“Pitchfork Condé Nast Music Festival!” JPEGMAFIA exclaimed. “Look at it. And they’re letting me up here with a live microphone. Mistake.”
It was not a mistake. The LA-based rapper and producer had just set up his laptop — his only accompaniment onstage at Chicago’s Union Park — and was about to put on one of the most thrilling sets of the weekend. When he pressed play on the beat from “VENGEANCE | VENGEANCE,” his collaboration with Denzel Curry, the bass was so loud that I wondered how long the festival’s sound system could handle it. Yet the intensity was nothing compared to Peggy himself, a whirlwind in black overalls and a bandana. He threw his whole body into the performance: helicoptering, grooving, crawling, grinding, crowdsurfing, rabble-rousing, and shouting every lyric with unrestrained fury.
The launchpad for this tour de force was a series of beats mostly produced by Peggy himself, noise-bombed deconstructions splattered with laser blasts and found sound. People have often called his music a reflection of the internet’s dark underbelly because of the way he so skillfully repurposes the bad-faith nihilism of online discourse. On records like last year’s breakout Veteran, he just as easily could be shouting from inside an ultraviolent video game, a comparison he himself would probably favor based on our conversation Sunday after his set. Onstage, those relentlessly busy sound collages took a backseat to Peggy himself, a supernova of charisma and physicality.
By his second song — “Real Nega,” the Veteran blitzkrieg that samples ODB’s atonal howl and finds him rapping that his automatic rifle is “built like Lena Dunham” — Peggy was down by the barricade spurring on a rowdy audience. A couple songs later, he inquired, “So I got one question before I play this next one: Will you catch me?” People did. Before delivering an a cappella verse that climaxed with a promise to throw a party when Donald Trump dies, he requested, “I need a strong, powerful white man to lean on.” He introduced “How To Start A Relationship,” his song from Flume’s recent mixtape by announcing, “This song was produced with a caucasian. I like to keep things fair and balanced, like Fox News, you feel me?”
For about an hour he toggled between cathartic ragers and something like standup comedy. Repeatedly he mentioned that he can’t perform his new music yet and that when it does come out people will be disappointed. Late in the set he informed us that although he officially retired his track “I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies,” he’s been continuing to perform it because “I don’t really fuck with Morrissey like that. I don’t really care about that nigga’s life at all.” Ahead of “Macaulay Caulkin,” there was this: “Before I get into this last song, can y’all do me a favor? Storm Area 51.” He then asked people to sit down, forgetting the field was a muddy mess, and many actually complied. And when a fan requested noted pop fan Peggy’s version of “Call Me Maybe,” he declined, insisting first that he lost the beat a while ago and then, “One day I’ll do ‘Call Me Maybe’ for sure, when I’m more brave.” It was a curious thing to hear from a guy who’d just put on a fearless performance.
About an hour after his set, I grabbed a few minutes with Peggy in a relatively quiet corner of Union Park. “I’m kinda blazed,” he informed me up front, which was an understatement. A bird pooped on our table during our chat; fortunately it didn’t land on either of us. I’m also happy to report that despite Peggy’s lyric about putting hands on a blogger and making him beg for his life, our interactions were friendly, if a bit loopy. Check out selections from our conversation below.
STEREOGUM: I was thinking you didn’t say anything that inflammatory on stage like you insinuated you might, but then I realized you’re saying the same stuff you’ve always said, it’s just that something like hoping the president dies is basically a mainstream idea now.
JPEGMAFIA: I didn’t intend to say anything, it just could go down. It’s interesting they keep giving me a live mic because someday it’s going to backfire. I’m gonna be in a bad mood one day and just say some crazy shit up there.
STEREOGUM: Your live show is so physically demanding. Do you have to work out to be able to perform like that?
JPEGMAFIA: I guess it’s better if you work out ’cause people are seeing you, it’s better if I’m not, like, fat. I’m kinda fat anyway — at least fat for me. You just need good stamina. And whenever I get enough money I’m just gonna get fans on stage — like literal actual wind fans, and just have a cool breeze the whole time.
