ALL MY HEROES ARE [REDACTED]
JPEGMAFIA, Kanye West, and Immeasurable Disappointment
In March of 2023, Stereogum published an interview with rapper-producer extraordinaire JPEGMAFIA (affectionally known as Peggy), where he joked that the critically acclaimed Scaring the Hoes was made with Danny Brown due to Kanye West’s anti-Semitic tirades. During the duo's rollout, this comment was taken in jest, a passing moment where Peggy could explicitly demarcate his moralistic standings and the artists he chooses to associate/work with. However, on January 19th, 2024 at 12:28 PM EST, Peggy would unleash onto the world a Tweet of him and Kanye against a beige wall that seemingly confirmed his involvement on the upcoming Kanye and Ty Dolla $ign collaborative release Vultures. Kanye, mouth slightly ajar like an overgrown toddler asked to stand next to their unhinged uncle for a photo. Peggy, clearly fatigued in some way, looked as if his thought his youth was being snatched in real-time. On a surface level, the artists’ juxtaposed demeanours and the minimal background should be an endless source of silly photoshopped images for weeks to come. That being said, if you have read the lyrics to any JPEGMAFIA song, this singular Tweet and involvement with Kanye, threatens to undermine everything he stands for. Bringing forth an unsavoury truth to his album's adage All My Heroes Are Cornballs.
Perhaps I came off a little too strong. JPEGMAFIA, despite his prevalence within Fantanocore and white, suburban circles (synonyms if you ask me), has never made art palatable to the mainstream. An intricate, surgeon-esque precision with samples and politically charged lyrics makes for exhilarating, dynamic productions that are sonically transgressive and brimming with passionate energy. In the most representative example I could conjure, on “I Just Killed A Cop Now I’m Horny,” Peggy contrasts black box radio audio of a cop being murdered and the soft, folky strings of Ai Aso, creating an eerie, chilling vibe that directly calls out the lack of sympathy felt towards Black victims of police brutality. Alongside tracks like “CUCK” and “Digital Blackface” on his first release under JPEGMAFIA Black Ben Carson, this is who Peggy is. Despite what he would claim, he’s a chronically online pariah, a “false prophet” that feens white consumers a brand of eclectic, topical hip-hop that just so happens to stimulate their audiophile-tuned ears and Liberal/left-leaning ideologies. Other than occasional comments here or there expressing his appreciation for Kanye’s contributions to hip-hop over his storied, influential career, there was nothing to indicate Peggy had any intention of overriding his beliefs to work with those he had publicly denounced.
Consistent with this ethos, in a now-deleted slew of Tweets, Peggy questioned Kanye’s choice of “rapist” and “incel” collaborators, claiming that his Tweets came from a place of envy and simply wanting “to get paid.” Peggy has always been about perfecting his craft to make his big break, and honestly, can anyone blame him? If I put in my 10,000 hours (or 100,000 in Peggy’s case), I too would want to reap the capital benefits of what I have sown. But, how far can an artist morally posture and deflect criticism on the basis of parasocialism, until he eventually caves?
In this era of media consumption and discourse, where sales allegedly equates to quality, and consumers are quick to discredit artistry in favour of ‘what sells,’ selling out is beyond normalcy, bordering on inconsequential. With that, the story should end here with an overly broad research question about the ills of capitalism, right? I can see my volatile sub-heading now, “A once-in-generation talent succumbs to the temptress that is right-wing extremism,” blah, blah, blah - if only it was that simple.
Let’s go back to where we started with this image:
But that’s not the image we started with is it? No, but it is the design that Kanye decided to brazenly wear across millions of screens while awkwardly standing next to Peggy. If you thought JPEGMAFIA was a pill, meet Varg Vikernes: murderer, arsonist, ‘former’ Nazi, conspiratorial terrorist, and founder of solo Norwegian metal project Burzum - a fun list, for sure. If Vikernes’ name rings a bell, it is likely due to Kanye’s odd admiration for the fascist icon, appropriating Burzum’s font and iconography for the rollout of Vultures.
Whether a non-White minority can embody the Nazi label is up in the air, but Kanye’s on-and-off reappropriation of White supremacist aesthetics feels desperate. As the mystique of a once young visionary brimming with innovation quickly fades, Kanye’s attempts to maintain control over his business and personal life has led to the kind of art you’d expect from a right-wing, cancel culture grifter. This is not the same Kanye that formulated the iconic Yeezy Boost silhouettes, nor is it the one that produced generation-defining albums like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasies, 808s & Heartbreak, and The Life of Pablo; instead, after falling out with Adidas and GOOD Music, his antics ultimately culminate in horrid sock-shoes and the most uninspired shlock of his career. Ye has become the reactionary old guard without an iota of self-awareness to recognize his waning consistency, leaving in his absence a vacancy for sonic innovators like JPEGMAFIA.
“Tom, Varg, Morrissey / Bunch of timid, white **** who can’t fuck with me” are the words that lead into Veteran’s 16th track, “I Cannot Fucking Wait Til Morrissey Dies.” A lowkey interlude characterized by a sharp synth melody and a thumping bass, JPEGMAFIA dubs himself the “left-wing Hades,” an entity who will punish right-wing radicals with a .380 Colt pistol. He rattles off White, fascist rockers he deems antithetical to the genre’s anti-establishment roots like Tom Araya, Steven Morrissey, Johnny Rotten, and, of course, Varg Vikernes. This being Peggy’s second threat charged at the Burzum founder as on “ALL CAPS NO SPACES,” he seeks to confront Vikernes if he’s ever in Peggy’s hometown of Baltimore, Maryland - safe to say, Peggy is shooting to kill.
