Joey Purp talks Save Money, bridging divides in Chicago rap, and his long-awaited new project "iiiDrops."
It's been the better part of four years since the SaveMoney comrade turned professional emcee Joey Purp released his debut project, The Purple Tape, which dropped on his 18th birthday. He was slow to take his own musicianship seriously, but in the time since his last release, he has worked to sharpen his rapping skills and, more importantly, to understand the makings of a full-bodied, evocative record, learning many tricks from his multi-instrumentalist Chicago peers like Thelonious Martin, various members of The Social Experiment, and his closest collaborator Knox Fortune, a newcomer who makes an impressive statement as the co-exec. producer (along with Purp himself) of iiiDrops. Album, mixtape, project -- whatever, iiiDrops is easily one of the top Chicago releases of the year, with songs of pain, strife, reflection, and a reckless good time all weaved into one convincing statement of purpose -- one that comes from a bold and hedonistic young artist who longs to see better days for his city.
Joey came through shortly before the release of iiiDrops, and we got to talking about some of the album's singles as well as his evolution since The Purple Tape, which turns out to be a rather sore subject for him. He shed some light on the beginnings of SaveMoney, and other topics of conversation include the appropriation of drill music, how to rap about drugs in an honest but responsible manner, and the color purple.
Let's talk "iiiDrops." What does the title mean?
It’s kind of literal, like eye drops for your three eyes, like your third eye. Just kind of like a breath of fresh air, cleansing people’s vision real quick.
There's some crazy energy on the new single, "Photobooth." Do you plan out all of your raps or are you more of an improv guy?
A mixture. I like freestyle shit, and then think of ideas, and then put 'em together.
What inspired you to make the song?
The first thing was like the Kanye line from "U Mad" -- "She ain't really bad, she a photo thot / I should hire this bitch, she so damn good at Photoshop." I actually made the song right after we all heard "U Mad," and that line was in everybody's head for so long. That was the inspiration mainly. Took that one line, there was such a deeper situation that was untouched upon.
I feel like Kanye does that kind of thing all the time now.
Well, Kanye, via whoever wrote that line [laughs].
You never know these days. Unless you know.
Moving to "Cornerstore," is that that the corner store in question on the single art?
Uh, no. No. That's a different corner store from the one I grew up beside.
I feel like most of your music is viscerally in-the-moment. On this one, you decided to get reflective and paint a portrait of coming up in your neighborhood. What made you want to take it that route?
I don’t know, man. I heard the beginning of what the beat was like, well the beginning of the beat -- I heard the first version of the beat. And the first thing I thought of was the first lines of it, and it was just like everything else kind of unfolded from there.
("Yeah, and I remember Flamin' Hots and cheese from the cornerstore / Stole these jeans, I sell 'em, I'm gon' buy me 20 nickel dros")
Who produced "Cornerstore"?
Thelonious Martin. And Knox [Fortune]. And then Nico -- or Donnie Trumpet -- and JP from The Social Experiment band playing the horns.
Have you known all those guys for years now?
Yeah, yeah, I've known them all for years. Nico I've known since we were like 12.
And Thelonious, he's been in the circle?
Yeah, for quite some time now, since we were maybe 16 or 17.
Both of those songs sound like big steps away from your club-oriented records.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I want people to be unafraid to do both. I don’t want somebody to have to think they have to be either J. Cole or Rae Sremmurd when they hear my shit. And I don’t want them to think that I’m J. Cole or I’m Rae Sremmurd. I want people to know that you can do all this shit, and the person that likes this guy can also like this. You gotta be able to do it all.
Was it always this natural for you to explore all these different sounds?
It's natural for me to wanna explore different sides of what I can do. That is true. But I just think it’s more so natural for everyone to do different things at different times. So when I make music, I try to reflect that.
Did all the SaveMoney guys go to school together?
Yeah, most of us went to the same high school. Chance went to a different high school, but he went to grammar school with one of my best friends. So that’s how we all met.
And was that when SaveMoney was formed?
Yeah like 2007, 2008.
