Thrilling beats. Screaming voices. Gritty verses. These were the sounds of last Friday’s JPEGMAFIA show. Dozens of people, many of whom were not Kenyon students, crammed into a sweaty and packed Horn Gallery to hear industrial noise rapper and producer Barrington Hendricks, better known as JPEGMAFIA. His loud, larger-than-life presence cemented his show as one of the most exciting and invigorating Horn performances of the year.
Distinguished by his provocative and aggressive lyrics, glitchy production and punk-esque aesthetic, JPEGMAFIA has become one of rap’s biggest up-and-coming names. He released his record Veteran in early January to huge praise from Pitchfork, Stereogum and The Fader, among other outlets. The massively popular vlogger and music reviewer Anthony Fantano, who gave JPEGMAFIA’s Veteran a rare 8/10, is also partially responsible for his fame.
The rapper’s popularity and success drew quite a crowd: High schoolers from Akron, Ohio, and Oberlin College students showed up; even University of Cincinnati students drove three hours to see the show. According to Logan Whitcomb ’20, a Horn sound technician, the Horn had never seen so many people in his time at the venue.
Whitcomb opened the show with a performance under his stage name, Orderbot. Drawing inspiration from the grimy and dark production of JPEGMAFIA, Whitcomb found it exhilarating to perform for so many audience members, all of whom vibed with his music.
“There was a line starting at 7:45,” he said. “That’s never happened. At least in my time at the Horn, we have never had so many people in there. The energy was insane.”
After Whitcomb’s performance, the Chicago-based hip-hop group Dial-Up went on stage. “Bounce, bounce, bounce!” they called out, gesturing toward the large audience. The Horn rattled.
Once JPEGMAFIA finally got on stage, the crowd went wild. Audience members took their shirts off, and others started screaming. Peggy, as he is sometimes called, rocked his head back and forth, swaying his tattoo-covered body to the glitchy beats. At one point his foot went through the table on which he was standing. The rapper had to perform the last song a capella-style with the entire crowd because his computer stopped working; it was too soaked from his own sweat.
Hendricks was born in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, to Jamaican parents. He spent the bulk of his childhood and mid-teens in rural Alabama, where he says he experienced a significant amount of racism that later influenced his music. At the age of 18, Hendricks joined the Air Force and served for four years in Iraq. Many aspects of his music are taken from his personal life, but he has received criticism for going too far with his lyrics. “I Just Killed A Cop Now I’m Horny,” a song from Veteran, garnered controversy for sampling the audio recording of a real murder of a police officer in 1998. “I Cannot F—ing Wait Until Morrissey Dies,” which he performed on Friday, has also received backlash.
Nevertheless, JPEGMAFIA’s performance was unparalleled. The Horn Gallery usually books indie/alternative rock bands such as Peach Pit or gobbinjr – groups with quiet instrumentals, soft vocals and gentler lyrics. JPEGMAFIA’s off-the-wall, in-your-face, punk-and-rap-fused energy felt like a revelation to students. To share his performance with other fans made the experience even more special.
Near the end of the show, in between songs, JPEGMAFIA stopped to speak. “I have to say, this has to be one of the best shows I’ve done in the last five years,” he said. “Y’all are crazy.”