STEREOGUM: When you told everybody to sit down, did you remember it was super muddy out there?
JPEGMAFIA: I completely forgot. I don’t know if anybody heard but I was like, “Oh, nevermind, it’s all good. I’ll sit down.” And then I went down in the pit, and then I got back up and everybody was sittin’ the fuck down. I was like, “Well damn, OK.” I mean, free will, man. I said it’s alright, you don’t have to do it, but niggas just sat down anyway, so I respect that. It’s tight. Both sides, too.
STEREOGUM: Have you gotten to check out any other performers at the festival?
JPEGMAFIA: I saw a little bit of Clairo. But no, I haven’t seen it. I’ve never been to this before. It looks like Sonic The Hedgehog or some shit. Like, look at the area we’re in, it’s like we’re playing Watch Dogs. You know that game Watch Dogs? It’s crazy. Gotta check it out, Watch Dogs is like me in a video game.
STEREOGUM: You mentioned onstage you can’t play your new music yet. Any update on when that might be coming out?
JPEGMAFIA: People keep asking me this. I don’t know. For me, nobody said anything about an album, it’s just all disappointment. That’s the only thing guaranteed. Only thing guaranteed is disappointment.
STEREOGUM: You were saying that on stage too. Why do you say that?
JPEGMAFIA: ‘Cause it’s just really wack, you know? I’ve listened to a lot of music I think is good. And I’ve peeped into the disappointment — it’s pretty bad, you feel me? But you know, shit happens when it happens.
STEREOGUM: What’s got you fired up to write these days? Obviously the subjects you’ve written about on past records has only gotten worse.
JPEGMAFIA: Like you said earlier, it’s such a mainstream idea, a lot of the ideas I was presenting three years ago or so. Now, I’ll always talk about whatever I want. I never even set out to make political music, I just care about the shit I’m talking about. You’re right, shit has gotten worse. But we’ll see what I speak on and what I don’t. Because how many ways can I say “Fuck Trump” before it’s like, “Who cares?” Who gives a fuck? Yeah, “Fuck Trump,” OK. Now what? So that’s kind of how it feels for me. I don’t feel like I have to sit in some arena or topic just because people expect me. They should expect nothing. Expect disappointment.
STEREOGUM: Can you talk about anything people might be surprised to hear you rapping about?
JPEGMAFIA: You should always be surprised. Whatever I talk about is what I’m gonna talk about. I like for things to be judged fairly. I’d rather people just peep the disappointment and judge for yourself. I’ve told you what I thought about it. It’s wack!
STEREOGUM: But you don’t think your old shit’s bad, just the new shit?
JPEGMAFIA: The old shit’s pretty bad too, but this shit is out there.
STEREOGUM: You moved about a year ago. How is your life in LA different from your life in Baltimore?
JPEGMAFIA: Completely opposite. It’s like sunny and the weed is good and people are happy and shit. And people have, like, plastic surgery. It’s tight. I like it. It’s like living in a video game or something. Baltimore’s just like, it’s like being in prison but being on the yard the whole day. So it’s kind of a whole different vibe. I love Baltimore, I miss the people, but I think LA is way more chill. That’s about it.
JPEGMAFIA: Not really. I think they tried to talk to me earlier this year, but I like the situation I’m in right now where I’m in control of anything. So no, not yet man, I’m not jumpin’ the shark yet, man. I’m holding out. Keepin’ it gangsta, keepin’ it funky. But Loma Vista’s a great label, and they got a lot of good people — Denzel, Injury Reserve. Good people in there.
STEREOGUM: So you’re not talking about your next album — is there anything you can say about your plans going forward?
JPEGMAFIA: Whatever I choose to do next will come out a lot sooner than you think. But that’s about all I can really say. And other than that, prepare for the worst, man. It’s actually funny how bad it is.