Photo credit: Yael Malka
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Okay. This episode is another one I did solo dolo because Ali was stuck in traffic. No matter, because Jpegmafia, aka Peggy, and I had plenty to go through.
From what it feels like to have an artistic home, especially after you’ve spent your life moving around, to the efficacy of music journalism, rap as a reflection of the community, and letting listeners take from your music whatever they will. I really enjoyed this interview, and I hope you do too.
FRANNIE KELLEY: This is Microphone Check. I'm Frannie Kelley.
JPEGMAFIA: I'm – wait. Hold up. I'm Jpegmafia.
FRANNIE: OK. Thank you for coming.
JPEGMAFIA: No problem.
FRANNIE: I like that your name is Peggy also.
JPEGMAFIA: Hell yeah.
FRANNIE: Because that was my grandma's name.
JPEGMAFIA: Oh yeah?
JPEGMAFIA: It's a lot of people's grandma's name.
JPEGMAFIA: I like the name because it has a very – yeah, it has a very grandma feel.
JPEGMAFIA: And then when you see me, I'm just a skinny dude with tattoos.
FRANNIE: Not yet anybody's grandmother.
JPEGMAFIA: Yeah! I'm not anyone's grandma.
JPEGMAFIA: Hell yeah.
FRANNIE: So we were just talking about shows and performing. I have been to the Bell Foundry.
JPEGMAFIA: Oh, yeah yeah yeah. The Bell. Yeah, you've been to a show there?
FRANNIE: I have. In the basement?
JPEGMAFIA: Wow. Wait. When?
FRANNIE: I don't know. A couple years ago? Yeah, that bathroom is treacherous. There should've been a sign.
JPEGMAFIA: Oh yeah, the Bell was for sure disgusting. It was a dangerous place, but man, it was the best place ever though. It was like – I mean, places like that are usually – they are dangerous, but I miss the Bell a lot, yo. I miss going to shows there, all that shit. It was really fun. Yeah, that bathroom was fucking – you talking about the one you go upstairs?
FRANNIE: Yeah, you go up the stairs, and you have to pull the trapdoor up to close the door basically.
JPEGMAFIA: Yeah, they don't even – actually now it's not there anymore.
FRANNIE: The whole thing's gone, right?
JPEGMAFIA: Yeah, it's gone period, but the last time that it was active, there was no door. You just had to –
FRANNIE: Oh wow.
JPEGMAFIA: If a n**** was up there, he's just up there. If someone walks up on you shitting –
FRANNIE: You just gotta deal with it.
JPEGMAFIA: You just gotta just tuck it in.
FRANNIE: So what did that place give you? It felt like a special place when I was there. There definitely was a community around it, the kind of community that only really happens when people really feel control over a space. It has to be owned by artists, I think, for that kind of thing to happen. And so I just want to know what specifically that gave you. Was it confidence? Was it inspiration? Was it just a place to work shit out? Was it people?
JPEGMAFIA: It's kind of all of those honestly. It was just a place – it was like Cheers or some shit. Sometimes you want to go where some n***** know your name. Nah, it really felt like Cheers, cause it was just a place like anything you were feeling or anything – if you were inspired, if you was pissed, if you was sad, if you needed a place to stay, if you didn't have any money, needed some shelter, the Bell could be whatever you needed it to be. So it was literally like Cheers almost. It was like black Cheers. Instead of going to a bar and doing whatever the fuck they did on Cheers, we just made music. So it was like that.
FRANNIE: Now that it doesn't exist, has something replaced it? Or is that just a loss?
JPEGMAFIA: No, it's gone. It's just gone. That's it. That's how things happen in Baltimore. They're very, like – it's just gone. I don't know. I feel like in Baltimore we face reality very fast. It's just like, "Oh. That's gone." There's nothing to replace it. No one – we can't afford to replace it. It's just gone. It's just a memory now. That's just all it is. People, same way. You love them and they're here, and then they're just gone. That's just it.
It's very – yeah, Baltimore is like that. It's very – I don't know. It cuts through the fat, when it comes to reality. It skips through all the little meddling and just hits you straight with reality immediately. So yeah, the Bell's gone. That's it.
FRANNIE: Are you in search of a similar place or something that gives you that feeling in L.A. or anywhere?
JPEGMAFIA: If I ever make enough money, I will buy the Bell back for sure.
JPEGMAFIA: I'm going to try to bid and purchase it and try to make it what it was before.
FRANNIE: So they didn't tear it down?
