REVIEW: JPEGMAFIA @ Oxford Art Factory — The Sydney Morning Herald

Emerging among a crop of genre-bending hip-hop artists borne of the internet era, JPEGMAFIA had an entire audience wrapped around his finger at his debut solo show in Australia this week.

JPEGMAFIA, or Peggy as he is often known, brought the density and chaos of his latest album, All My Heroes Are Cornballs, and the critically acclaimed hits from those before it, to the mainstage of Sydney’s Oxford Art Factory on Wednesday. And if one thing was made clear from the outset, it was that there was no chance he would allow for disappointment — not that his supporters would have cared anyway.

Instead, they care about fanning the rise of artists such as JPEGMAFIA, Channel Tres, and Slowthai, and their ability to call into question an exhausted hip-hop formula, and the ways it has been co-opted by the mainstream. It’s a formula which has long favoured themes of chauvinist sexuality and opioid-induced apathy, rather than the themes of mental-health awareness, politics, and identity, which now find a home among the lyrics of artists like JPEGMAFIA and his ever-swelling cohort.

On first sight, he was bathed in a rapturous, bellowing “Peggy” chant — one which would erupt again, and again, and again, every time the room showed signs of settling into silence.

And those chants seemed to set the tone for what would emerge as a consistent theme of the night, as JPEGMAFIA opened his set with Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot. The song unleashed a wall of unapologetic yells, which were accompanied by an unwavering athleticism which saw him spin, swirl, leap and crowd-surf all the way through to his encore — and even endure a “concussion” along the way.

But despite leaning heavily into the performative aspects of his set, JPEGMAFIA worked just as hard to ensure that his vocal prowess wasn’t overshadowed because of it. As was the case when he transitioned into the self-titled track off his latest record, All My Heroes Are Cornballs, and other moments throughout the night, JPEGMAFIA’s deftness for slipping in and out of syncopated cadence, over beats which offered little to no percussive guidance (think layered, chopped and screwed samples floating without traditional percussion) made for a masterclass in counting and rhythmic dictation.

As he continued to find his feet, and clattered his way through crowd favourites like Real Nega and Beta Male Strategies with consistent percussive stride, you couldn’t help but expect that, at some point, the wheels were bound to fall off. But a brazen disregard for pitch, and an unapologetic commitment to showmanship — along with cameo appearances from Slowthai and Denzel Curry — allowed for his fatigue to sound more like mellifluous sincerity, than it did flawed musicianship.

It’s imperfections like these, balanced with an innate rhythmic fluency and inimitable ability to connect with a room that reminds us why it is we pay to see live music in the first place.