Standard Sounds

Taking It All In with JPEGMAFIA

At 28 years old, LA-based independent rapper JPEGMAFIA, aka Barrington Hendricks, has lived a thousand lives. He grew up in Brooklyn, Alabama, and Louisiana; he started making music at 14 and taught himself every aspect of the music-making process; he served in the Air Force for four years, where he was deployed to Iraq, Japan, and Germany, and then was honorably discharged; and he made a name for himself on the Tokyo music scene before moving to Baltimore, where he got a Master’s in journalism and gained status in the underground music scene there.
After 14 years of making music and experiencing more than most of us ever will, his provocative, political January 2018 album titled Veteran finally broke him into the mainstream, and in these past seven months, he’s finally able to enjoy the ride.
As he passed through New York on tour, he came by Le Bain’s rooftop at The Standard, High Line to take it all in with us.
THE STANDARD: Right now you’re finishing up one tour and about to start another international tour. How does it all feel?
JPEGMAFIA: Right now it feels good as shit because I'm on top of this fuckin' nice ass roof! [Laughs.] No, it feels really good. I'm probably older than the average rapper that makes it. I'm 28, so I've lived enough life to know how to be an adult already, so I'm reacting to it differently. I'm really excited and I'm really happy. I've just been broke for so long, I guess I'm just grateful. It's very weird. I don't want it to go away, but I feel like it's going to go away like [Snaps] any minute.
Do you spend money like crazy now, or are you living the same life?
I'm basically kind of living the same life. I just stay at nicer hotels now. That's really the difference. I order Postmates a lot more. Everything else is basically the same.
In one of your songs on the album, you say, "I hope my record gets panned." You've also said you thought the album was trash. Did you actually think that at the time?
Yeah, definitely. I still think it's trash super low-key.
Why do you think it's your breakthrough album?
I think it's my breakthrough album because...whoa, did you see that nice answer voice I gave? It's definitely the breakthrough album because I showcase more sides of what kind of music I make. I make a lot of different types of shit, but I just usually keep it to myself or I'm doing it to improve my skill. But with this one, I was like, "You know, I should just show some of the shit I be doing." So, it's the first time I've showcased it and it's a breakthrough—that's a good idea and I'm going to continue to do that. [Laughs.]
Is all this success right now a total mindfuck to you? Or did you kind of see it coming in a way?
I think I prepared myself for it coming at some point, but it is pretty much a complete mindfuck. It might seem like I'm lying, but I actually did not expect this shit at all. None of this was planned at all. I feel like it was just supposed to happen with this one or something. This one just hit with certain people for some reason. It feels good because since I wasn't trying to do it, it's just so genuinely me, and to have people like it, it just feels good. It's a rare thing.
You don't give a fuck and it's so refreshing. It’s probably what people are latching onto, especially right now in this political climate. What do you think of artists who aren't political at all, like Taylor Swift?
For me, I don't think people are obligated to do anything really. I choose to do this because I want to, but I'm very much an advocate for free thought and free thinking. Do whatever you want, just understand it has consequences for us. So, if you don't speak up, yeah, a ****** like Trump could possibly get into office, but I can't tell her or any other artist or person to do anything. I present how I think. If you fuck with it, that's cool. If not, whatever.
How did your experience in the military shape your view of everything going on in our country and world?
I don't think it shaped anything—it more confirmed and validated things I already thought. I already knew people were racist and misogynist. The Harvey Weinstein type shit, I saw that shit all the time in the military, but it couldn't get called out because those people were high ranking and it would come back on you. There's nowhere to run to in that kind of situation.
What's it been like going from more underground to more mainstream?
Since I am really from a very underground, punk vibe, even being somewhere like here, it's very weird sometimes. I feel out of place. It makes me feel good, but then it makes me think, "Is that bad? Like, am I like turning into a bougie ****** or something?” I don't think I am. I've just been broke for so long, but I think the transition is becoming more natural. I just adjust as it comes at me.
What was the moment like when you realized you could do this as a career?
It was probably, like, this year. [Laughs.] I was like, "Ohhh, yeah, I can maybe make a living off of it." I've always wanted it to happen. I've been thinking about it for so fucking long. I've been making music since I was like, 13, 14, that now that it's starting to happen, there are no words to really describe it. Whatever is beyond happy, I feel that. It centers me and makes me a calm ass person. A lot of people work really hard and sometimes it doesn't work at all and they just never get anywhere. For me to actually work as long as I did it, from when I was 14 and I'm 28 now—14 years—I literally cannot describe this shit.
It's the 10,000 hours idea actually coming true.
Literally! I put the man hours in for this shit. I taught myself how to do everything.
How did you teach yourself?
At the time when I taught myself how to make beats and do shit like that, there weren't any tutorials and stuff like there is now. I would go to the library and get a book and read up on audio engineering and production and whatnot. I was just like, "OK, I'm 15. I have plenty of time. I'm going to do this shit every day until something happens." So, I did that. [Laughs.] I'm damn near turning 30!


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