Oscillating between a flamboyant strutting showman and a man possessed by angry demons, JPEGMAFIA shook The Sett Saturday night.
Everything the rapper cultivated in Baltimore’s underground scene was amplified tenfold in the live setting. All of the grisly humor, impassioned anger and distorted ambiguities present in his songs was compressed and distilled into his scathing and strategically short eight-song set.
He was preceded, though, by CRASHprez, an artist many familiar with Madison’s scene should know, who is also a peer to Peggy in topicality but diverges greatly from him in style and approach. The two also have known each other on Twitter for six years, but just recently met at SXSW last month, each remarked in their respective sets.
In photos: CRASHprez, Trophy Dad claim spotlight at Memorial Union Terrace StageThis past weekend, two local acts performed to a crowded and enthusiastic audience at the Memorial Union Terrace Stage. CRASHprez and Read…
Where Peggy takes a devil-may-care approach, rapidly shooting down anything that stands in the way of himself or his viewpoints of the world, CRASHprez — real name Michael Penn III — takes a more careful, sniper-like approach. Many of his tracks are well-structured and build carefully-constructed arguments, narratives or argument-narratives. His set Saturday was no different, featuring curated guests (Student 1 and Pharaoh), and well thought-out crowd interactions.
This isn’t to say Penn III is a coldly calculating artist, but rather he is a conscious one. And I don’t mean that in the overly-used and insulting way to mean he is vaguely political (he is intensely so), but rather his performance and his songs seem built with the conscious mind — every word or detail carefully arranged. Obviously, he must improvise some, but his natural wit often gives the impression he does not.
The only exception to this is his song “Fascist’s Don’t Cry,” which concluded his set. While all of his other tracks show an artist containing or struggling to contain and rid the chaos and evil of the world, this song is Penn III fighting fire with fire. He urged the crowd to remain steady for the song’s tense intro, being as silent and still as humanly possible. Then, when the song drops: Madness and mosh pits.
“Skin heads ain’t ’bout shit! / Skin heads ain’t ’bout shit! / Fuck supremacists! / Fuck supremacists!”
The fascist anger the enemies, the evil of the world bring, and CRASHprez provides an equal and righteous response. In this song and his performance, the restraints CRASHprez must impose upon himself to structure his songs so they are also statements are lifted, and the result is an artist who is innate and instinctual.
This isn’t to say this is Penn III in his ideal state, but it is a different side that could be seen more often. It also segues well into Peggy, an artist seemingly without any restraints at all.
As your correspondent stated, when Peggy — real name Barrington Hendricks — came out it was lights out. He immediately dove into crowd at the onset of his first track “Real N*ga” and more or less maintained that same energy in all of his tracks. There was something instinctual and inherent to the performances of his song. It’s like the combination of his music, his productions and his performing all combined to form a sonic messaging that affects the body and subconscious and then leaks into one’s conscience from there.
His words matter, but they also don’t at the same time. He is both crystal clear and impenetrably abstract all at once. The most lucid parts of the performances came in between his songs where he entertained the crowd with quips about Kanye West’s recent conservative streak and slapping the shit out of Van Morrissey if he ever got the chance. This came, of course, before his rendition of “I Cannot Fucking Wait For Morrissey To Die.”
Clocking in at eight tracks, and concluding with “Baby I’m Bleeding,” Peggy’s set blisteringly quick, over before you knew it, but the ripples he cast are still resonating. The sheer quantity of everything that’s packed into his music, from the uncanny comparisons (“Got the AR built like Lena Dunham,”) the unapologetic politics where he guns for both sides of the aisle and the surprising sampling (see his song “Face Down Ass Up”) and all the distortion heaped on top is like a file that’s too big for society’s computer to process.
Maybe all of the lattermost component listed above is because of that.