By Joe McCarthy
JPEGMAFIA can’t wait for Morrissey to die. He says he’ll throw a party when the world loses Donald Trump.
He’s sick, in short, of old, racist men.
But he’s endlessly grateful to the fans who showed up at Elsewhere in Bushwick for part of the Red Bull Music Festival on May 7.
At the end of his set, the Brooklyn-born, Baltimore-based rapper sat on the edge of the box stage in the middle of the club, and signed vinyl cases, cds, t-shirts, hats and a few arms.
JPEGMAFIA put on a rowdy, real show. The artifice of performance was shattered from the outset when he pounced onto the Red Bull-branded box, and told the audience that he’d be picking the beats from the laptop on a nearby podium. He said that he’d be taking breaks in between songs to catch his breath and drink some water.
He would need to catch his breath and rehydrate a lot over the next hour.
With lights flashing the signature Red Bull’s signature hue, the rapper opened the show by throwing himself into the crowd and screaming the lyrics at the top of his lungs. He jumped back on the stage, twisting around, falling to the ground, and rolling with a boundless, rabid energy.
At one point, JPEGMAFIA was standing in the crowd and recruited a nearby bodyguard to go up on the box stage to press play on the next song.
As he thrashed around during another track, he lost his bandana, revealing his receding hairline. He got his headwear back when he asked for it during the next pause in the performance. He somehow ended up with a Louis Vuitton belt, too. Dozens of hands went up to claim the belt. JPEGMAFIA said they could fight to the death for it afterwards.
At another point, he called his friends who were watching from the main stage to join him on the box for the song “1539 N. Calvert,” a tribute to Baltimore’s former Bell’s Foundry, where they used to get together. Among the Bell’s crew was Abdu Ali who opened for JPEGMAFIA with his avant-garde blend of punk, jazz, and hip-hop, treating the audience to caustic and delightful ruminations on oppression, LGBTQ rights, and what it means to get yours.
Despite the harsh overtones, joy fueled JPEGMAFIA’s set. The audience repeatedly chanted “Peggy,” his nickname, to motivate him to gather the energy for the next track as he slumped over the podium panting. He had a playful rapport with the audience, shaking and slapping hands, and telling people that he loved them.
Even the mosh pits were energetic but mild as they filled with people bouncing around and smiling. JPEGMAFIA said that he might forget some of the words to his recent banger “How to Build a Relationship,” a collaboration with the Australian electronic producer Flume, and earnestly attempted to reenact the rambling, joking conversation that ends the song and gives it its name.
JPEGMAFIA embodied the freewheeling rawness that has earned RBMA the respect of music tastemakers like Pitchfork and underground publications like Quietus.
He told the audience that he won’t be playing in the United States for a while, but said he would bring new music when that rolls around. Sounds good, Peggy.
Joe McCarthy is a Brooklyn-based writer and music critic.