‘I couldn’t have controlled this if I wanted to,” mused Joey Purp in his deep, slurry voice, commenting on the chain of circumstance that’s led to his likely being poised as Chicago’s next big rap star. “I just ended up in this cool position, with talented and motivating friends and a positive environment to create stuff.”
Joey Purp / Knox Fortune (DJ set)
When: 8:30: p.m. Feb. 14
Where: Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western
Tickets: Sold out
Said friends happen to be Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa, homegrown hip-hop luminaries who are lighting the way for gifted cohorts who’ve emerged from their renowned SaveMoney art collective — like Purp, the West Sider born Joseph Davis.
Purp, 24, headlines the Empty Bottle on Valentine’s night — still wakesurfing his roundly extolled 2016 mixtape, “iiiDrops,” and readying its long-awaited follow-up, “Quarter Thing.”
“Is this coming soon or nah because hip-hop is dry as [expletive] right now,” an impatient fan demanded on Purp’s Twitter feed. Another crankily tweeted, “You’ve … been saying quarter thing is ‘coming soon’ for like a year.”
Purp remains vague on the release date, allowing only that “Quarter Thing” will appear “not super-soon. But I’m coming with it soon. And it’s gonna be good in my opinion.
“I’m gonna put out something,” he detailed, “that’s a clear evaluation of where I am in this next step of my life. Hopefully, people will vibe with it in the same way [they did with] ‘iiiDrops.’”
That mixtape, his second, made best-of-2016 lists in such name publications as Rolling Stone and Complex. And Vice Media’s digital music channel, Noisey, applauded Purp’s “knack for effortlessly weaving together sharp social commentary and emotionally resonant observations with smart internal rhyme schemes and [stuff] that just sounds cool.”
“iiiDrops” was also a defining moment for fellow Chicagoan Knox Fortune, who’d handcrafted beats on over half of Purp’s project — realizing he’d truly arrived as a hip-hop producer “when “iiiDrops” scored a “best new music” review from Pitchfork magazine.
That wasn’t the first career high that he’d shared with Purp, whom Fortune has been working with since both were teens (and whose Empty Bottle show he’ll open with a deejay set). In 2015, he related, Joey was an 11th-hour replacement at Lollapalooza, where Fortune shared the stage with him in front of “our biggest audience by far. We made eye contact, and it was like, ‘Dude, we’re playing for like 30,000 people in our home city! At Lollapalooza! Which we used to hop the fence to get into!’ And it was this moment of full circle; I was remembering my first meeting with him, when he was Joey Davis.
“He wasn’t a rapper yet – just a normal kid,” Fortune smiled, and then corrected himself: “Not ‘normal;’ Joey was super-funny. He’d just come to recording sessions and, like, be hilarious.”
Early sessions — mainly involving Fortune at the console with Vic Mensa performing — took place at the school recording studio situated in Whitney Young Magnet High, which Mensa and Purp attended.
“Joey was best friends with everybody, doing the friend-hangin’-out-in-the-studio thing, and then people were like, ‘Do somethin’!’” Fortune said, recalling how Purp’s ever-ready wit had convinced their compatriots that he could rhyme up a storm himself.
“I was there for some of his first sessions, where he was going into the booths and kinda like figuring it out.
“Confidence in front of a microphone is a learned thing,” Fortune noted, “[but] he always knew how to rap.”
Purp had grown up on hip-hop icons including Wu-Tang Clan — “By the time I was like 10 I knew all the words to ‘Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)’” — and he’d especially identified with the brash verbal complexity of Lil Wayne.
“As a kid, I’d thought my own childish thoughts were more like an adult’s,” Purp said, “and Lil Wayne was a kid that had adult lyrics. He spoke and carried himself like he was older, so I started rappin’ his lyrics in the mirror, imagining myself being Lil Wayne.”
For his forthcoming “Quarter Thing,” Purp says he drew on a year’s worth of imbibing “old soul, like [Chicago’s] Chi-Lites, the Delfonics and Otis Redding — trying to keep myself in a palette of audio texture and word usage that’s reminiscent of a time past.
“I like the vulnerability; it seems that all the music from back then tended to be pretty emotion-driven. And that’s cool to me.”
Moira McCormick is a local freelance writer.