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Review: Chicago Wunderkind Joey Purp Is Clear-iii’d as Ever on ‘iiiDrops’

AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 20: Rapper Joey Purp of Leather Corduroys performs during the 2015 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at Acl Live at Moody Theatre on March 20, 2015 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for SXSW)
SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: May 27, 2016
Label: self-released

The importance of perspective in a hip-hop album can’t be understated. Kendrick Lamar’s records are informed by the civil rights struggle, Kurupt, and Lil Wayne, but they wouldn’t resonate without his vivid depictions of Compton (and prodigious rapping ability) tying them together. Run the Jewels are disgruntled uncles without their worn-and-weary Avengers rebelliousness. SaveMoney member Joey Purp’s iiiDrops, the Chicago native’s second solo mixtape, isn’t quite up to the level of Run the Jewels 2 or untitled unmastered. — Purp admitted in an interview with Noisey last week that he “just really wanted to be Curren$y” on his 2012 debut, The Purple Tape. But its follow-up, iiiDrops, finds Joey Purp inhabiting the POV of his own engaging and charismatic self.

Purp’s perspective isn’t a brand new one. “I done been on both sides of the burner / I done witness both sides of the murder,” he announces on opener “Morning Sex,” as undoubtedly one of the many youths familiar with Chicago’s lethal summers. The brief portrait kicks off a project that quickly unfolds far less dichotomously. Purp is a dexterous enough writer to give the common experiences he covers — political anguish, spiritual pondering, and nightlife maneuvering — their necessary verve. His fried, high-pitched voice encumbers his soulful and brassy production, but the limitation rarely disfigures his painterly way with words. On “When I’m Gone,” lines like “They wanna fire the teachers / Policemen and the preacher / I guess religion is useless and education evil,” display his proclivity for efficient, relatable catharsis — a consistent strength throughout iiiDrops.

Fellow Chicagoans Kanye West, Chance the Rapper, and Vic Mensa didn’t claim they had it all figured out on their recent efforts, but they at least hinted that the answers lay between the church and civic duty. Joey Purp’s approach on iiiDrops is more experiential; answer-searching and religious fervor are satellite concerns compared to the act of simply living. “Cornerstore,” a spiritual nephew of Be­-era West production featuring hometown natives Saba and theMIND, is a masterful narrative that runs Chicago’s constants (gentrification, gun violence) against the human stories they overshadow, like Purp’s run-in with the city’s gun epidemic: “I remember finding that revolver / I was looking through my closet, tryin’ to find my remote-control car charger / Aimed it at my head and make a gun sound, ain’t that a bitch?” Purp’s most convincing when he’s adding levity to nighttime concrete bangers (“Two-tone whip change colors / I call it Charlamagne,” he cracks on “Godbody”), or making chest-thumping productions feel like hard-fought triumphs. On “Winner’s Circle” he observes, “I done seen kids steal drugs from their own parents / Just to start a habit that they would inherit.”

Much of iiiDrops’ production takes cues from the Neptunes’ dance syncopations and West’s mid-’00s throwback renewal. Those icons are notable for not only producing that decade’s biggest songs, but also for introducing this generation of black artists to new forms of expression. (Purp is multi-racial; “I’ve always been part-white to someone, part-black to someone else,” he told Pitchfork.) Purp doesn’t proclaim he’s the biggest heir to that legacy — although he swipes an Eminem reference to crown himself “the 2016 2Pac: back and improved.” But iiiDrops is very much a marvel of West’s influence — an accessible look at the multitudinous nature of Chicago life and thought.

It makes sense the project’s guests — all Windy City-based — are lucidly expressive within its space. Mick Jenkins throws some shade at record labels during a strong performance on “Money & Bitches,” and Saba’s verse on “Cornerstore” is heartrending: “And I can feel it when she kiss me / She don’t sleep till I get home,” he says of his grandmother, who lost two sons.

The best moments on iiiDrops aren’t always so heavy, though. The club-ready percussions of “Girls @” are infectious enough to loosen Chance’s altar-service gown for a spry verse, rhyming “Ta-Nehisi Coates” and “SpottieOttieDope” before smirking at car-ride-home frustrations. The joint is irreverent but ultimately full of joy — a necessary emotion on an album artfully aware of the realities that often silence it.