Review: JPEGMAFIA commands attention on ‘OFFLINE!’

The experimental rapper-producer’s latest EP shows off his softer side without sacrificing dynamism.


JPEGMAFIA released his latest EP, “OFFLINE!” The EP consists of five tracks. (Image courtesy of Melt! Booking)

Holden Lay, Staff Writer

With five tracks and a runtime of just under 12 minutes, JPEGMAFIA’s new EP “OFFLINE!” is a condensed and ruthlessly confident victory lap. Following last year’s fantastic in-your-face “LP!” — which brought the experimental rapper-producer out of a slow period — this brief EP carries on JPEGMAFIA’s ethos of proving he can do any sound better than anyone else around.

The opener, “HAZARD DUTY PAY!,” is a fresh sonic palette for his work. Jazzy soul samples blast over a tight mix of live and studio drums, adding an unexpectedly melodic touch to his fiery vocal performance. Not many JPEGMAFIA songs have a hook, let alone one this, laid-back and poppish. Although the next track, “DIKEMBE!,” is more typical of the rapper, it showcases his flow at its best. His ability to build intense energy within an intimate track remains unparalleled.

“GOD DON’T LIKE UGLY!” is a non-stop barrage that makes a compelling case for JPEGMAFIA as having some of the best writing in rap today. His eclectically intellectual lyrics cover Sarah Palin, Frank Zappa and 1970s soul star Harold Melvin — all in a barrage clocking in at under 1 minute, 15 seconds. He steers clear of the corniness that so often comes from spewing pop-culture knowledge on a track; rather, his references feel personal and delightfully, unabashedly nerdy. This track leaves me craving more of this soul-sample-based side of JPEGMAFIA’s sound.

“OFFLINE!” caps off with a duo of slower-tempo tracks with blaring, psychedelic production. “UNTITLED” is sluggish and darkly meandering — a simple piano line takes the place of JPEGMAFIA’s typically more aggressive soundscape. The brief moments where the beat cuts out entirely, leaving only his ferocious bragging, are particularly striking, emphasizing the immense energy behind his vocal performances. The closing track, “100 EMOJI!,” sounds apocalyptically droning. With his vocals warped and pitched down to an imperceptible crawl, over a cacophony of reverb-drenched metallic sounds, everything muddles together until you can’t tell what you’re hearing in the best way possible.

Overall, “OFFLINE!” is a great collection of five diverse tracks that act as a showcase of JPEGMAFIA’s triple-threat lyrics, rapping and production, all in equal parts. It’s nice to hear a jazzier, softer — relatively speaking, of course — side of his sound. Despite him reigning it in a little, JPEGMAFIA never loses his captivating urgency and drive. Even after the much-deserved success of “LP!” with critics and fans alike, his latest tracks on “OFFLINE!” sound as hungry and demanding for attention as ever.

Contact Holden Lay at [email protected].