JPEGMAFIA: No, they didn't tear it down. It's just that they just flagged it for violations and then the guy who owned, whoever the fuck that n**** was, I don't even know, but he had to get called up and, you know, he doesn't care about that place. He hadn't seen that shit in probably 20 years. He probably didn't even know he owned the shit still. Somebody called him and was like, "Hey, man. Come get your building."
But yeah, I think he still owns it, and I think I saw it on Zillow for like a million dollars or some shit.
JPEGMAFIA: Yeah. So I just keep – I check it every now and then.
FRANNIE: That's right. So if you Google, like, the name of your song –
JPEGMAFIA: Yeah. If you Google –
FRANNIE: – Zillow pops up.
JPEGMAFIA: Well, if you Google the name of my song, now I pop up.
JPEGMAFIA: But before my song existed – yeah. I actually have a picture of what it looked like before. I took a picture beforehand, not expecting my song to do anything, but just taking a picture being like, "Damn. If this ever does something, I want to see what it looked like beforehand." I did that with my name too.
FRANNIE: You mean screenshot something.
JPEGMAFIA: Yeah, I screenshotted something. My bad.
FRANNIE: Oh, I see.
JPEGMAFIA: I'm doing this, but I realize we're not on camera. I'm making the screenshot thing.
But I did that with my name too. When I named myself Jpegmafia, I Googled it, and there was nothing. And now you Google me, and it's just me. So I have a screenshot of what Jpegmafia would pull up if you Googled it in like 2013. And it's nothing. It's just random Wikipedia links to, like, the video game Mafia. There's a video game called Mafia, and it's just random links to that.
FRANNIE: How does that feel, to Google yourself and have it be your work, something that you made?
JPEGMAFIA: It's nice. I mean, Googling yourself I feel like is something everyone does, especially artists. They just maybe don't say it. But it's an ego boost. It's a little ego boost. It's not something I put a lot of value in. Like, oh, you can Google me now. It doesn't really mean that much to me, but every now and then, I'll Google myself and be like, "Oh yeah. There's me."
FRANNIE: Yeah. It's some recognition.
JPEGMAFIA: Yeah, it's nice. And I read my Wikipedia and be like, "Oh yeah. All that shit's accurate. Cool."
FRANNIE: It's important to check on your Wikipedia page.
JPEGMAFIA: Right. I'm like, "Things are going good here. I like where this is progressing. Good." It's good shit. I don't have a picture on Wikipedia yet though, so I gotta –
FRANNIE: Let them know.
JPEGMAFIA: I hope they choose a good picture, yo. I've seen – some n***** have some busted-ass pictures. I'm like, "Why would you choose that as the main" – it's just like, "Why is this horrible picture what you want to represent yourself?"
FRANNIE: I think somebody doesn't like them very much.
JPEGMAFIA: That's probably what it is. That's probably – so someone will for sure give me a shitty picture, because no one likes me.
FRANNIE: I mean, I find that hard to believe. Although I get that people maybe might think that you are frustrated all the time.
JPEGMAFIA: Yeah, a lot of people think I'm a perpetually angry man. It's interesting how much people will judge your personality strictly based off music. And it's just like –
FRANNIE: Mhmm. They think it's autobiographical.
JPEGMAFIA: Yeah, they think it's literal. And it's just like, the music is definitely me, but some of the things are not, like, literal literal. But people take it as it is, and they react to you like it.
And people will – it's just very interesting as an artist, because by the time I see this random person who's probably been stewing opinions about me for a while, and they meet me – or anybody, and they meet them, it's just like, you don't know what they're going to do. You don't even know what they're thinking. You don't even know what kind of information they have on you. They're just judging you based off random shit. So.
FRANNIE: And also the lag time is something people are always forgetting.
JPEGMAFIA: Oh yeah. A lot of people retroactively get mad at songs I put out four years ago, and I'm just like, "Bro, I don't know what to tell you. I wrote when I was 19. I'm sorry."
FRANNIE: Yeah, and I've found that musicians really get that with each other.
JPEGMAFIA: Yeah. For sure.
FRANNIE: They're not the people that are stressing out about this stuff.
JPEGMAFIA: I don't even know – I guess this is going to sound typical, but the best phrase is just haters. They're just – what they do. They really just stick around and just professionally don't like you. You know what I'm saying? Like, when I don't like some shit, I literally just move on. I'm like, "This doesn't interest me." You know that show on Netflix Grace & Frankie?
JPEGMAFIA: I have zero interest in watching that shit.
FRANNIE: Not into it.
JPEGMAFIA: So I just – when I see it, I'm like, "Oh, cool. That's there. Not going to watch it. I'm good." But haters, they'll watch the shit and give an opinion, knowing they don't like the shit.
FRANNIE: So you have a Master’s.