With this well-documented malice in mind, the original picture becomes all the more perplexing. How could this Peggy, the leftist army vet who despises fascists, Nazis, and elites, be the same Peggy that is currently buddy-buddy with Kanye, a known antisemite and Nazi-baiter? In this framing, the Varg shirt feels taunting. Dangled in front of Peggy as a reminder of his once staunch beliefs that he sacrificed just to work with his now alt-right pandering ‘hero.’
Nowadays, it’s become much too easy to turn a blind eye to an artist’s personal politics or separate art from the artist. On spaces like hip-hop Twitter, you will be lambasted by droves of cargo short-donned white men as parasocial for saying, maybe don’t take a silly one with a Nazi sympathizer. If an artist like Peggy, who is overwhelmingly political and partisan in his work, can’t be criticized for his hypocrisy without crying wolf, it begs to ask how much of it is performative? How many of his beliefs are real, and how much of it is just fabricated to sell copies to RYM users? While I can see this Vultures era only being a small mark on JPEG’s deservingly illustrious career, it’s a disappointing route to fame that he shouldn’t have needed to resort to, and it’ll definitely make me think twice about the leftist virtues he’ll inevitably spout on future records.
Despite a purposeful delay in releasing this article to let the dust settle and to collect my thoughts, it seems as though this saga will not find its end anytime soon.
So, what's happened? First, Peggy's most vocal critical advocate, Anthony Fantano has come out with a concise, 10-minute overview that cites multiple instances of West's antisemitism and poor moral character, including the funding of known far-right degenerate Nick Fuentes and doubling down on his admiration for Hitler on InfoWars. Fantano counters many of the common excuses made for Kanye, finding his apology insincere considering the continued perpetuation of antisemitism by wearing the Burzum shirt. And if you somehow think that Vikernes is reformed after his relatively short stint in jail, you will never see this coming...
Boom! Blatant Islamophobia! And what's over the horizon?
Splat! A now-deleted Tweet that says the quiet part through a comedically racist megaphone. Side note, for a guy who fantasizes about a dystopian world where power ceases to exist where his superior IQ* will carry him, he sure is chronically online and engages in the most baseless, bad-faith discourses.
*I guarantee this Tweet and his replies under it will have you rolling.
But where does JPEGMAFIA fit into this conversation? Fantano makes a compelling point that, for all of Peggy's online moral posturing against Freddie Gibbs's embarrassing behaviour revolving his parental responsibilities, why in the same breath would he beg for Kanye's attention? If association with Freddie Gibbs can be seen as humiliating, what does an association with Ye entail? Though, as a couple of peers have mentioned to me, there is an aspect of Peggy's admiration that most outlets and critics, including Fantano, often overlook. To work with your childhood hero, the progenitor of modern hip-hop as we know it (alongside Pharrell and Wayne) is something 99% of artists can only dream of, and it's difficult to fault JPEG for chasing his dreams.
Thus, for a second time in this article, we should have be at an impasse. As much as we can question and disagree with Peggy's choices, he's allowed to work with who he wishes and none of us have a say in that. However, as you've probably guessed, Peggy has a new set of now-deleted Tweets that not only complicate this conclusion, but have been reposted by Kanye himself.
In an absolute word vomit of a rant, Peggy divulges his admiration for Kanye and takes the internet's criticisms personally. In creating a strawman that inadvertently minimalizes Ye's antisemitism, Peggy justifies his association on the grounds that he has dealt with racism as a Black man in America. He follows with a sweeping, vitriolic generalization of his critics as those who listen to artists that "beat bitches up and rape girls in real life," using whataboutism, a common right-wing tactic. In a final stand, he claims that he shouldn't be labelled a Nazi and that critics do not respect "anything black" and will never amount to his current financial/star status.
While I don't doubt the existence of the caricature described - I mean, have you seen Twitter as of late? I can promise you, most people calling out Kanye and Peggy are not the same people (knowingly) listening to abusers and rapists. If anything, Kanye is literally working with those exact artists he called out (i.e., Freddie Gibbs and Chris Brown)? More broadly, however, Peggy treats himself as impervious to criticism due to the existence of bad faith arguments from amorphous platforms like Reddit. Despite disvaluing online opinions in previous Tweets (ironic), he simultaneously insists on holding the internet accountable for their alleged racism more so than Kanye. As the only current participant in the "oppression olympics," it's disheartening to see him weaponize his blackness to justify his association with hatred.
If my original conclusion left any ambiguity about separating art from artist, this one should place a nail firmly in the coffin and shoot it to the deepest crevices of the earth's core. It should not be controversial to disavow Kanye West for his politics; many of us find out something unfortunate about their favourite artist and move on. While I don't believe Peggy shares the political values of Ye, the way he has chosen justify his association makes me believe he has no political ground to stand on. He can threaten to stand on business irl and flex his wealth on Twitter all he wants, but what happens when you lose that good will you've spend almost a decade building? What happens when you consistently denigrate your critical fans as stupid people with a propensity for the terrible? Only time will tell, and based on the erasure of all mentions of Vultures from Ye's Instagram profile, we will be waiting quite awhile.