One Joint With JPEGMAFIA
JPEGMAFIA (given name Barrington Hendricks) is a musician and a producer, a rapper and a noise artist. He’s a veteran, a former member of the Air Force, and he served in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, and North Africa before being honorably discharged for speaking up when his superiors committed abuse; he’s not one to let sleeping dogs lie. In person he’s affable, a comedian, and sharp, quick to point out injustices and micro aggressions; JPEG’s personal tack is to give the aggressor a taste of his own medicine—the effect of which will unfold over time. In conversation, he is clearheaded but meandering, flowing with the mood in the room. In concert, his crowds are prone to moshing, where his noise and physical displays of intensity are right at home. JPEGMAFIA embarks on his Reverse Christopher Columbus Tour later this month.
Alyssa Shapiro: Tell me about the first time you got high.
JPEGMAFIA: It was like five minutes ago.
AS: No not…today…
JPEG: Oh, this is the first time I’ve been high today, and it’s pretty good.
AS: That’s not what I asked you. Are you stoned already?
JPEG: Yeah. Oh man. Can I tell you the highest I’ve ever been? I don’t actually remember the first time I got high. The highest I’ve ever been was the first time I did a dab. Me and my homie took a dab, we was in the room with this n**** named Pretty Man. Pretty Man had a big ass dab rig, and he just dabbed it up. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing so I took a big ass swig of that shit. Yo, all I remember was waking up. I don’t remember falling asleep, I woke up and was like, what the fuck is going on. I kept forgetting everything every two seconds. And my homie was in the corner, trying to go to the bathroom, but the bathroom was upstairs and he couldn’t figure that out, so he was just walking around. My other homie was playing Kanye “Runaway,” on the piano, but he was just hitting the first note because he couldn’t get past it, he was too fucked up. Like, ding! We live five minutes down the street, but we thought we were too high to get there. So our plan was to drive to someone else to drive us back to the place. Which was the highest fuckin’ idea ever. And that is the highest I’ve ever been.
AS: Wow. Have you dabbed since?
JPEG: Hell yeah, I’ve taken like 278 dabs. Not specifically. Just a ballpark number.
AS: What are your life feelings on weed now?
JPEG: It’s a luxury drug, to me. It accentuates my life. I can make music, I can make music high. It’s the same thing essentially, it’s just that one feels a little bit better than the other. I don’t really need it, but I mean why the fuck not? I could have not been high, and did this interview… but why not.
AS: Actually, you couldn’t have. Have you smoked during an interview before?
JPEG: I don’t think I’ve ever not smoking during an interview. I usually have my vape. But I’m smoking regular n**** weed today.
AS: Flower, I think it's called.
JPEG: It should be a romantic comedy, Cartridges and Flower. A Netflix original… And they’re gonna be like, Cool! Let’s get a racially diverse cast…
AS: Ok if you had to elevator pitch who you are and what you’re doing…
JPEG: I’m just doing what all the little white boys did to me when I was a little kid. Make ‘em feel as uncomfortable as possible.
AS: What do you want the impact of that to be?
JPEG: Mad white people. [Laughs]. Which is basically fine with me. I’ve taken it my whole life; if they can’t take it for one song, they can eat my ass. [Breaks into song, accompanied by Sasha Spielberg, to the tune of Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell,”] You can eat my a-a-ass, eat my ass, my ass.
AS: Are you two collaborating? Just on this, or on something for real? What are you going to do?
JPEG: We have several songs together that we’ve worked on together. [Singing:] You can eat my a-a-ass, eat my ass. That’s the shit right there. Yo, imagine n****s in the ‘70s like, You can eat my a-a-ass, eat my ass! 1977, this is crazy! Woo!
AS: Have you gotten a response yet from what you’re doing in music? Beyond mad white people, what’s the change you’re looking for?
JPEG: You know who the Talking Heads are? When people talk about bands like these, they talk about them with this reverence, this respect that can’t be moved no matter what. I want that. I want the respect of being a force in music. But I want to earn it. I want to be in the trenches, down there. I’m basically fighting against people’s sensibilities. I’m dissing the very people who are going to make me and every other artist the most money.
I just want to be respected. I don’t have to bring about the change. There’s gonna be people way better than me…
AS: But don’t you feel you’re part of it?
