At the age of 24, and with two mixtapes and one acclaimed studio album to his name, Joey Purp (real name Joseph Davis) stands at a point in his career where potential has been realized but greatness unfulfilled. His most recent album, the rap album-of-the-year contender QUARTERTHING, is an exercise in fluidity between contrasting styles and floating lyricism that came out of nowhere.
“After iiiDrops (Purp’s second mixtape released in 2016) came out, we were getting some so much raw coverage, but with this shit it didn’t even feel like we got that much coverage with it,” Purps says with faint astonishment. “But whenever we talked to people about it, they were like ‘man, how does it feel to have a great album out.’”
The power with which QUARTERTHING grabbed the attention of hip hop heads everywhere is even more profound when you consider that, up until high school, Purp had no intention of being a musician. That’s not to say that music wasn’t a cornerstone of his life—his older brothers introduced him to an array of musical influences that live on in each bar and each swaggerous composition. But this dude had other plans.
“Man, I thought I was going to be a buyer for a clothing store or something like that or I would own a [marijuana] dispensary once that became legal,” Purp says. “I was planning to go to California to learn how to grow, and then work my way into the industry there.”
So what does a 24-year old with a sparkling debut studio album do next in his career? Turns out it’s pretty simple: “I would love to make music I could play with my daughter.”
Joey Purp’s album QUARTERTHING is out now. Purp will be performing at Washington D.C.’s Songbyrd Music House on October 8, and New York City’s Mercury Lounge on October 10.
Brightest Young Things: I read that coming up you were really influenced by artists like The Sex Pistols and Velvet Underground. How did those influences shape your music?
Joey Purp: I mean the same way any music shaped me up, the same way listening to Lil’ Wayne shaped me. You get a sense of personality from artists when you love their music. You get a sense of their swagger and particular characteristics that make them them and their perspectives unique. So it’s just understanding that and letting everybody’s sounds rub off on me.
I didn’t go grow up within any boundaries of what I thought was cool to wear or what sounded cool. As I got older, I saw parts of Lil’ Wayne in Lou Reed as far as like the writing style, the attitude, and the way they did interviews. Listening to music outside of rap influences me the same way rap music influences me; it expands my understanding of personality and different people.
BYT: When I was reading about the artists you worked with on QUARTERTHING, I saw you had arrangements from Knox Fortune, Thelonious Martin, Nez & Rio, and RZA. How do you maintain the unique identity you’ve developed while also feeding off their creative influence?
Joey Purp: I feel like there’s a way to be me in different vibes of sonic landscapes. That’s how I approach it; what part of my story, and what part of my character; and what part of my attitude can fit into this sound.
BYT: In previous interviews you’ve said that QUARTERTHING was the first album where you really took the profession of being an artist seriously. You mentioned that you’re in the studio all of the time and your work schedule is very structured. How do you balance that with being a father, and how has fatherhood shaped you as an artist?
Joey Purp: Man, yeah that’s an everyday thing, just making sure I’m making time to get in the studio because predominantly I’m just with my daughter…that’s my main focus. I was approaching recording from a work perspective where I blocked out weeks at a time and where I knew what I was doing and when…making sure that I had enough hours in that workspace. Sometimes I need a little help from my mom just to make sure my daughter is always getting the proper attention. I make sure that my daughter comes first, but I work hard to make time for music.
BYT: Has that experience changed where you see your music going after QUARTERTHING, in terms of what you imagine the next chapter is in your career?
Joey Purp: Yea, yea, totally man. I would love to make music I could play with my daughter. My daughter doesn’t listen to rap [haha]…she listens to Stevie Wonder and stuff like Marvin Gaye. That’s the type of music we keep around her.
My daughter doesn’t have any older siblings so she’s pretty much only getting music from me. I found a lot of music from my older brothers because they went through a period of listening to different artists. I grew with them as they went through that, and that allowed me to expand on their “catalogue” of music as I eventually began to find my own music.
I’m also going to have her learn how to play instruments, which is something I never learned.
BYT: Oh word? Which instruments?
Joey Purp: Piano, instantly, off top. Every person should play piano.
BYT: One of your boys, Vic Mensa, seemingly plays like 7 instruments.
Joey Purp: Yea, I mean, he [Vic] popped up recently low key because he didn’t play instruments, and he didn’t grow up playing instruments. He just bossed up and did that himself.
BYT: I always found it cool that you, Vic Mensa, and Chance the Rapper are not only close friends, but some of the best hip hop artists coming out of Chicago right now. When you think about what it means to be a Chicago rapper, how do you fit in that mold?
Joey Purp: I don’t really know what a Chicago rapper really is. We [Chicago] have some conscious dudes and we have some street dudes. Chicago rappers could be anything; Kanye [West], Lupe [Fiasco], and Common were the first conscious rappers out of Chicago…everyone else was on some gangster shit. So it’s like what is a Chicago rapper? Because before those three, Chicago rappers were tough as shit.
BYT: I read that growing up you didn’t think hip hop, or music in general, would be your profession growing up. It seemed like you only realized you had a talent for freestyling around the time of high school. What did you imagine yourself doing before making music took over?
Joey Purp: Man, I thought I was going to be a buyer for a clothing store or something like that or I would own a [marijuana] dispensary once that became legal. I was planning to go to California to learn how to grow, and then work my way into the industry there. And then once it became legal here [Chicago], I’d move back and be in recreational and medical marijuana. It’s probably more realistic to make that my five-year plan now than it was 10 years ago.
BYT: When did you feel the confidence to turn music into a profession?
Joey Purp: I guess it was an everyday thing. Once people started recognizing my stuff and being like “that was tight.” And then playing shows and seeing that people knew all the words. Seeing that progression happen let me know that it could be a real thing.
BYT: Your latest album, QUATERTHING, really came out of nowhere for a lot of people. Are you surprised to see it mentioned in hip hop “album of the year” lists?
Joey Purp: I didn’t know how people would feel, I still don’t know how people feel. [QUARTERTHING] didn’t really feel that much different to me…it’s the same but different from me. After iiiDrops (Purp’s second mixtape released in 2016) came out, we were getting some so much raw coverage, but with this shit it didn’t even feel like we got that much coverage with it. But whenever we talked to people about it, they were like “man, how does it feel to have a great album out.” It’s crazy because it’s not something I’m feeling everyday; I’m not with my daughter thinking “damn, I got the album of the year!” [haha].
I’m proud of that album, and to be in a position to make music and make stuff like that. I’m looking forward to seeing how people feel about this record at the end of the year after they have time to live with it and digested it.
BYT: Is there any sort of musical experimentation or any musical area that you want play with on your next project?
Joey Purp: Yea, I’m definitely going to start going different ways with my vocal tones. I’m also going to start making beats so that’s going to be critical.