REVIEW: JPEGMAFIA shows off growing talent as opening act

On Saturday, rapper JPEGMAFIA opened for Vince Staples at The Novo, showcasing a wholly unique sound that left audience members wanting more. (Photo courtesy of Krupa Naik)

JPEGMAFIA’s voice, beats and stage presence are so impressive, it’s hard to believe he’s still only an opening act.

The experimental hip-hop artist and self-proclaimed “left-wing Hades” performed at The Novo in downtown Los Angeles Saturday as the appetizer for rapper Vince Staples’ tour. Although his set only lasted half an hour, his keen command of the crowd and electric performance, coupled with the freshness and punchiness of his songs, made his set the highlight of the evening.

JPEGMAFIA resides within a very particular and complex niche of rap music. His sample-heavy, glitchy instrumentals and bitterly ironic lyrics speak a language that’s hard to decipher for anyone who is new to his aesthetic.

The rapper’s ability to reconstruct sample-heavy instrumentation speak to the political frustration of modern times (evident in his lyrics like “roll deep like the ket … fake news we ain’t pressed”) and deliver it all in a callous, tongue-in-cheek way makes him an incredibly jarring listen for non-hip-hop-heads. However, for those who are regularly sifting through the incredibly saturated rap market, “Peggy’s” (as his fans have affectionately nicknamed him) ability to capture all these nuances have benchmarked him as a sort of Messiah. He’s able to speak the language of rap fluently, passionately, with almost sermon-like — even while his style is still developing.

Therefore, it’s no wonder that the audience seemed to admire even his quick performance Sunday night. From start to finish, his set was a cathartic explosion of sonic colors. Beginning with his feature from Denzel Curry’s “VENGEANCE” and only intensifying from there, a mosh pit had already formed and peaked within the first four bars. JPEG effortlessly guided the crowd into a gorgeous blend of camaraderie and fury as the moshing intensified in the center of the venue.  

The vigor of the audience can be attributed to Peggy’s experience as an artist. It’s rare for a rap artist to make moshers who are actively begging to get the wind knocked out of them need to tap out for a brief moment. Though his career is only just beginning and not a single song played was released earlier than 2018, he’s on his second album and knows how to push all the right buttons as an emcee. Time and time again, he entered the crowd, dreamily drew out his lyrics and emanated a confidence that the audience lapped up. Even those who only came for Vince Staples’ main act were at least visibly impressed by JPEGMAFIA’s performance, if not eagerly downloading his latest album “Veteran” to their Spotify accounts as quickly as their fingers could type.

It almost seemed like a mistake on Staples’ part to have JPEGMAFIA open for him. While Vince’s music was certainly more instrumentally lush, his energy level never came close to that of his opener. The same people who rallied for the mosh pit during Peggy’s hit songs opted to sit out during Staples’. While Peggy’s set was minimal compared to Staples’ elaborate backdrop, the main act fell significantly short in terms of crowd engagement.  

Overall, there was not a single dull moment during JPEGMAFIA’s act. Those who needed to gasp for air might not have appreciated its seemingly interminable, non-stop energy. However, the rapid-fire set was downright flawless at capturing the essence of an artist at their most energetic.