JPEG: Yeah, that just happens. No matter what I make now, somebody’s gonna surpass it one day. My goal is to just have my part in it. Like, Jay-Z has his part in it and no one can move that, forever. I hope that happens to me because I just love music so much.
AS: How did you get into music?
JPEG: When I was like 13, a young n*gger. I’ve been saying it with the hard r just to fuck people up. When I was 13, 14 I started making music. I made a beat. Shit was so whack. I downloaded this program called Fruityloops and made a beat. The beat was just a drum and a clap, I was spitting over it. I thought it was so hard, because I was like, I did this. But then I realized it was ass, and I should make something better. And I just taught myself. Now I’m 28, it’s 14 years later, and just this year I started making money from music. Whoop there it is.
AS: Who are some of your biggest influences, they don’t have to be in music — who influences your music?
JPEG: Kanye. He did, for a while. Until… Yeah I still say Kanye, even though I don’t know what the fuck that n**** is doing. Kanye. Ice Cube. Björk. Janelle Monáe. I have one of her songs tattooed on my wrist [“Oh Maker,” off her debut studio album, The ArchAndroid]. I was such a big fan, that by the time this album came out, and I was in the military, I was fuckin’ fucked up, like I’m about to die in the military. This song got me through that shit. Janet Jackson. Throbbing Gristle, this old noise group. Those are the main ones. Bad Brains.
AS: Earlier you were hating on everyone asking you about the military, but I have one question. What’s the story behind the honorable discharge?
JPEG: Just means you got out and you didn’t kill anybody, you didn’t get into any trouble enough to get a dishonorable discharge. General is like you did something but it’s not bad enough—maybe you got caught with crack or some shit like that, but still heavy enough. Honorable just means you didn’t do anything.
AS: No story?
JPEG: I could have gotten a really bad one, but thankfully I got honorable… I shouldn’t even say it.
AS: Do it.
JPEG: [Laughs] I got honorable discharge but I can’t join the Air Force again. They put a code in my shit to be like, don’t let this n**** back in. Because at one point… it’s a long story. You know how there’s Harvey Weinstein and people like that get called out now? Just imagine that in the military, but they’re your boss and you can’t do anything about it— but imagine saying something about it, and now imagine everyone else being like, “Why are you saying something about it? What the fuck is wrong with you? Why aren’t you going with the bro code?” or whatever. Now imagine having to try to get kicked out because of that. That’s basically it. So that’s why the code is in there.
AS: So someone you reported to was abusing their power.
JPEG: Yeah, someone who I have way more money than now was abusing their power. So whenever I see him, I’m going to make sure I remind him what he did, and remind them how it failed, and remind them how much more successful I am than them. And I’m going to make them feel like shit. And hopefully they know what it feels like, what they did to me.
AS: Favorite verse you’ve ever written.
JPEG: That’s an excellent question. That’s crazy you asked me that, man! That’s wild! I never thought, in my life… I’ve never been asked that question, no one cares [laughs]. My favorite verse? This song I got called “All Caps No Spaces.” And it’s my favorite verse to perform. I’m like, “This one’s for all y’all metal heads! Heard you like Pantera / Bitch, not me! Heard you like Burzim / Bitch, not me!” It’s just all these bands that are racist and shit, and it’s like, fuck these n****s yo! I love that verse, because it empowers me. They’re all just bitch ass n****s. Honestly, I came up with that shit, but that shit is for the people. In hip hop, all these weird little metal head n****s talk shit about rap because they’re just racist in general, and any time black people do anything in general, they’re just like, “Ehhh basketball, ehhh rap.” They can pull up if they want to! But they’re not going to. So I’m just yelling at them. And it feels great, because I’m just exposing their bitch asses.
AS: Worst experience you’ve come across in the music industry? Has anyone tried to stop you from doing what you’re doing?
JPEG: Yeah. Everything about the music industry in general just sucks, except the music. Making music is still fun; I love making music. The business side of it makes me feel expendable as an artist—yet without the artist, there would be no music industry. Without the artists it would just be a bunch of n****s doing PR.
AS: OK the best thing to happen to you in your life.
JPEG: In my whole life? Okay this year, when I was able to pay my rent from Bandcamp, that shit was great. I saved that Paypal transaction! Like, hell yeah! I sat and made some shit on my computer, and I wrote from the heart, I put it on Bandcamp, and enough people bought it to where I can live at my house for another month? Great. Stupendous. That’s the best thing to ever happen to me. Ever.
For good measure...