doin’ time / Pray that these crackers don’t Columbine.”
These rightful eruptions of paranoia and disillusionment surface throughout All My Heroes Are Cornballs. And, this thematic throughline connects the many old and new manifestations of America’s longstanding system of oppression. What was once hidden in legislation and alluded to in covert rhetoric is now blatantly spewed online, so Peggy gladly replies to it. He dares on “Beta Male Strategies”, “Say what you said on Twitter right now”, delivering one of his most quotable verses of the album.
This is a time in which what Michelle Alexander called The New Jim Crow has become an old system of mass incarceration and police brutality. Public areas have become spaces of mass acts of racial violence. All the while, racists and misogynists conveniently have the choice of a public platform or shield of anonymity. So, systemic, violent, and cultural oppression become increasingly intertwined, and there is an unfortunate need for Peggy to recognize, “But I’m still alive, yeah, I’m still alive.” But remarkably, these threats also do not intimidate him, as he once Tweeted, “I ???? triggering u racist.”
So, while All My Heroes Are Cornballs spews consistent coughs of fury and vigor at injustices, it is not entirely overcome by anger. Resentments are quickly uncovered, confronted, and navigated through humor, lamentation, and self-reflection, creating Peggy’s most vulnerable work yet. For instance, on “BBW”, he continues his lyrical jabs but also digresses for more introspective moments. While he acutely snipes, “Smile at these crackers who want me dead / Fire helmets won’t protect your head,” he also professes, “Still can’t believe I’m gettin’ paid off this art today / I do work on the stage, I still feel like a fan.” More than ever, what was once came off as confident anger can now be contextualized by intimate admissions. All My Heroes Are Cornballs is not only angry but also gracious, humble, worried, and self-conscious. In other words, it is human.
Peggy tweeted that he was once criticized for sounding “too online”. To generalize, sure, his aesthetic can be described as “online”, but this doesn’t recognize his very human reaction to it. Really, All My Heroes Are Cornballs is not too online, but it is rather too fed up with what is online. It does not try to create an exact reflection of online culture, but instead, it gives an unfiltered reaction to its bullshit.
As he reminds himself on “Free the Frail”, which features Helena Deland, “Don’t rely on the strength of my image.” From the early 2010’s Devon Hendryx mixtapes to the critically acclaimed Veteran, Peggy’s decade long emergence has developed an overwhelming online image. So, the internet praises or attacks the seemingly angry, righteous martyr. That is a fracturing existence that dismisses Peggy’s humanity, leaving him “feelin’ strange, I feel the gains, I fill a void”. Thus, the chorus reminds and embraces in a cracking falsetto, “Break it down, the shit is outta my hands.” Ultimately, All My Heroes Are Cornballs is the album that addresses these fractures of identities, and “Free the Frail” most thoughtfully dissects the issues. As such, this is not only his most vulnerable track yet but also one of his best.
It is these moments of intimate reflections that All My Heroes Are Cornballs enters into unforeseen, exciting territories that broaden Peggy’s lyrical and compositional palette. In this way, his latest album continues the visceral energy the prior Veteran, but in unexpected ways. It begins to humanize the narrowly given online image that was perceived to be JPEGMAFIA. Remember, he tags in so many of his tracks, “You think you know me,” and he’s right. I certainly don’t know him, and my words cannot capture the complexities of his work. So, go listen to All My Heroes Are Cornballs for yourself.