Was the collaborative energy in Chicago present in the city before you guys started? Or do you feel like you kind of helped restore...
--Not restore, we started that shit! Not to be pompous, but honestly though, Chicago is a city with a history of not just division and separation, but literally like economic boundaries. It's like, if you cross a certain border, there's another city there. It’s still Chicago, but it’s vastly different. So Chicago is just separated in general -- let alone the history of like criminal activity and organized crime and gangs. So it’s just in the culture of youth, especially black youth, to just separate ourselves from each other, and it’s not a positive thing.
And I think we definitely did help. We definitely did help people to start banding together. Even if it was banding together with their friends to make a thing that was separate from us and we had a rift, there was still communion in them. And now that people are getting a bit older and a bit more mature, it’s becoming a community thing.
What part of Chicago do you come from?
I lived all over, man. I live on the West Side right now. But I’ve lived on every side of Chicago. We lost the house a lot of times [laughs].
Were you and Chance and Vic ever in the same neighborhood?
Nah. We were from different neighborhoods. Vic’s from Hyde Park, Chance is from Chatham, and I stayed by Midway Airport. And now I stay out west.
What do you see SaveMoney as right now? Is it much different than when y'all started?
Nah, it’s actually exactly the same as when it started which is pretty cool, man. Everybody just does different things, everybody’s schedule is different. We do different things during our day, but you throw us all in a room, it’s like we fifteen, which is pretty cool.
So Chance was the first guy to blow up a little bit...
Oh, that's not right?
It's not right. National scale, yes. From the outside looking in, yes, because he was solo first, but Kids These Days was really what kicked it off for us. And then the band dissolved, and around the same time the band dissolved, Chance dropped 10Day.
But originally, it was Kids These Days that like started the whole thing, and Chance was rapping definitely, but the forefront of the Chicago thing was Kids These Days. And then 10Day came out and Acid Rap came out, and things took form how they are now.
When this was going on, were you positive you wanted to be a rapper?
Nah, I wasn't gonna rap. I wasn't trying to rap at all when that was happening. I was just like those are my homies. I rapped for fun. We’d freestyle together, we would do like cyphers or whatever. But then Chance had me come to the studio one time, when we were like 16, and we did a song, and we just kept playing it, and everyone was like, “Bro you gotta keep rapping!”
Somebody actually found the song like a year ago and posted it, and was like, "Early Chance the Rapper and possibly a Joey Purp feature, cause it was just Joey Davis, it was my name on the shit. I didn't have a rap name. But yeah, after that, that's what really made me start writing raps and shit.
How'd you come up with the name Joey Purp?
Purple’s my favorite color. I just feel like purple can be any emotion. A lot of colors aren’t like that. If you think of a bright vibrant purple or a deep dark purple, and every other color is a shade in between, not many colors are as flexible. Even if there’s a positive or negative vibe, a dark yellow doesn’t really come off as sad the way that deep purple comes off as just desperately empty. So that was the first thing.
When I was in high school back in the day, I used to sell weed a little bit, and I always had purple weed. And there was somebody else selling weed at our high school, and they had other types of weed or whatever -- and so if you were smoking the purp, that was the Purp. And Prince. And Polo purple label. And North Face purple label. Just a lot of good things happening over here on this purple side of life. It’s the royalty joint. Swag.
Was "The Purple Tape" your first official project?
"The Purp Tape," yeah. That was my first shit. I dropped it on my 18th birthday.
That was 2012. Looking back, how do you see that project now?
I have mixed feelings about that. In my opinion, it’s trash. It’s adolescent. It’s just undeveloped. There are moments of promise on it where I was trying to get at something, and I almost got it. But I also had no concept of mixing or mastering or any of that type of shit. I didn’t know anything about the effect that the room has on the voice and the microphone. I didn’t know any of that shit, so it just didn’t sound good. The quality of that could have been better if I were to do a remixed or remastered version, and find all the sessions and shit. But the quality of it is subpar, so I don’t even like talking about that shit.
Next question. When did you start to figure all that stuff out?