JPEGMAFIA: I do.
FRANNIE: From where?
JPEGMAFIA: From L.A. Tech.
FRANNIE: And it's in Journalism.
FRANNIE: And was it concentrated in music at all?
JPEGMAFIA: No. I was in the military when I got it, to be honest. So like –
FRANNIE: Yeah, that was my question. So did they pay for it?
JPEGMAFIA: Yeah, they paid for it, and to be honest, it might not even – it really is some military shit. In the military, when you go to school, you don't have a regular school experience. I wasn't on the campus. I was basically –
FRANNIE: Like you – was it mail-in basically?
JPEGMAFIA: It was online and then when I was deployed, I would go into a little classroom and shit. So honestly, I was checking on it, both my degrees, and I was just like – I don't even know if they even count towards anything. Because I didn't have the –
JPEGMAFIA: I mean, they do. But I don't know if I could take it and do something if I wanted to with it.
FRANNIE: I'm just wondering if, yeah, if it's a for-profit college rip-off type situation.
JPEGMAFIA: I don't think it is. I'm pretty sure it's a real thing, but because of the situation I was in, I definitely – the Master's degree is definitely a paper thing. You know what I mean? It's something that looks good on paper, but it's not – it looks better than it actually is is what I'm trying to say.
FRANNIE: That's true of all Master’s degrees.
JPEGMAFIA: Yeah, yeah. But people specifically think it's very impressive with me, but it's just like, "No." My first degree, I did this – I CLEPed a bunch of shit, so I got done with it – I don't know if you know what CLEPing is.
FRANNIE: I don't.
JPEGMAFIA: It's like you take a general test for a course instead of doing the course.
FRANNIE: So you test out of something?
JPEGMAFIA: Pretty much. You test out of something.
FRANNIE: Got it.
JPEGMAFIA: And I'm very clever when it comes to tests.
FRANNIE: I mean, that's – I'm sorry. I've never heard of that, and that seems like a really great idea. Like, give people credit for what they know, for what they taught themselves.
JPEGMAFIA: I mean, I believe – that's why I say – since this in an option in the military, a lot of people use this – but I don't know if a lot of people who – there's some people – I mean, I know a lot of people, but sometimes people get out with degrees in the military and they don't – they just don't apply to real life.
Either – you take it somewhere and they don't – they're like, "This is not – this works in the military but this doesn't work here."
FRANNIE: Got it.
JPEGMAFIA: Like, there's specific things that work, so my degree not actually even count for anything.
FRANNIE: I understand.
JPEGMAFIA: So someone who has a Master’s degree from – and went to a school and shit like that – my bad. I'm rambling.
FRANNIE: Whatever. No no no. It's really interesting. So do you care about journalism? Is it something you think about? Do you read a lot? Do you have a stake in it?
JPEGMAFIA: I do. I love writing. And my thing with the journalism thing, the reason why I wanted to do it was I didn't think – at the time in the military when I was deployed and there was – I'm in Iraq and shit like that, and I'm in Kuwait, all these places. In my mind, I didn't think I would make it musically ever to be honest.
FRANNIE: So it was a back-up plan.
JPEGMAFIA: It was a kind of a back-up plan, but it was more – I can't even describe it. It was more like a failsafe or like a panic button or like a – or more like, "I've never really going to make it with music, so I should try to do something more realistic" is what I was thinking with that –
FRANNIE: It was, like, procrastinating.
JPEGMAFIA: Yeah, basically. It was procrastination. So I was just like, if I can't make it doing music, I at least want to talk about it, cause I just love music in general. I just enjoy talking about it in general. So that was kind of my thinking about it originally.
FRANNIE: Mhmm. Are there music writers that you check for now? Or outlets or any type of conversation that you want to – that you pay attention to?
JPEGMAFIA: Well, I used to avoid them for years, but now I definitely regularly check up on the evil empire known as Pitchfork just to make sure that they're not talking shit.
FRANNIE: A "Best New Track" will do that to you.
JPEGMAFIA: Yeah. Yo, they gave me – that's funny. Out of everything I expected to ever happen, I didn't think they would ever like me, cause I talk so much shit about them.
And then, you know what's funny? I keep seeing the dude from Pitchfork like constantly. I saw him – I was at a Clairo [00:12:54 ?] show and I saw that n**** too. I was like, "Why is this n**** here? He's just here. This is so random." He just be showing up. But I feel like he's pulling up on me, like, "Yeah, I see you, n****. You been talking shit? I'm about to pull up on you, n****."
But yeah, I check for certain writers. Of course legendary n***** like Robert Christgau or however you pronounce his name.
