As usual, we can consult the Greeks, and Aristotle himself defines the art of the speaker as “a combination of the science of logic and of the ethical branch of politics.” Those with their attentions pinned to the US electoral competition, however, are not granted the beauty and wholeness of rhetoric at work. Rather, blind and clumsy pawing, attempts to speak in truth made false by the mouths themselves. Words and ideas are marshaled, but instead of being bound neatly by vibrant stitch — red or blue, your choice — they end up as taxidermical hoaxes, grotesqueries, chimera. The lion snaps at the ram, as the viper decides where to bury its fangs.
It’s a difficult business, pulling out the thread and making sense of the mess, deciphering the ugly thing plopped onto podia nationwide. Perhaps it is Aristotle himself, brandishing logic in one hand and ethics in the other, who must bear the onus of our aberrant condition. Perhaps what is needed is for someone to cut the Gordian knot, undo the cruel alchemy of contemporary politics. Perhaps what is most needed, what has always been most needed, is parrhesia.
JPEGMAFIA is willing to provide. A voice without hesitation, a voice slicing through soft bellies, a voice once diagnosed with a chronic lack of fucks, a voice planted near the savage heart of things. Parrhesia is anti-rhetorical. Subverting convolution and crushing equivocation, a free voice must necessarily irrupt. Clarity and an aversion to prevarication, even amid the squalling and glitchy production, are the guiding lights of his newest project, a collaboration with fellow Baltimore rapper Freaky.
The 2nd Amendment, far from being a gun lobby mixtape, is a simple call-to-action for brown and black bodies: arm yourself while it’s still legal. Explaining the purpose of the EP — only conceptually, it’s actually an LP in length — Peggy says, “TO REALLY PROMOTE SAFETY,” insisting that an America in which racialized violence is du jour demands responsibility for one’s own security. He has always intended to shock and offend (cf. “I Just Killed a Cop Now I’m Horny”), but his most controversial move might just be reminding people of their rights. His formerly unrestrained wrath is tempered both by his collaboration and the commitment to the record’s concept: a snapshot of America right now.
There are many records “of their time,” just as it is equally common for artists to release work in response to contemporary issues, but the mercenary ethic of Peggy ensures that this release feels like it was recorded immediately before you listened to it. This nearness is only further enforced by his decision to edit his tracklist post-release á la Kanye. Referencing not only the hot issues of the year — the presidential election (“Trillary Clinton 2K16”), digital security after the Apple-FBI imbroglio, Black Lives Matter — he gives his take on Micah Johnson and slips in a line about Brexit. Nothing is censored, because what’s the point? Trying to speak reasonably in the face of the unreasonable is absurd.
Production is similarly confrontational. Largely produced by JPEG himself, the instrumentals deftly move between the spacier, anxious atmospheres of Communist Slow Jams and the aggressive, noisier beats of Black Ben Carson. Highlights include the twisted industrial surge of “BUMBOPUSSYRASCLAT,” the strangling noise bursts on “Xanny Davis Jr.,” and the fake real trap shit on “I Might Vote 4 Donald Trump.” Spliced in are all manner of samples that demonstrate an extensive command of his sonic archive. Video game samples (Urban Shaman’s cut has both Mortal Kombat and Metal Gear Solid), Ustream grabs, and R&B mutilations crop up alongside random screaming and voices distorted beyond recognition. Even when the beats are straightforward, the production is always fringed by chaos and is always in danger of breaking down.
However, the most provocative element here is the inclusion of samples of speeches, interviews, and news. Always in service of the concept, they range from calls for revolution to racist reports on the climate of Black America. From the vault, clips of H. Rap Brown and Khalid Muhammad on the after-the-fact “Rinky 2K / Fatal Fury” mixed in with Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and, of course, presidential hopeful Trump. With Peggy, it’s always tough to tell where his irony and hyperbole end and his actual politics begin, but the clips provide a way to reorient the listener and keep the message clear. Though he speaks without fear of judgment, that doesn’t mean the words won’t be clouded or misunderstood. After all, the parrhesiastes need not be believed in order to communicate truth.
Unfortunately for The 2nd Amendment, the clarity and concision that Peggy deploys alongside his message do not apply to the editing process of the record. Distinctions of nomenclature aside, the EP runs overlong, an issue that could be rectified by cutting the collaborator. While Freaky must be commended for the fantastic production on “The internet Ain’t Safe,” including the brilliant slice from “The Kids’ Guide to the Internet,” his stilted flow and less-than lyrics (his “kick it like tae bo” line can be found on an Akon track) can’t keep up with Peggy and the guests. This is functionally a JPEGMAFIA release, and while far from damning, Freaky’s hit-or-miss performance certainly slows down proceedings.
2nd Amendment is not exactly a record condemning the evils of institutional racism, but more precisely a roaring declaration of what America is now and a confident prophecy of its future. No one needs to be told racism is bad while every media outlet has set itself to documenting its praxis. No one needs to be convinced or “made aware” while the smog of rhetoric denies discourse and arrests forward movement. Complexity kills action. It is through shock and abrasiveness that JPEG and co. seek to dispel Cassandra’s curse; by couching his vision of the future not in abstract theory and worn history, but in the visceral, agonizing yesterday, he hopes to dynamite lethargy. He claims to stand near truth and will shout until he is heard.
A few days before the release, Peggy tweeted a quote from JFK. Delivered in support of his one-year old Alliance for Progress, he warns,”Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” With a Trump dictatorship looming and his promise to “Make America safe again,” the record suggests this tipping point might be any day now, but while there’s still five minutes to midnight, there’s still time to fix it.