JPEGMAFIA / Danny Brown: Scaring the Hoes Album Review

Danny Brown likes to tell the story of how he almost signed with G-Unit. In 2010, at the time of The hybridThe Detroit breakthrough, the Detroit rapper was messing around with Tony Yayo, working on a joint project. 50 Cent liked what he heard, but he couldn’t bear the thought of a labelmate dressed as an emo rocker. Brown’s rhymes were tough, but unfortunately his jeans were skinny: he was alone. In 2015, of course, ’50s pants were tighter than a drumhead. As G-Unit retreated onto the nostalgia circuit, Brown’s blogging-era tech exhibits gave way to mosh-pit raves and dizzying, kaleidoscopic confessionals, each installment heralding a new cutting edge.

An iconoclast straddling the genres, JPEGMAFIA shares Brown’s pharmaceutical appetites and distaste for the dregs of the culture industry. A veteran of the US Air Force and Baltimore punk clubs, he has cultivated a comparably wide audience by contrasting frenetic glitch-hop with meme-fluid sarcasm. The long-running collaboration of him, scaring the hoesProduced entirely by JPEG, it’s a vehicle for the duo’s irreverent humor and energy that captures a spitting pair of pranksters who nonetheless maintain perfect grade point averages.

In colloquial language, “you’re scaring the hoes” is a request to alleviate self-righteousness. It’s a retort to when Canibus stacks five-syllable adverbs on top of each other, to when Common disguises himself as a lost Last Poet. The album title is a winking admission: Brown and JPEG aren’t traditionalists, but their intensity and devotion to mechanics make them impervious to casual playlists. On the title track, JPEG takes on the perspective of an annoying A&R, rapping over a dissonant saxophone instrument: “Play something for the bitches / How the hell you supposed to make money on this shit?” He turns distorted samples into thundering drum patterns on “Lean Beef Patty” and “Steppa Pig,” garnishing the bass kicks with screeching synths. The instrumentation gives the arrangements an industrial quality, but the wobbly verse structures are hypnotic.

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Brown meets JPEG tempos with alacrity, displaying a sing-song rhythm on “Orange Juice Jones” and mirroring the edgy fanfare of “Burfict!” Short bursts don’t give Brown room to stretch his limbs, but he’s still a virtuoso in miniature: On “HOE (Heaven on Earth),” its desperate narrator reaches out to a therapist, watching sadly as his iMessage thread changes. from blue to green. JPEG’s lower vocal range sounds clear, but the mix doesn’t do Brown many favors. On “Fentanyl Tester,” his verses are covered in an unflattering reverb, and the twist on “Milkshake” obscures his couplets. Brown’s erratic technique is fascinating as always, but his reedy voice demands finesse; in the loudest JPEG productions, the rappers sound like they’re on opposite ends of a shaky long-distance connection.

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