FRANNIE: You're close, yeah.
FRANNIE: That's my friend.
JPEGMAFIA: Oh, Briana?
FRANNIE: It was her birthday last week. Happy Birthday, Briana!
JPEGMAFIA: Oh yeah! Happy Birthday, Briana! She did a Fader interview.
FRANNIE: She told me. I read it. It was really great.
JPEGMAFIA: Yeah. Writing is really an art. It really is. It's not really looked at as such, but it really is. And I've taken skills – my love for writing, and applied it to music, because I just – I like writing.
JPEGMAFIA: Like, just writing, when I write songs. I'll write it and edit it like I'm editing an essay to be honest. Sometimes. If I'm really want to get something across, I'll really think about it. Other times I just freestyle some shit and just be like, "Alright. What am I feeling in this moment?" I like to capture lightning in a bottle most of the time, but yeah, I don't know.
FRANNIE: Yeah. I mean, especially on Veteran, it feels like your word choice – it just feels really intentional.
JPEGMAFIA: Some of the shit is very intentional. When I switched the word – I say cracker a lot on there. So I switched the word on purpose, cause originally I was just saying n****, but I just say cracker because I'm just like, "What's going to happen when I point the finger at the listener?" Because a lot of people who listen to rap, they listen to it, but I want them to know what it feels like when sometimes – what it can feel like if the finger is pointed at you.
Because they'll listen to n***** talking about killing themselves all day, but as soon as I say, "I'm going to point this gun at you," that freaks some people out. They'll email and be like, "Wait. What's going on here?" But it's just like, "N****, you listen to this shit every day. You just now noticed this? This is what you're listening to." It's the best way for me to get that point across without having to explain it explicitly. I'm just going to be like, "This is what it feels like." And while they're reacting to me, they realize like, "Oh, this is" – maybe. Or they'll just be like – they'll just send me an email like, "Peggy, you're racist. I hate you."
FRANNIE: People with time. Yeah, I mean, I think that's really important, and I was hoping to kind of get into this with Ali, because he's sort of largely of the opinion that we should put positive things in the world. And I'm a little bit more of the opinion that sometimes I want my aggression reflected back at me. And on the other hand, I think that making people feel angry or frustrated or scared can be productive for them.
JPEGMAFIA: Yeah. It's just a different way. I understand the putting positivity into the world kind of mindset, but I've seen too much fucked up shit to realistically think that would work, at least for me. Maybe that works for other people.
FRANNIE: What do you mean work?
JPEGMAFIA: I mean, putting positivity in the world, I don't know exactly what context he might be – specifically what he might be saying, but putting positivity in the world at least for me when you say that, it means thinking positively, doing positive things, because that's what going to be reciprocated back to you.
JPEGMAFIA: So me, personally, I agree with that. Put positivity in the world. But I don't necessarily think it means it's going to be reciprocated back to you, because you could positivity into the world and be shot in the street the next day. I've just seen – and it's not specifically that, but I've just seen real life happen a lot. And I'm 28, so to teenagers, I'm old as fuck. So I've seen a lot.
So I think in the real world if you put positivity in the world, yeah, it can reciprocated back to you, but that doesn't meant that everyone else is on your wavelength, in putting positivity. Because you could be putting positivity in the world, and this other n**** could just be, like, trying to get a meal and want to rob you, or somebody else might just be having a bad day. You can't account for what other people are feeling.
So that's why putting positivity in the world, it works, but yeah, realistically, I think it's more idealistic, I guess. I don't know.
FRANNIE: Right. Yeah. So I forget the name of the project that you made the week of the uprising.
JPEGMAFIA: Oh, Darkskin Manson.
JPEGMAFIA: Yeah, the Darkskin Manson EP.
FRANNIE: Was that, like, documentation of your sort of feelings?
JPEGMAFIA: Yeah, kind of, in a way, actually. When I was driving around Baltimore, the city was empty. Everything was on fire. There was a curfew. Yeah, I remember. This was a curfew, so I was stuck in the city actually. Cause at the time I didn't live inside the city of Baltimore yet. I lived in Columbia, which is like 30 minutes away, cause I was trying to find an apartment in Baltimore, so I would drive into the city all the time.
But fuck, man, yeah, that night? That shit was crazy. I just – I saw it, and then I was there, and I was trapped, basically just driving around and then went to a homie's house and spent the night. And then I went back the next day to my crib, brought all my equipment over to Baltimore. I think I went to the Bell and recorded some songs. Then I went home and recorded some shit. But yeah, I did that shit in literally a week. I was just like, "This is what I'm feeling right now."
