At 28 years old, Barrington Hendricks—the man behind the JPEGMAFIA moniker—has seen it all. He bounced around between the Northeast and the South as a kid. He learned about the stark side of racism at age 13 while living in Alabama. He got a master’s degree in journalism. He served four years in Iraq as part of the Air Force before being honorably discharged. Then, in 2015, he finally settled in Baltimore, the place where he took his music to the next level while reflecting on every troll-ridden, hate-driven, fear-bitten moment around him, both personal and televised.
Lyrically and musically, JPEGMAFIA will shake your expectations until every ounce of judgement and double-edged stereotypes are flat on the floor, leaving you to face them head-on while he dances around you, unbothered. On this year’s Veteran, Hendricks swaps traditional beats and perspectives with something far more experimental and inflammatory. It’s equal parts hip-hop and glitchy noise. “Real Nega” sounds like Autechre on an angry day, and “Baby I’m Bleeding” sounds like the blissfully warped world of Arca and a more subversive version of Das Racist. While his words tackle racism and bigotry head-on, his music skitters about, all nerves and pent-up energy shooting off in every direction possible.
“Because this was made over the course of a year, there’s no telling where the influences came from,” he says. “I was listening to all sorts of stuff, like country music. When I hear something, I don’t try to replicate it. I try to take it and spit it out in a weird way. But the biggest influences are things I listened to a lot, like The Life of Pablo. There’s a Brad Paisley song that I loved not because of the music, but because it was funny as fuck. Stuff like that. So going into this record, I wanted to make sure I showcased all sides of myself instead of just my angry hard side. I used to focus on this rage aspect of my music. When I was making earlier stuff, I was like, ‘Alright, niggas know what I mean by this. It’s cool.’ So Veteran was a break. I got to try other shit that I usually wouldn’t release. That, ironically, was what people seemed to like the most.”
To understand the complex personality behind JPEGMAFIA, we interviewed Barrington Hendricks for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask musicians questions inspired by their song titles. With Veteran as the prompt, his answers are genuine and jittery—qualities that will appear in his music when he headlines Great Scott this Sunday.
1) “1539 N. Calvert”
DIGBOSTON: Where was the first place you lived that truly felt like home?
HENDRICKS: Damn. That actually felt like home? The first place I lived that felt like home was Baltimore. Honestly, it was that address, because it felt like my home. I moved around so much in life that I couldn’t comfortably call anything home. I was born in New York originally, but because I left when I was so young I couldn’t claim that. North Calvert is probably the first address where I felt like I was home. I still feel like it’s home when I walk by it. That’s basically how I view it.
2) “Real Nega”
DIGBOSTON: Looking at your group of friends, either those you made in Baltimore or those in LA, what’s a uniting factor or shared trait between you all?
HENDRICKS: Well, broke. Honestly though. Not having money is a big uniting factor because you can’t move like other people do. We all scrape together and do whatever we need to do. And I’m talking mostly about my Baltimore friends. [laughs] I called ’em out. But scraping together and being in a survivalist situation with a group of people will always draw you closer to them rather than when everything is going okay. It wasn’t the common bond, but it was an instrumental one for sure. Money is a big factor.
3) “Thug Tears”
DIGBOSTON: When was the last time you cried?
HENDRICKS: I watched this movie on Netflix called The Boy with the Striped Pajamas. I thought it was a movie about gang life in the ’50s for some reason. But it was a sad-ass movie. I think that was the last time I cried, like literally last week. [laughs] At a damn movie. I can’t remember the last time before that. Maybe a while back, actually. I think I played a show with a bunch of people in the crowd and I might have cried. Nobody noticed because I was sweaty. I just looked moist in general. You’d be surprised all the things you can hide when you’re drenched in sweat. [laughs] It gives you a license to do whatever.
DIGBOSTON: What’s the last piece of news that truly shocked you?
HENDRICKS: Honestly, I was pretty shocked when I sold out these dates. I sold out all the dates for this tour. That was pretty shocking. I didn’t think I would. At all. So that’s been weird. I say this a lot, but I’m still not really settled into all of this. I’m very used to playing to not a big crowd. In Baltimore, I was drawing people out, sure, but that’s because it was my hometown. I would never imagine selling out New York or LA or any place like that. It feels good. It feels really good. But that was the last time I was shocked, when I got the news that all the shows sold out. I really didn’t expect it. Really.
5) “Baby I’m Bleeding”
DIGBOSTON: What’s the worst injury you’ve ever gotten?