It’s just time. That’s what I meant though about thinking, "I’m alright at rapping," and then thinking, "I’m gonna be a rapper." At first I was just like, “I’m alright at this, I’ll show up to the studio and record a rap, and then dip, and then play it for me later,” but now I understand the actual trade of this shit.
When you were first coming up, drill was just starting to get huge, right?
Kind of. It was never trending like that anywhere [here], but it got trendy everywhere else. In Chicago, that was just rap music. That was the type of rap music that we made. We didn’t make up drill, we didn’t make up none of this shit. People only called the music drill the same way they call that EDM shit trap. Somebody did it and everybody ran off, but really that’s not what trap music was when Lil Jon was saying trap music, when Lil Scrappy was saying trap music. T.I. had an album called Trap Muzik. Flosstradamus are my niggas, I fuck with them. But it didn’t sound like that. That’s not what trap music sounds like. So I think that’s what happened with drill.
And especially coming from the place of people saying it’s a drill, doing drills, and drilling, and like, "I’m a driller, I need a driller." You know? Drill as a word. But it was because that was a term. To kill someone was a drill, as if it were a game. So the drill thing -- it doesn’t sit well with the people from the city cause it was kind of like the media made it a thing.
Fitting into that narrative, I think the SaveMoney sound was kind of viewed as a reaction to that movement.
Exactly. Cause it was so different.
But is there truth to that?
No, not at all. That’s why I think we’ve been cognizant enough of what we say and how we move to always make sure we address that when people say it. And so it hasn’t gotten blown out of proportion. Because we never bought into it, like, “Yeah man! We’re not with that Chief Keef stuff, so we do this!” We were never really like that. That’s the way we avoided it cause it’s really not true. We all do our thing, and it just so happens that it sounds different.
I realized that you like to reference drugs, but you do it very differently. You're open to what these drugs are, and what they can do to you, good or bad. Has that been a conscious decision to address these substances in such a nuanced way?
Yes and no. It’s an unconscious decision because when I’m in these situations with other people, we just see it differently. So then the way I interpret it is always different. Any situation, if you just view it differently -- it’s like really glamorous to other people to be like passed out on the couch. That’s not really that cool to me.
Like they could use that as a boast.
Yeah, exactly. Like, "I’m so off whatever that I’m just dead," or you know, you could say various things that sound cool and kids will like it, but that shit is not that cool. And it’s like obviously everybody has experimented in things, especially in rap right now. But it’s just being cognizant of the fact that although we do these things, we have to figure out what's actually cool.
I wish that Wayne or Ross would rap about having that seizure. That would be a bar! That bar when they talk about lean and then they talk about how they had a seizure on a plane. That’s a bar right there that’s just waiting to happen that kids need to hear because they need to know like, "Damn, folks coulda died. That might not be the move." Know what I mean? “That might not be the best thing I should be doing.” But then, if you a different type of nigga, you might be like, "Yo, bro almost died. I'm finnna go hard too!" In which case, it’s still thought provoking, but it’s just like -- I would hate for a kid to hear my shit and think the latter.
Tell me a how you developed your partnership with Knox Fortune? (Co-executive producer of "iiiDrops")
Knox is like – if you thought exactly like me, that’s what Knox is. Me and Knox are like the same person. Like literally to the point where we’ll be in situations where we’ll look and say the same thing at the same time cause we think the same way. It’s just cool cause he’s like a white kid from the suburbs, and I’m like a mixed kid from the inner-city, and we grew up in completely different situations. But we have the same taste and everything. We like the same music, and it was really just a mutual friend situation. As soon as we heard each other’s music -- I heard his production and he heard stuff that I was working on -- we knew there was something to be done. And then for the last two years, we honed in on what it is that we do.
And what about the other "iiiDrops" producers?
Thelonious Martin is on there. Peter Cottontale from the SOX band. He had a big hand in it as far as like all the extra production and post-production -- taking all the songs from tracks to songs. We had a lot of tracks. And then Peter kind of put his hand on a lot of things and turned them into songs.
Very dope, man. That's all on my end. Anything else you'd like to add?
Shout-out the whole gang, bro.