5 On It is a feature that looks at five of the best under-the-radar rap findings from the past two weeks, highlighting new or recently discovered artists, or interesting obscurities.
JPEGMAFIA – Black Ben Carson
I take a good or simple idea and spit on it. I pee on that shit to mark my territory then send it out to the public.
In a haze last Sunday, I discovered Brooklyn-bred, Baltimore-based rapper/producer JPEGMAFIA’s Black Ben Carson. The title snapped me to life in its absurdity.
“But Ben Carson is black,” I thought to myself before staring at the album’s track titles and realizing JPEGMAFIA had little interest in truisms and stating the obvious.
Black Ben Carson jams noise, absurdist humor, terror, and intricate rapping into your ears and doesn’t dare beg forgiveness. Difficult to digest and, in turns, oddly beautiful, BCC never loses sight of the fact that its existence—the power of its rage—lies in its legibility. This is isn’t noise rap for the sake of waking the neighbors and confusing bandwagon Fetty Wap fans (as JPEGMAFIA noted on Twitter); BCC slams through your speakers in search of a revolution to start.
Rather than fumble over words trying to make sense of one of my favorite releases of 2016 so far, I spoke with JPEGMAFIA via email about his inspiration, political art, and, of course, the album’s title.
Explain the title Black Ben Carson. I imagine it might confuse some people?
I follow politics. And when I say that I mean I actually follow politics, I don’t just watch Bill Maher every other week like your average millennial. Sometime last year, Benjamin [Carson] made a comment that most politicians make at some point in their career. He attacked rap & hip hop as a whole, and said it was holding black people back and holding society in general back as well blah blah blah whatever. Well, after I heard those comments, I thought to myself, “What a waste of melanin.” Here’s a man with money, power, influence and a platform to speak on serious shit affecting us. And what does he do with those things? Shit on one of the only black art-forms left that hasn’t been completely gentrified yet. I literally want to drain the melanin out of his body and give it to Tommy from Power so we could actually get some use out of it. He clearly does not want to be black and wants to disassociate himself from us very badly. So fuck it, give me your blackness, you’re using it wrong. I’ll be Black Ben Carson because you don’t know how to be. That how the title came about.
Can you talk a little bit about the significance of the project’s cover image?
Both covers are extremely significant for different reasons. Side A’s cover was taken right after I finished the last song for the album. It’s a picture of me standing beside a wall in my house. I had been trying to figure out a good cover for the album for months before the release & nothing would stick. But this pic was the Omen that this album was complete and there was nothing left for me to do. The pic was taken some at point late last year I can’t exactly recall. But I like the way it looked. Reminded me of a mugshot and the blank expression on my face was perfect it looked iconic to me. I love album covers with no text, just one striking photo. Actually none of my albums have text on them now that I think about it. I definitely got that from Bjork, she never puts text on her albums and Debut is my favorite album cover ever. Anyway I knew I wanted this to be my album cover but it looked basic as shit and had no feeling. So I gave the pic to my nigga Sanjeev Das and let him work his magic. He printed the picture out, ripped it apart, stapled it back together and then scanned it back to me. I almost fucking fainted when I saw it. Shit was genius. The way he does art is the same way I make beats. I take a good or simple idea and spit on it. I pee on that shit to mark my territory then send it out to the public. He could have easily google imaged a dirt texture, slapped it on there and called it a day but he really went the extra mile here and it shows. I love this cover.
Side B’s Cover is just funny as fuck. It’s Ben Carson with a heart over his face. That shit is hilarious to me. He looks like he needs to take shit but hasn’t got around to it yet.
Someone clicks play on Black Ben Carson. Ideally, what do they do after they’ve listened?
Probably go listen to my other tapes Communist Slow Jams & Darkskin Manson to get a better perspective. Then make a sandwich & find the most conservative person you know and tell them about it. Then email me, I’ll talk to you.
