Joey Purp was far from the only Chicago rapper to snag a Chance the Rapper feature in 2016, but he might have made the most of it. To say Chance’s rise electrified the city’s music scene would be an understatement, but Joey Purp used the push as a status-elevator rather than a ticket to fall out of his own lane. Purp is all about rawness; he’s an enthusiastic realist whose songs function as blunt bangers that constantly fight for essentiality. If Joey Purp makes a song about something, he’s going to approach the topic with purpose, almost likes he’s aiming to make the definitive song about that thing. His Chance collaboration, “[email protected]”, is not only his most essential song but one of the most essential songs centered around the tired “where the girls at?” trope. He has a penchant for taking ideas that are tried and true and infusing them with momentum as if everything else was leading up to this one refined moment. It’s masterful. Oh, and he really loves to rap.
Now, I’m no purist who lives their life cowering under “DEATH TO MUMBLE RAP” bullshit, but if the status quo of hip-hop today can be critiqued for one thing, it’s monotony. In a time where Drake can drop a 25-song album with, like, only ten songs where he actually sounds interested in what he’s saying, it’s refreshing to hear Joey Purp attack each verse like it’s his last, with each hook falling into its groove like he was told at gunpoint to think of something catchy. On his last record, iiiDrops, Purp’s urgency was endearing, but he didn’t quite have the songs to allow his potential to flourish. QUARTERTHING is exactly the follow-up Purp needed to prove himself. Now that we know he can rap, he’s ready to show us that he’s ready to be timeless.
Purp’s flows are the type that seem custom-made to impress. He’s not extremely technical, but his charisma sounds unrestrained and natural, and that on its own is enough to drop jaws. He enters this album with the grandiosity of someone with a ton to prove, shouting every word, and drawing out the end of each line like he’s desperate to stop the impact from waning. However, he doesn’t sound desperate; he sounds urgent. Opening tracks “24k Gold” and “Godbody” see Purp take two sprawling, soulful beats that are begging to be devoured and lick the plate clean. He raps like it’s a game to him, like he’s doing as much as he can to prevent a dip in energy, filling every gap with his bombastic voice. It’s the type of raw magnetism that could sustain an album on its own if it wanted to, but thankfully, Purp knows he can do more.
He presents exercises in everything from twerk anthems to Vince Staples channeling experimental club-rap to swag rap to annihilations of swag rap… I could go on for a whole paragraph like this. Yet, it’s easy to assume that Purp is using QUARTERTHING as a platform to find his niche, but really, his niche is versatility, and each task is tackled with keen fervor. Immediate highlight “Elastic” is impossible to sit still to, with Purp tossing deadbeat dance instructions over a stiff, spacious, and nocturnal instrumental. It never stops going in and is always prepared to grow. It’s a more conventional dance-jam than “Aw Shit!”, which fares even better with Purp’s vocals chopped-up into this stuttery, sticky jumble over a beat where little more than one thing happens at a time, yet the ambiance manages to morph constantly.
Purp is also unafraid to try his hand at trap, with “Diamonds Dancing” riffing off a hypnotic hook in the most offhand way, milking it into oblivion. “Karl Malone” yelps like it’s doing its best imitation of Future’s “Shit!”, and although the influence is obvious, the energy is undeniable. QUARTERTHING is a record of confident experiments, songs that wander into unknown territory with purpose, capturing lightning in a bottle most of the time.
For an album this straightforward and earnest, QUARTERTHING is intoxicating. Purp’s music has the refinement of a perfectionist but rarely grasps for anything more than what’s on the surface. However, instead of this being a limiter, it makes Purp’s words all the more convincing. He really is just a hungry artist who will lose his shit if you try to pinch money from his daughter’s college fund. He’s not afraid to let you know that this grind is his day-job, a means of chasing bread, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that he loves every minute of it. Even when he mocks the braggadocio of radio rap’s norm on “Look at My Wrist!”, the hook could easily be mistaken for the same flexing he’s critiquing, serving as a respectful nod to just how fun this “fuck shit” can be. QUARTERTHING is result of valiant effort and unfiltered talent. It tells no stories other than those most essential to Purp’s being. Unpretentious and audacious, QUARTERTHING succeeds in being an album that is definitively his own.