HENDRICKS: The worst injury? That’s hard. I’ve had quite a few. I almost lost my eye once. I came to school and was bloodied up. I got into this fight with a dude who lived near to my house. He broke into my house and stole my PS2 games. Then I went to his house and he was playing them. I was like, “Nigga. What? Did you not think I would notice? Those are all the same games I had. … Right after they had been stolen!” So we got into a fight. We scrapped it out. But I had to go to the hospital because my eye was fucked up. I was fine, but my eye was fucked up. I definitely won that fight, though. He was fucked up. My eye is fine now. Actually, I can’t see very well. Maybe that’s why? Damn. Maybe that is why! I haven’t thought about this in forever! Wow. One eye is worse than the other, and it’s that same eye. Damn. I’m about to get Lasik anyways. [laughs] I’m gonna be able to see every damn thing. Nothing will escape me. The first thing you’re supposed to do when in a fight is cover your eyes. I was not that smart as a teenager, so I was swinging wildly and not playing any defense. I got my games back, though, so I won. I did it. I made it.
6) “My Thoughts on Neogaf Dying (Radio Edit)”
DIGBOSTON: How often do you play video games?
HENDRICKS: I recently started playing a lot more often. There was a stretch where I didn’t play for a year because I had to work and shit, but then I got bored again [laughs]. I play when I’m making music and need a break. I love Dragon Ball Fighterz. I’ve been playing a lot of Fallout recently because I didn’t play Fallout 4 when it first came out. There’s that game with Jesse Williams in it. You know what I’m talking about? The one where you’re like a robot, but not a robot, because you’re a robot with a heart or something? My all-time favorite game is probably Mass Effect. That game goes hard. It’s like a fucking space opera. I don’t know why I like it so much, but that game just clicks with me [laughs]. If you look at my place, I have Mass Effect 2 and 3. I love it. I wipe the floor clean on that one. I don’t know why. The customization, the combat, the story? It’s got it all. Uncharted, too. I even beat Andromeda, so you know it’s real. [laughs] It’s super trash. I played it and I beat it twice.
7) “Rock N Roll Is Dead”
DIGBOSTON: Who’s an underrated rock artist, young or old?
HENDRICKS: Hold on. I actually know the answer to this. I just have to make sure I have the right name, so hold on. [checks phone] There’s this band back in the day called Pure Hell. They’re really good. That’s a lie. That would be a different question. If I had to say the most underrated I think Richard Hell is underrated because his generation and songs and those first few albums were instrumental in what we consider the modern definition of punk now. He’s really underrated.
8) “DD Form 214 (feat. Bobbi Rush)”
DIGBOSTON: Which part of being in the Air Force or serving abroad is often misunderstood by people who have never served?
HENDRICKS: I think maybe they have this misunderstanding that if you’re in the Air Force, everyone flies planes. There’s other shit to do in the Air Force. Just because it’s called Air Force doesn’t mean we’re all in the sky and that’s all we do. [laughs] Floating in the sky and shit. It’s such a sweeping blanket generalization. I think a lot of people don’t get it. They think everyone is a pilot. You do mad other mobile shit. But everyone thinks that. And like, I get it! But it’s just funny after being in it because I definitely did not fly a plane. Even my mom used to ask me that shit. I was like, “…No.”
DIGBOSTON: Have you ever had to go to the hospital because you were sick?
HENDRICKS: Not quite, but I did get bit by a dog. It’s an interesting story. The dog bit me, right? We lived downstairs but someone else lived upstairs, a long time ago in New York. This dude had this fucking dog upstairs. One day, my mom left me there with him because she had to work. So he had two daughters and this crazy-ass dog. So he put the dog in a room because he knew the dog was crazy. So the dog was in the room doing dog shit, and I’m in the living room doing my homework, right? But then the dog somehow got out through the fucking door, came, and tackled me. He bit the shit out of my leg. It opened my leg completely up. So the dude took the dog off me and put it back in the room. One of his daughters thought it was so funny that she went to the room and opened the door again. It came back out and bit me on the ass. That was like next-level trolling. That shit was like, “Nigga, what? Why? Why would you do that?” There was no good reason. And I had to go to the hospital after that.
10) “Libtard Anthem (feat. Freaky)”
DIGBOSTON: Are there any politically charged slang words that are so pathetic they make you laugh?
HENDRICKS: A lot of them. Libtard is up there with snowflake. All of them are funny. What’s the other one? Even millennial is funny because of the context they give to it now. I don’t know, man. The people who come up with that shit aren’t clever enough to come up with that shit. It’s not funny or even sly. It’s just corny. [laughs] So yeah, call me a libtard. I’m with it. They’re just not smart enough to diss someone, so I won’t even dignify you by being hurt by it. I’m going to show you I don’t give a shit.
DIGBOSTON: What’s the one movie that always scares you no matter how many times you’ve seen it?
HENDRICKS: This dude showed me a movie that was… Actually, I’m not going to say that. What’s a movie that actually scares me? I don’t know. It’s hard for me to get scared by a movie. I’m more scared by real-life stuff that could affect me but doesn’t. The movie in particular that’s not scary but is just disturbing definitely got me. But I don’t want to give it promo because it actually is disturbing. That was one that actually fucked me up.
