Joey Purp is exactly where he wants to be.
“I’ve always subscribed to the belief that everyone’s train is on schedule and everyone gets picked up at the right stop,” says the 22-year-old rapper and affiliate of Chicago's SaveMoney crew. He’s seen his lifelong friends Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, and Towkio achieve remarkable levels of success over the past few years, and even edged toward a similar heights himself as one half of the well-received rap duo Leather Corduroys. Now, he’s ready to step fully into the limelight with his new mixtape iiiDrops.
Despite his insistence that he’s at peace with his place in the game, there’s no denying that his new music sounds aggressively hungry. You can feel that in the vivid portraits he paints on his single “Cornerstore”: “Black son gone hood rich from a broke home/Judge us by our skin tone/No fighting when it’s guns drawn.” Then, most devastatingly: “I remember finding that revolver/I was looking through my closet trying to find my remote control car charger.”
Many of the best moments on iiiDrops are disarming collisions of violence and a young person's life. In another line on “Cornerstore,” he observes that “Chiraq look like the Middle East.” As a Chicago native, he’s aware of the issues a one-dimensional media portrayal of his city can exacerbate.
“Obviously there’s the problem of the fear that it strikes in the hearts of white America,” he explains. “They think every person is shirtless with a 30 clip and it’s not really like that.” At the same time, those misconceptions won't make him sugarcoat his narrative. “I think sometimes sensationalizing is bad, but sometimes you have to tell people the bare truth. If the truth feels sensational, then that’s just to say how big of a problem it is.”
Joey isn't a pessimist and still believes in music's ability to heal at least some of his city’s wounds. “There’s probably 100,000 police officers who grew up on Snoop Dogg, a Crip from Long Beach,” he says. “You probably wouldn’t assume that would be the person all these white people fell in love with in the '90s.” But by creating identifiable characters in otherwise unfamiliar cultures, music can help promote a sense of mutual understanding.
“If the police officer that shot down any black teenager knew his perspective and could see things through his eyes, he may not have reacted as such, and vice versa,” he says. “If we could see life through their eyes, they’re probably scared of us the way we’re scared of them.” None of this is to say he’s naive to reality, just that—like any 22-year-old—he’s hopeful that his work can make a positive impact.
Despite his bubbling fame and ambitious goals, there was one person who wasn’t aware of his musical aspirations until recently: his mother. “My mom just found out that I rap like three months ago,” he says. “She found out on accident. She tells me, ‘The craziest thing happened. I was on YouTube and I saw you.’” He’s elusive about the exact reason for his secrecy, but it feels like an effort to shield her from some of the darker aspects of his raps. “My mom was an amazing mom because she did not know what the fuck we were up to,” he recalls with a chuckle.
Sometimes sensationalizing is bad, but sometimes you have to tell people the bare truth. If the truth feels sensational, then that’s just to say how big of a problem it is.
As is the case with his music, conversations with Joey toggle from heavy discussions of politics to joking about pop culture. He references astrology on “Say You Do,” and his face lights up at the opportunity to discuss it. “I’m fake deep,” he laughs. “I’ve read into Eastern philosophy, as well as Western religion, and traditional Christian religion and shit, but I’m not gonna say I’m some type of crystal-bearing yogi.”
Soon enough though, he’s back to speculating about societal issues, talking at length about instilling children with good values and putting positive vibes out into the world. This makes him a balanced conversationalist but also reveals a kind of contradiction—he has an endless stream of ideas about the direction of society, but relatively few about the direction of his own music career. “I haven’t planned anything,” he says. “I just been taking things as they come.”
Whether or not that attitude will pave an ascendant path forward remains to be seen, but in the meantime, the relative lack of urgency lets the message of his music marinate. Unclouded by superstar ambitions, the lyrics of iiiDrops make for a refreshing listen. That seems to be all he wants, at least for now. “I just hope the powers that be keep making my arms longer,” he says. “Keep extending my reach, and hopefully I’ll do the right thing with it.”