In July 2017, Joey Purp was confident everything in his life was as it should be. “I’ve always had the mentality that my train is right on schedule,” the Chicago rapper told Billboard as we sat on the rooftop of his manager’s South Loop apartment building. It’d been a little more than a year since he’d dropped his breakout mixtape, 2016’s iiiDrops, but Joey said, in his mind, that project could have been released years earlier.
“But it wasn’t good enough yet,” the rapper born Joey Davis, offered. “I’ve never really been the type to chase something.”
He wasn’t kidding. “It’s cool to just accept the process,” the rapper tells me more than a year later as he digs into a vegan skillet on the back porch of a shabby restaurant in the city’s Wicker Park neighborhood. Given the patient approach he takes to his craft, it’s perhaps not surprising that although he intended to release his much-anticipated follow-up to iiiDrops shortly after we spoke, it would be more than a year before QUARTERTHING, his just-released new album, was finally ready for the world.
“I don’t like to do things unless I’m sure,” Purp added of a sporadic album creation process that spanned several years. It's one that found him changing sonic direction, adding features and jetting back and forth between studios in Chicago and L.A. to meet with producers including longtime friends, Peter Cottontale, Nico Segal and Nate Fox, with whom he co-executive-produced the LP.
“I don’t like to work with strenuous dates and all that type of stuff. It muddies the water,” Purp continues of his approach to QUARTERTHING. “You gotta be able to see clearly. I just waited ‘til it felt right -- and then slowly it started to form into something. The vision around what it originally was supposed to be began to dissipate and a cloud around what it could be began to form.”
Purp isn’t the type to parse his work for deep meaning, but as iiiDrops made clear, the 25-year-old is deftly able to thread the needle between the funky and forthright. The iiiDrops dance-floor banger “Girls @” was all freaky Neptunes-style groove and similarly, QUARTERTHING’s “Elastic” occupies lulls with its giddy groove. But it’s in the profound wisdom that Joey continues to shine brightest. “I wake up to bullets flying / Mila crying / ambulances speeding past / pray none of my n----s died,” he bellows on the Ravyn Lenae-featuring album opener “24KGold/Sanctified.” Moments later, on “Godbody - Part 2,” he follows an album-highlight feature from RZA, offering up a tale of hood hypocrisy. “I dream of Porsches / and families that don’t know divorces / wake up to warring and n----s dying and buying Jordan’s.”
Balancing the swag with a serious message is a direct reflection of the rapper’s current life. He might spend weeks at a time lighting up stages on the road but he’s equally content dedicating his time to raising his four-year-old daughter. “Having a child changes everything,” Purp says. "It puts a structure to your life that is necessary." Not it isn’t an occasional balancing act. “I feel like some people raise great children and throw away their whole lives for it. And some people live great lives and throw away their relationship with their children. There has to be a happy medium.” Finding that place, he says, has been one of life’s greatest rewards. “It’s been a major blessing to reinvent and reimagine my own approach to life by way of having to teach someone everything and think about structure and how I really want to move moving forward. That’s been a big kickstarter towards me being a better human being. And it transferred over to everything I do.”
For one, it has him approaching music as a career rather than a hobby. Before iiiDrops, “I was approaching it as something I was just doing on the side,” Purp says. “And after I started putting stuff out and I started seeing people’s response to it I started understanding just the position I’m in.” While making QUARTERTHING he might go weeks at a time without recording. “But I’m about to change that,” he says. “I’m about to get in the studio at all times. Just working on everything from the studio like an office. So anytime someone sends me a fire beat I don’t have to book studio time. I’m just gonna be there already. That’s how I’m gonna start approaching it: structuring my schedule more like work.”
The rapper admits for a while he was anything but confident in his skills. Unlike his close childhood friends Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper, he never saw rap as his life’s work. “I didn’t think that was my path,” Purp says. “They convinced me to make music.” At 14, when he met his two now-famous friends, “Vic already had a written notebook with raps and I remember Chance reading raps to me the first time I met him. So this was always in the cards for them.” Even though Purp was long adept at freestyling and he describes himself as “a talker from a family of orators,” he never looked at being a rapper as a profession.
Though, with his store-manager parents constantly working, and him living in six different houses in varying Chicago neighborhoods throughout his childhood, “rappers shaped my life,” he explains. “Rap music taught us all so much about demeanor, about being self-motivated. I didn’t know any millionaires. I didn’t know any businessmen as a kid. But I knew Lil Wayne was flexing and saw how he carried himself.”
Still, even now Joey says he still believes many people don’t take rap seriously as a legitimate profession. “If somebody in their twenties walks up and tells you, 'Oh yeah, I’m a professional. I’m self-employed. I make this much money a year,' it would be intriguing, right? And then when you ask them what they do and they say they’re a rapper a lot of times people’s initial approach to that idea changes: 'Oh, you’re a rapper.'"
It’s why he’s setting his sights beyond just making music. "I’m probably going to end up doing some crazy stuff like being the Creative Director at Target or something,” Purp had said with a laugh back on the rooftop in 2017. “I’m gonna make passionate and inspired music for a long time,” he adds. “But I definitely want to make things outside of music as well. I just have to condition my mind and body so that when I show up to execute anything I can do it well."