Oooh, wait, wait, wait! I used to be so scared of The Little Mermaid! That’s some fucked-up shit. Deadass, that movie is so fucking weird. Not anymore, but back in the day it was. That big, purple, fucking whale thing with the dress on? Like what the fuck? Honest to god, out of context that shit is terrifying. The crabs are singing and shit. Damn. [laughs] That was mad traumatizing as a little kid. That didn’t make sense to me. None of that made sense.
12) “DJ Snitch Bitch Interlude”
DIGBOSTON: If you could collaborate with any DJ of your choosing, who would you pick?
HENDRICKS: DJ… Khaled? [laughs] Nah, I don’t know. DJ Mustard? [laughs] Any DJ is funny. I fuck with most DJs I guess. Nah, you know what? I would go with DJ Spooky. He’s an electronic artist who does downtempo shit. That’s actually my answer. I’d fuck with that.
13) “Whole Foods”
DIGBOSTON: What’s the one overpriced food item you think it’s worth splurging on at the grocery store?
HENDRICKS: Shit. Overpriced. That shit is kinda pricey. I think Gushers are pretty pricey. I know that’s an old candy, so people may not know it. They used to have commercials in the ’90s a lot but now those are gone. Like where people turn into fruit and shit? That’s another thing as a kid that’s like, “Whoa, what’s going on here?” I don’t go grocery shopping too often because I’m on the move a lot. The only thing I can think of was one time I went to buy some Gushers in a Ralphs and I was like, “What the fuck? What’s this cost so much money for?”
14) “Macaulay Culkin”
DIGBOSTON: What’s your favorite Macaulay Culkin movie?
HENDRICKS: Shit, Home Alone. You knew that. Come on, now. There’s that one scene where he like rigged the movie to talk to the bad guys, so they’re talking to a movie instead of to him. How did this kid know how to do all this shit? All these things he builds? He’s a little kid who knows everything. That kid definitely built a bomb when he grew up. Like, how do you think of all this architecture shit to trap someone at that age?
DIGBOSTON: What are the best and worst parts of Williamsburg?
HENDRICKS: The worst is all of it. All of it. The whole thing. The everything. [laughs] The best part is when I leave Williamsburg. That’s it. I have nothing else to say about Williamsburg except that the bad part is all of it. There’s just no redeeming qualities there. Good God, the fucking people that live there. I won’t even get started because it will take too long. It probably costs $87 for a Gusher there. Plus tax.
16) “I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies”
DIGBOSTON: Who do you wish was canonized in place of Morrissey?
HENDRICKS: Instead of him? I mean, there’s too many people to be honest. There’s a lot of people who don’t get any kind of recognition that they deserved. They never will get what Morrissey gets. I just feel like he’s a symbol of laziness, you know? He just let things slide for so long that it got this bad. Any-fucking-body could replace him. Literally choose anyone. Bob Dylan. I don’t give a fuck. Pick anyone. I just don’t get it, and I don’t have this love for his music that other people do. Put Flavor Flav in that motherfucking spot. Anybody but him. He’s a straight fucking sucker.
17) “Rainbow Six (feat. Yung Midpack)”
DIGBOSTON: What’s the best Skittles flavor and why?
HENDRICKS: Oh shit. Like the individual ones or the package? Have you seen those spicy hot ones? Those make no sense. Like… why? Why did they make those? Who asked for that shit? Spicy and sweet at once? The fuck? Keep it classic. But the one I get most excited for when opening a bag are the red ones. Just something about it. So good.
DIGBOSTON: If you could be born in another century, which would you choose to live in?
HENDRICKS: I mean, I don’t really have many choices to be honest. If I go anywhere before the year 2000, I’m going to get thrown into slavery or something. So I guess I’ll just stay here. [laughs] I’m good where I’m at. It gets more grim as you go down. Probably none of them, for real. I can imagine it now, like, oh, I can go to the 1800s, but oof that’s not a good look. The 1700s? Nope. The 1600s? They probably didn’t even discover black people yet. Shit.
19) “Curb Stomp”
DIGBOSTON: Which wrestling move would you claim as your own if you had to start wrestling in the ring? How would you make it your own?
HENDRICKS: Damn, now that’s a hardass question. There’s the question. I knew it. A wrestling move I could claim as my own… damn. You know what, the Canadian Destroyer! Look it up and just look at it for a while. That shit is just so extra. It’s extra as fuck. When you see it, you’re going to be like, how is this humanly possible. So that’s the one I’d do.
JPEGMAFIA, JOY AGAIN. SUN 9.23. GREAT SCOTT, 1222 COMM. AVE., ALLSTON. 8:30PM/18+/$15. GREATSCOTTBOSTON.COM