Black Ben Carson is a lot to take take in. Theres a lot going on musically and lyrically. It’s not something I would imagine someone casually put on in an elevator or bat-mitzvah (unless you want to). So depending on who you are as a person, your reaction will vary. You might feel offended, you might feel empowered, you might feel inspired. You might feel like you want to kill me. I’ve had people send me strange emails saying that, because I imagine to an outsider I might seem like a sociopath or someone with no morals or filter. All of these things may be true & all of those reactions are fine. It’s the reason I make the kind of music I make, because I want a conversation to be sparked by the things I bring up. I want to bring the taboo to the forefront with no filters or cushions. I’m unapologetically black just like Varg Vikernes is unapologetically white. Respect me. I don’t like Varg, but I respect the fact that he’s not a pussy about his racism. When I see him I’m still gonna put his fucking head on a stick. But I respect his firm stance on his beliefs, even if I agree with none of them. I want to be a vanguard for these types of discussions in places they wouldn’t normally be talked about. And for my niggas out there, I just want them to realize that we have no friends out here nobody. When I was in the military I went all over the world, and the one constant in every different place I visited was that they all thought they were better than black people. Niggas need to know that people hate them and accept it, embrace it & work with it. I hope after they listen to Black Ben Carson or any of my other tapes, they do their research, learn about themselves and be cautious.
What’s your musical background?
I don’t have a classical musical background if thats what you mean. I grew up shit poor. Parents couldn’t afford to give me lessons or anything like that. My father & the rest of my family is Jamaican so he would play reggae, classic dancehall and old soul artist like the Moonglows. He would sing them to me as a child and he even kept tapes of me singing from back then. That was my introduction to music period. I stole a Hanson cassette from a fat nigga back in the day and I used to listen to that a lot. In the early 2000’s late 90’s I got into hip hop and cock rock. Shit like Papa Roach & that band that made “It’s Going Down” with Mike Shinoda [Editor’s Note: it wasn’t actually a band, it was DJ group The X-ecutioners]. On the hip hop side The Diplomats were the group that got me into rap and into production as well. I wanted to find out how they made those chipmunk sounds with their beats, and in looking for that I discovered sampling. Eventually I left cock rock alone altogether and I was just into hip hop and indie music because I had a homie that was into that shit and put me on to a lot of it. I listened to that shit religiously back in the Kazaa era. I started producing when I was about 14 with just Audacity. I had no other equipment. I think thats part of the reason I sample so well and have such a broad musical palette, because I had nothing else. I relied on other songs to make my own music. If I wanted a certain synth sound I couldn’t pick it out of a preset. I had to go find a song with a similar synth sound and bend it to my will.
Do you think so-called “noise rap” is the only way to agitate to the kind of political change you’d like to see? Is there any fear that challenging music might simply be overlooked?
No, not at all. Marvin Gaye’s “Whats Going On,” Sly Stone “Theres a Riot Going On,” & pretty much everything in 70’s is proof of that. In order for music to make a dent in the political landscape it doesn’t have to be loud and angry at all. It just needs to resonate with the people, thats really it. I choose to be loud and angry at times because its how I feel right now. But on Peggy Side of Black Ben Carson and on my old albums like The Ghost Pop Tape, I chose to be more mellow & intimate to get my point across.
As far as your second question, I mean non-challenging basic pop music can be simply overlooked as well. You always take a risk as an artist that your music will not be heard or not be liked. But its something you have to accept in this line of business. There are people sitting at there keyboards right now who despise me and think I’m horrible at what I do and there’s other people that swear by me. You have to accept both and not be afraid of peoples opinion, but be confident in yourself. If Black Ben Carson never got any coverage and no one heard it, I would still feel the same way about it because its my art. Never depend on anyone else to validate something u slaved over.
On Twitter, you called out other noise rappers who were “mad at me for making Noise Black & politically relevant. while y’all stuck screaming about nothing to hipsters.” Is that in response to a general perception or to specific criticisms you’ve received?