Because at the time, because of the Freddie Gray shit, people keep getting shot in the street all the time, and people would march and protest, and, like, that's fine. But this is the first time I seen a city say, "Actually no. This is not – this can't happen. No. Fuck that shit. We're going to fuck the city up until you literally do something about this." So I felt very proud, so I wanted to make something to commemorate it I guess.
FRANNIE: That's how they made – your story remind – that's kind of how they made The Chronic basically.
JPEGMAFIA: The Chronic? Oh really?
JPEGMAFIA: That's interesting. Was The Chronic made, like, fast? Do you know?
FRANNIE: I don't think so, but faster than now, I think?
JPEGMAFIA: Than people make albums now?
FRANNIE: I would say like a month. I'm talking out of my ass. But that's my guess.
JPEGMAFIA: No, I believe it. That's interesting. That album, it just feels like – as a producer, I listen to that album and Dr. Dre in general a lot to get tips and inspiration, and that album seems – I don't know – very precise.
FRANNIE: Methodical. Yeah.
JPEGMAFIA: Very methodical. I just wouldn't think of it –
JPEGMAFIA: But yeah, it be happening like that.
FRANNIE: So you know they have – there's the footage audio sometimes? That's from somebody else who was driving around with them, that kind of thing.
JPEGMAFIA: OK. Fire, fire. I did not know that at all.
FRANNIE: Yeah. I want to come back to you and West Coast music, but that seems to me to be a forgotten – when white music journalists talk about rap music and hip-hop and whatnot, and when people who don't know anything about hip-hop and rap talk about it, they seem to forget it has – they're like, "Why isn't hip-hop political anymore? Why is it so temporary?" Whatever. And they seem to forget about this history of documentation in particular. I guess I don't really – I just think about that a lot. I notice it.
JPEGMAFIA: Yeah. Rap is always just a reflection of whatever the fuck is going on at the time, to be honest. So I hear a lot of people say the same thing, but the people who usually say these kind of things, I think they're forgetting, yeah, it's a reflection, literally, of society.
Cause I've heard similar kind of argument used by people who don't like hip-hop at all, and they'll be like, "Oh, rap ruined the black community" or some shit. And it's just like, "It really didn't. The black community was like that, and then rap just reflected that," and then now you give a shit. But yeah, in 1971, when there was no rap, you just didn't care.
FRANNIE: Right. Right.
JPEGMAFIA: You feel me? Like, nothing changed. Yeah. I don't know. But yeah – I don't know.
JPEGMAFIA: Oh yeah, Jesus Christ, man.
FRANNIE: And I really wanted Ali to be here to speak on that, because we've talked about this on the show before, but Tribe listened to a lot of N.W.A when they were working.
JPEGMAFIA: Tribe Called Quest?
JPEGMAFIA: That's interesting. That's really interesting.
FRANNIE: And there's this way in which they would never make that music, but they loved it and really found it important. And I know you've spoken about this a bunch, why you like Cube.
FRANNIE: Do you remember the first time that you heard him?
JPEGMAFIA: Ice Cube? The first time I literally heard Ice Cube was probably when I was like 12 in – there was this video on MTV2. It was Ice Cube and Mack 10, and it was like – wait. What was the song? It was like, "This is the way us gangsters roll."
FRANNIE: Oh yeah.
JPEGMAFIA: Some shit like that. That's probably the first time I ever literally heard Ice Cube, and I was just like, "Man, I like this song."
But the first time I heard Ice Cube and was like, "Oh shit" was when I heard AmeriKKKa's Most – I downloaded AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted off of Kazaa, the full album. I downloaded – it was like his full discography or something at the time. And at the time in like 2001, '02, '03, he didn't have as much albums as he did now. So he had maybe seven or eight albums overall. So there was N.W.A shit, from N.W.A. And The Posse all the way to whatever he had just released, that album where he was dressed like a wizard or whatever the fuck. the laughing – you know what I'm talking about?
FRANNIE: I forgot about that.
JPEGMAFIA: Yeah. That shit. I had all that shit, so I would listen to all them, and I fuck with the later ones too, but man, when I first heard AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, that shit was fucking ridiculous. I never heard content like that. I never heard anyone rap about that kind of shit like that. I heard Public Enemy, which I loved, but Public Enemy came from a more – I don't how to explain it. A more almost like – what's the word I'm looking for here? Cause Cube was more –
FRANNIE: Like they were bringing knowledge to you?
JPEGMAFIA: Cause Cube was bringing knowledge to you, but it was more the way he presented it. He presented it from an everyman's perspective. He was talking about politics, but he was talking about how it – about politics how n***** just speak casually. Whereas Public Enemy they seem like they had a specific thing, Ice Cube was just talking shit how n***** just talk shit, but he had that political message.
