Breaking: Joey Purp

The Chicago rapper is ready to join his Save Money cohort in the spotlight with his official debut mixtape, iiiDrops.

BACKSTORY: Growing up with rappers currently redefining what it means to be a Midwest backpacker, Joey Davis has in four short years gone from hazy, syrup-infused emcee to clarion voice for the disenfranchised in his city
FROM: Chicago, Illinois
YOU MIGHT KNOW HIM FROM: Any number of guest spots on any number of mixtape menageries care of his cohorts in the Save Money collective (Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, Donnie Trumpet, Towkio, etc.), or from his full-album collaboration with Kami de Chukwu as Leather Corduroys
NOW: Releasing the outstanding iiiDrops, his self-affirmed official debut, which falls into the cracks between “album” and “mixtape” (“I spent a lot of time on this shit,” he explains. “It’s a musical project.”)

Regaling himself with the title “2016 Tupac” might seem a boast a bit too far for a twenty-two-year-old without much industry presence, but Chicago’s Joey Purp—who does so on the song “Winner’s Circle,” from his new release, iiiDrops—sells it as if he’s penning an academic tome on identity: “Tupac went to art school, he was a dancer, he was eccentric, he was damn near on some bohemian shit—and then he realized that, although he was very familiar with black struggle, he wasn’t a part of it in the way that he could [believably] present himself [like that].”

The line from club to consciousness is a trajectory Purp himself has already traced. In 2012, he released The Purple Tape, a reference to both Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx and the codeine’d-out sound gaining popularity thanks to folks like A$AP Rocky and Future. As “the last one who started making music” out of his group of school friendsChance the Rapper, Towkio, and Vic Mensa, among others, who’d together assemble the Save Money crew—his first solo mixtape is ambitious, front-loaded with dope-smoke ghosts and eventually spiraling into something righteously weirder.

It made sense then that he’d partner with Kami de Chukwu to form the duo Leather Corduroys, a single-less project raised with experimental freedom. “That was one of those things where…after I got away with that shit, I could do whatever I wanted,” he remembers. Among other things, it blazed the path for iiiDrops. Joey lays the connection bare: “[It’s] my half, you know? Corduroys was a little more confusing—but this is just me doing whatever I want, and you can hear it.”

“The people that I’m speaking for will never hear my music unless I personify our problems.”

Produced by Save Money stalwarts like Knox Fortune (Joey’s touring DJ) and Thelonious Martin, iiiDrops is as much a playful dissection of the politics of partying—steeped in chopped-up brass samples (“Photobooth”) and deadpan bangers (“Girls @”)—as it is a doleful, soulful decrying of the effects drugs and violence have on the people Joey loves (“Cornerstore”). Divisive and divided amongst itself, it’s a microcosm of the communities he’s rapping for: “If I don’t have anything [club] on my album, the people that I grew up with, they won’t listen to me… They literally will label me a conscious rapper or a backpack rapper. The people that I’m speaking for will never hear my music unless I personify our problems.”

Joey Purp is careful calling iiiDrops a mixtape. The word carries too many “downtrodden” connotations—plus “you can’t get an award for a mixtape”—so he coyly uses the word “project.” As he puts it, “Everybody has predetermined expectations. So you have to either fight those expectations or you can play the game as the game tries to play you. Because it’s going to get you to where you need to be, to do the things you really want to do.” After hearing iiiDrops, the whole 2016 Tupac thing doesn’t seem so arrogant anymore—Joey very much gets what he wants to do, what he’s supposed to, and where those two urges meet.

“I just feel like people don’t understand their power until they don’t have it anymore,” he laments. “I understand the power that I have and the people I can speak for.” Challenge accepted: “Nothing’s going to come between me and the people who I grew up with who don’t have a voice.” FL

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