Yes it is. Noise niggas think my music is too hip hop. Like nigga what? I’m a rapper. A RAPPER. I RAP. That’s become a dirty word in this genre now. Wtf is something being too hip hop? No one in the metal community says “You know what guys… this is a little bit too metal” or no one who listens to acoustic shit is going “Aye bruh… this shit is a little too folk my nigga.” Nobody is doing this. Nobody but hip hop. But thats that self hate shit. Rappers don’t want be rappers, they wanna be anything else while still using hip hop to make a name for themselves. You hate us, but you want be us. Punk rappers and noise rappers in general wear their influences on their sleeves and end up losing their identity because of it. Thats why so many of them are so anti rap despite being you know…rappers…I am influenced by Throbbing Gristle, Bad Brains, Fear, Prurient etc. But at the end of the day, I take what I like from them and infuse it with my own style, not do a literal copy of something that’s already been done and act like I’m a revolutionary. That’s just pretentious.
Doesn’t the term “noise rap” feel a little bit reductive for what you’re doing? It seems like there’s a broader sonic palette that you’re pulling from.
Actually yes you’re right. I shouldn’t put myself in a box like that. I’m way more than a noise rapper. Thank you for calling this out.
The 60’s, 70’s and 80’s don’t have a monopoly on social awareness and change through music. We can do more and better right now if we put our minds to it. And I think we are doing just that.
Do you think music can still have the sort of rousing social effect it did even in the 60s, 70s, and 80s?
No. I think it can have a bigger effect because we can reach a larger palette of people now than we ever could before because of the internet. With the tools we have now we can spark change in minutes. Look at Bernie Sanders. Before, he was the underdog and not projected to make it far at all, certainly not to win the New Hampshire caucus with a favorite like Hillary Clinton. But because of musicians support and the youth, he’s now neck and neck with her in most polls. I watched that change happen. The Black Lives Matter movement is having a huge effect of society today and it will be in textbooks later down the line for sure. The soundtrack to that movement is To Pimp a Butterfly. That means something.
There’s a layer of dark comedy to everything that you’re doing. Are you pulling inspiration from any particular satirists or comedians? Or is a little bit of absurdity the only way to deal with an absurd world?
Hmmm. Not really, I watched a lot of Jim Carey & a Jamaican comedian named Oliver when I was young. I don’t know if that had any effect on me, but idk, I just find comedy in weird things. And yea the only way to deal with ridiculousness is to fight bullshit with bullshit. Like how do you respond to a nigga like Donald Trump saying he wants to build a wall to keep Mexicans out of the country? Like nigga what? A big ass wall to keep Mexicans out? Thats what you wanna spend tax dollars on? Or when that white-bread chicken shit motherfucker Ann Coulter said Jews need to be perfected. Like bitch what does that even mean? You can’t respond seriously to some goofy shit like that, so u meet it eye level.
5 artists or albums people should listen to if they’re listening to BBC.
Well like I said before if you like Black Ben Carson you should definitely check out my past tapes Communist Slow Jams and Darkskin Manson to get a better feel for me.
Other artists. I would say Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet. Ice Cube’s first four albums. All his album are pretty good, but the first four are deadly. My nigga Jacob Marley is a genius, Butch Dawson & Nasa8 for sure & Probably Cutty Ranks & Lee “Scratch” Perry. I take a lot of musical ideas from them.
Sir E.U – We Back
Like JPEGMAFIA, Maryland’s Sir E.U uses fashions his music as a disruptive tool. Videos and songs like his excellent “Nike Boy” (which, a year after its release, still sounds like the biggest hit of 2037) showcase a lo-fi sensibility and lithe, absurdist raps that invite active engagement rather than passive consumption. That’s adjective-injected short hand for: Sir E.U’s music won’t be for everyone, but we’d be better off as a society if a masked hero snuck into the heart of Times Square projected “SUPER BABY NI66A” onto ever god damn glittering screen towering over New York’s streets.