And I was just like, I didn't know you could speak about political shit on record like that. In my mind, when you talked about politics, it was this serious thing. You had to – I don't know. It was just like –
FRANNIE: You had to be buttoned up kind of and –
JPEGMAFIA: Buttoned up and just like, "Alright. I'm giving you knowledge."
FRANNIE: Formal. Yeah, yeah.
JPEGMAFIA: I don't know you could be like, "Yeah, fuck Bush." Or some shit. I didn't know – yeah. So when I heard that and then I went back and listened to N.W.A – and I actually liked N.W.A not knowing Cube wrote a lot of that shit. Then I found out he did all that, and I was just like, "Man, this guy's incredible." Yeah. AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted. I went to Death Certificate. What was the next one? The Predator, Lethal Injection, all those shits, man.
They just – he literally changed my life. I literally would not be rapping if it wasn't for Cube. He literally showed me a different way to rap about certain things. I didn't know you could rap like that.
I have that same thing in my crib. That lamp. It's like a USB.
FRANNIE: The rose thing?
FRANNIE: The rose quartz thing?
JPEGMAFIA: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
FRANNIE: Me fucking too.
JPEGMAFIA: Yeah! That's fire. That's fire.
FRANNIE: Yeah, somebody gave me that.
JPEGMAFIA: That's funny. Somebody gave me mine too.
FRANNIE: Right? Cause who buy that for themselves.
JPEGMAFIA: Low-key. Low-key.
FRANNIE: Cube's post- – OK. I was going to say post-album career, but he could still do something. But his current career is fascinating to me.
FRANNIE: Like, the BIG3, and all the movie shit that he does. I mean, I want to interview him so badly. So badly.
FRANNIE: Oh wow.
JPEGMAFIA: For the Baltimore City Paper. And that was an honor. I want to do the same thing with Cube. I'd like to interview him too, just to – I just want to ask him things, cause –
JPEGMAFIA: I'm just fascinated by him.
FRANNIE: Because he's maneuvered through the industry –
JPEGMAFIA: In a very weird way.
JPEGMAFIA: And considering his content too, it's very interesting that he's now in the role he's in.
FRANNIE: Because it's like, the XXX shit, that made sense, kind of. But then the – what was the movie where he's with his kids and the –
JPEGMAFIA: Oh, Are We There Yet?
FRANNIE: Yeah, yeah. And everybody was like – yeah, exactly. Made that exact face. The whole nation made that face.
FRANNIE: But now BIG3 feels very different from that. That's very controlling with a vertical operation basically. Yeah, I don't know. I mean, have you thought at all about what you would want your career to be outside of music?
JPEGMAFIA: Yeah, I have thought about it. And to be honest, music is the only thing I've ever really – I can ever confidently say I've been good at.
FRANNIE: Well, you're kind of also on your second career in a way.
JPEGMAFIA: What do you mean?
FRANNIE: Just after the military.
JPEGMAFIA: Oh, yeah yeah yeah. I – yeah, that's true. I mean, honestly, that was never going to be a career. I just –
FRANNIE: Yeah, I get it.
JPEGMAFIA: I'm in, then I was out. But fucking outside of – the music is the thing I care about the most, and it's the thing I put the most time into, but I think I would like to score soundtracks. That would be so fire, to just have someone send me something, some unreleased anime or some shit that's not out, and I'm just watching it, and I just make the music based on what I'm seeing. I would fucking die to do that. I want to do stuff like that. I want to mix for other people. I want to produce for other people too.
Oh wait, but outside of music. Hold on. I don't really know. I've never really thought about it. Music is the only thing I've ever truly truly cared about, to the extent that I care about it, other than family. This is – nothing planned, but if something happens, like if I get an acting role maybe one day, that would be cool.
But I can't act for shit. I'm so bad at acting. It's kind of crazy. It's kind of interesting how bad I am, because I think people assume I would be good for some reason.
FRANNIE: Well, people think performers would be.
JPEGMAFIA: Yeah, but I'm not. I'm very bad at acting.
FRANNIE: OK. Take your word for it.
JPEGMAFIA: You ever see the NBA players when they do commercials? They be like, "Buy Speed Stick. It's good."
FRANNIE: And they're like, "Be more animated!" And he's like –
JPEGMAFIA: He's like, "Alright. Buy Speed Stick." Yeah, that's me. That's definitely me. And I can't control it. It's – when there's a camera on, and it's just like, "Do it." It's just hard to – I don't know – do normal shit. I can't describe it.
