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Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week's album is Joey Purp's QUARTERTHING.
It wouldn’t have come as a huge surprise if Joey Purp never made it out of the long shadow of his Savemoney compatriots Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa. But he did — he proved himself to be one of the most bracing voices in Chicago’s rich hip-hop scene on his 2016 mixtape iiiDrops, which chronicled his experiences coming of age in the city’s often-dangerous streets with bold, colorful strokes. Two years later, the 24-year-old is back with QUARTERTHING, a high-octane sequel with a hard sonic edge that takes a dramatic dive into his past as an enterprising drug dealer. With few quiet moments, QUARTERTHING offers an exhilarating listening experience akin to driving a sports car. “21 with them leather seats, 17 with the plasma screen,” Purp snarls on “Look At My Wrist,” “When you’re used to not having shit, young niggas brag about everything.” He may not be a huge star, but he sounds like one — he raps with the defiant glee of someone who never thought they'd make it this far.
The incredulous “I’m still alive!” refrain Purp delivers on opener “24k Gold/Sanctified” feels almost like a victory lap — he’s made money and a name for himself in a world that has made victims out of family, friends and foes. Though the track establishes the themes he goes on to explore in subsequent songs — memory, ego, betrayal, the ever-looming threat of gun violence and jail — it belies the aggression he unloads during the remainder of the album. On the very next track, “Godbody - Pt. 2,” Purp raps at a fever pitch, thumping his chest at those who question his credentials: “Money turn your kin into your enemy / Streets will turn your mans into your memory.” He burrows further into this mentality on “Lebron James”: “Murder was the mindstate, boosting up the crime rate / You ain't getting money unless you see that shit in five states / Crack kills, crime pays, I'm getting to it nine ways."
Executive produced by Purp, Peter Cottontale, Nate Fox and Nico Segal, QUARTERTHING contains a dynamic array of sounds, from juke and Chicago house to grungy, Big Fish Theory-grade bass distortion, from the screaming organs of "Godbody - Pt. 2” to the surreal arpeggiated piano of "Bag Talk," which glints like a set of spinning chrome Forgiatos.
If there’s a weakness to QUARTERTHING, it’s that it frequently leaves the listener needing more in the way of details — too often, he speaks of backstabbers who “changed on me” but doesn’t explain how. But this doesn’t stop his stories from feeling visceral and lived-in. Maybe it’s his origins as a playground battle rapper, but it is obvious that Purp loves to rap for its own sake, for the chance to be emotional font, vocal stylist and technical wizard all at once. This quality of his makes QUARTERTHING an immersive record in its own way, one that’s easy to listen to front-to-back. It ends, oddly, with a benediction recited by GZA. (“Just coming out of a dream state, awake / Visions fade, I think new thoughts and meditate.”) GZA’s morning salutation cleanses the palate, and invites the listener to return to the very beginning and dive into Purp’s world once more.
Danny Schwartz is a New York-based music writer. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, GQ, and Pitchfork.