While new EP We Back dials the confrontation down in favor of more polished rapping and more palatable production, it never skimps on E.U’s askew humor (“I be peein’ on my feet up in the shower” from standout “DMN” makes for unsettling, knowing laughter; “Fort Washington, Maryland” opens with E.U asking “has anybody seen 50 Cent? He has my phone”) or his taste for unusual sounds and constructions. E.U wields a rare gift for building knowledge gaps that bend traditional logic and surface understanding, forcing listeners to lean in and figure out what the fuck is going on—a characteristic of his music shared by JPEGMAFIA and one that more rappers aiming to make “political” rap would do well to emulate in their own ways. Songs like “Bush did 911” (which isn’t on We Back, but which you can watch below) don’t ostensibly have much to do with their titles in terms of content, but that same disconnect inspires questioning and, in many cases, a humorous cognitive dissonance.
Orgena – “Vysine”
Pasadena rapper Orgena’s “Vysine” is one of those Soundcloud gems that raises the best kind of suspicion—ambitiously constructed, polished, and pointing to a wealth of talent already taking flight. It’s the only song on his Soundcloud, aside from a reblogged feature on a song by Chicago producer Noah Sims. “Vysine” feels like the tip of the iceberg, a small peak suggesting a far greater depth beneath the surface (it doesn’t feel like a fluke, but rather entree into a world yet unshared). Its meandering lyrics—a blend of inspirational introspection and political observation rooted in personal reflection—work because of Orgena’s gift for casually melodic rapping; his range invites listeners to sing along while his technical ability might make aspirants in the audience hard pressed to copy him word for word. “Vysine” presents a rapper still figuring out a precise message to hang his hat on, but doing so with entertaining style and aplomb.
(Given the song’s pragmatic political leanings—in spirit, it echoes the title of author John A. Williams‘ The Man Who Cried I Am—feels worth noting and likely not a coincidence, that “orgena” is “a negro” backwards and also the name of a play by Louis Farrakhan).
(hat tip to the ever tasteful Matt Colwell for this one)
Hundo – “Cantgolikedat”
Atlanta rapper Hundo’s “Cantgolikedat” makes me want to throw a chair through a window and steal everything from my own apartment (which is probably due in no small part to producer Brandon Thomas, the minimalist madman behind OG Maco’s “U Guessed It”). It’s catchy and immediate, but more importantly it sounds like what happens when you drink too many Bud Light Platinums and somebody bumps into you at a party at 3AM. It is the sound of bad decisions, cleverly executed and memorable as hell.
At this point, it should go without saying, but it bears repeating nonetheless (because it feels like to do otherwise would be to improperly gauge historic levels of creativity we’ll remember if the world hasn’t exploded in a hundred years): Atlanta is hip-hop’s technicolor Mecca, a place where rappers like Hundo can coexist alongside artists like Raury and India Shawn, Gucci Mane and Young Thug, Awful Records and Think It’s a Game Records (among many others—I could have composed this largely arbitrary list in any number of ways), and some how it all makes sense. Hundo’s art is as viable as that of any other artist, and far more entertaining and tightly knit than much of what’s out there. Yet another name to watch from rap’s capital.
Blaze Jose – “Denunciation”
Just me and all my demons/I won’t let you come between
On “Denunciation,” a moaning, backwards sample forms a drum-less skeleton for Baton Rouge, Louisiana rapper Blaze Jose to attack. His approach puts passion before pure technique, grabbing attention with a desperate energy that speaks to the carbon compression of his hometown (as detailed by another young rapper from Baton Rouge and 5 On It favorite, Caleb Brown). Like a rough hewn spiritual successor to Drake’s “The Ride” (and when I say rough I mean rough—no suggestion of matched quality here), “Denunciation” plays like a frustrated confessional, a young rapper firing wildly in all directions, mayhem conjured by the blend of Jose’s impassioned performance and the song’s writhing backdrop.