But yeah. So I don't really necessary have any technical aspirations, but I have vague ideas I would like to do, and I would be open to – I have – I'm basically open to ideas when it comes to that kind of thing, but nothing planned. No.
FRANNIE: So I was thinking about your music, and I had read somewhere – I don't remember where – that you were sort of – you had spent some time listening to pop music and, to be honest, we did spend a lot of time talking about Nickelback before we started this interview, but –
JPEGMAFIA: I spend a lot of time talking about Nickelback in general.
FRANNIE: And you have said that your goal is to support yourself just off music, not doing anything else.
FRANNIE: Does that ever compromise your work, wanting – requiring people to listen to it, to essentially like it to pay your bills? Do you ever feel tension around that idea?
JPEGMAFIA: Oh, of course. That's the whole idea behind being an artist. That's the risk you assume, is that you can work really hard on something and put it out, and people just say, "Oh, this sucks. Bye." And just dismiss it. I could release an album next year, and people care about it for a week and be like, "Oh, whatever. I'm off that." That's just a risk you have to assume. It just comes with the territory. It is what it is. You could literally – there's nothing I can do about that.
FRANNIE: So you're saying there aren't moments where you're like, "Let me lighten up here a little bit?"
JPEGMAFIA: Oh! No. If I ever do that – I'm a very – I think very creatively. I'm very lightning-in-a-bottle when I'm capturing musical moments, so if I ever do that, it would be because I need the song to do something specifically, or I want the song to sound a certain way. It would never be because like, "Oh. Let me lighten up to get" –
FRANNIE: For commercial reasons.
JPEGMAFIA: No. Fuck no. I would never do that. Cause people can see through that shit.
FRANNIE: Yeah. So true.
JPEGMAFIA: Like if I released a song – if I released a straight pop song or something or just some fake-ass shit, people would literally see through it. They'd be like, "Oh, this n**** is trying to sell out or get money."
FRANNIE: It's a play.
JPEGMAFIA: And people might not care, but yeah, you'll lose respect. So I wouldn't do that. If I ever did a pop record, it would be a pop record in the way I want to do it. Cause I listen to all that shit anyway.
But yeah, no. That never affects it really. I keep it in mind, because at the end of the day, all musicians are doing this for validation of the people, at the end of the day. So yeah, I keep that in mind, but I don't let it – I don't try to play to any one specific thing. I do what I want and then just try to present it in a way that I think other people will like it, basically.
FRANNIe: I see. So what are your other – and I'm not saying that validation is your primary motivator, but what are your other motivators? Competition, frustration, jealousy?
JPEGMAFIA: Probably all those honestly. I thrive off of that. I like to listen to a lot of music, so I listen to a lot of things, and I'm just like, "Man, this is really good." I think to myself, "I could never make this." And then I go and make something and try to make something better than it, or I try to make something I see as better than it or – I don't know.
I thrive off of all those emotions. All the emotions you can possibly feel, I thrive off that musically, because anything can inspire. You can be feeling sad and then make something that's really good, or you could be feeling happy as shit and make something good too. It really depends.
That's the beauty of music to me. That's why I like it. Because it's not like math or something, where it's like, if one part of the problem is off, the end is fucked up. Whereas music, you can just do everything wrong and it be right. Or you can do everything right and the shit be wrong. It's subjective. The subjectivity, I like it. I don't if that's a word, but yeah.
FRANNIE: That's definitely a word.
JPEGMAFIA: Hell yeah!
FRANNIE: Do you want to know the newest word that I learned? Respelling.
FRANNIE: Yeah, that's an actual word.
JPEGMAFIA: I'm about to respell this n****.
FRANNIE: If you think about –
JPEGMAFIA: Respell? That makes sense.
JPEGMAFIA: I'm about to just – something's spelled wrong. I'm respelling it.
FRANNIE: Yeah. Like the way people will spell like b-o-i.
JPEGMAFIA: OK. Yeah – oh! Like a – oh, OK.
FRANNIE: I don't think that's how they mean it. I think they mean the phonetic spelling of a word in the dictionary. You know how they use that code kind of? But I think it's more interesting when you think about – yeah, when people spell queen k-w-e-e-n, basically.
JPEGMAFIA: I love it.
FRANNIE: I don't know. I'm into it.
JPEGMAFIA: I love it.
FRANNIE: I know that Ali would want to ask you about your process and particularly just about how you listen, like, to pull. And also do you have ideas – do they just come to you out of nowhere? Is your voice memos just a treasure chest?
JPEGMAFIA: Yeah, the voice memo thing. I mean, my process is usually just – I don't know. I don't really have one. I sit down, and I just let whatever happens happen really. So like, I kind of keep an open mind and try not to stay –
You know what actually? I think I said something like this yesterday. I think my process is staying out of my comfort zone and trying to make myself feel as comfortable as I can in this weird space, in this weird headspace, where I'll just be like, "I'm going to make something that sounds like this." And I'll just make something – it'll be something that I probably shouldn't be making, and then I'll just try to make it be as comfortable as I can in that uncomfortable space.
It doesn't really make sense, but that's the best I can describe it.
FRANNIE: No, that makes total – I get that.
JPEGMAFIA: But that's kind of my process. And I try to just, like I said, lightning in a bottle whenever I'm making shit. So no, I don't really have a specific process other than just smoking a lot and just concentrating. Those are just – those are the only two consistent things I probably do every time.
FRANNIE: So I don't remember if you have said this or if I'm just hearing this in your music, but that you're basically not – you're definitely not being conciliatory, right?
JPEGMAFIA: What do you mean?
FRANNIE: That's not part of the plan.
JPEGMAFIA: What do you mean?
FRANNIE: That your music is not trying to – like you had said earlier, you're not trying explain things to people so that we can all hold hands and whatever.
JPEGMAFIA: Yeah. No no no. Yeah, oh, OK. My bad. I didn't know what that word meant.
FRANNIE: Oh sorry.
FRANNIE: You're not offering anything up with the expectation that somebody's going to give you something back kind of.
JPEGMAFIA: No, no. I'm simply here to just point things out and just give my perspective on hypocrisies I see or just things in general that I particularly care about. I'm not here to preach to anybody. Anybody can think whatever they want. They can react to it any way they want. I'm literally just here to present my art to you. You can interpret it in any way you feel. That is the point.
I literally don't want to present it – even at my shows, I don't really tell anybody to do anything. I won't even tell them like, "Put your hands up" or nothing like that, cause I'm just like, "You paid your money. You can literally do whatever the fuck you want." You can just do whatever you want. Just don't put your hands on me, and then we're good, basically.
FRANNIE: Yeah. Do you consider that fearless?
JPEGMAFIA: I don't necessarily think it's fearless. It might seem fearless to other people, to some people, but to me, it's more like when people talk about equality and being fair and seeing everybody as equal, it's just my version of that. I try to treat everyone genuinely fair and try to be non-partisan or whatever, even – so that's why even in my music, when I attack – I'll attack a redneck racist motherfucker as soon as I'll attack a fake neoliberal motherfucker, like that.
Because I'm not here to play sides. I'm not playing sides to anybody. I'm not trying to get anybody to pick a side. I'm just presenting the information for you to do whatever you want with it, to be honest. I'm just a textbook. Like, there's information here, and there's music here. And you can like it. You can like it. If you take away a political message from it, cool. If you take away like, "Oh, I just like the beats," whatever. You can literally do whatever you want, yo.
Because I know, me growing up, the way I interpreted some certain music – certain music, it's like, I interpreted it in weird ways for years, and then one day it just grew on me and just had an effect on me. That's what happened with the Diplomats, the group the Diplomats. I used to listen to them and really just more be interested in the beats. And then eventually I started listening to the lyrics, and I just loved the personality and I loved the lyrics and everything came together. But yeah, initially, it was just like, "Yeah, I just like the beats. I don't really listen to the" – cause I was like 12.
But yeah, it's there for interpretation. Cause Cam'ron never told me, "You should be listening to my lyrics." I just came around to it naturally. So yeah, I prefer that genuine just – my art is open for interpretation basically.
FRANNIE: Yeah, I mean, what I like is that it's not – you respect your audience's intelligence.
JPEGMAFIA: Exactly! Exactly. That people aren't stupid. So I don't try to preach to them, because I don't know what's going on in your personal life. So since I can't judge that, it's not my right to – I don't feel like I'm in the right to just be like, "You should live this way, because it's working for me." It might not work for you.
FRANNIE: Right. Yeah.
JPEGMAFIA: So yeah, I'm very neutral.
FRANNIE: Thank you so much for coming, especially early in the morning, and it's raining, and giving me this time. I wish Ali could be here. I know he wishes that also. Just look at the empty chair for a moment.
JPEGMAFIA: I keep looking at the chair and imagining someone's there.
FRANNIE: Like, expecting him to appear.
JPEGMAFIA: Yeah. Have you noticed that? This whole interview.
FRANNIE: A benevolent presence is there. I feel good about that.
JPEGMAFIA: He's just like, "Peace yo."
FRANNIE: Alright. Thank you.
JPEGMAFIA: No problem.