There are not many rappers who can create musical portraits that go from girls with Birkin bags, to violence and crime in Chicago. But when it comes to Joey Purp… well he’s not just any rapper.
For 23 year old Joey Davis, also known as Joey Purp, surviving and creating in Chicago is the fuel to his music and sound. Individually, Joey’s rap skills lie in his versatility. He’s charismatic, and armed with a dexterous pen, with bars flirting between the political commentaries of real life, and the hedonistic club rituals. However, collectively Joey is part of Save Money, which is sort of being dubbed as collective, but at a basic level it’s about friendship: “Save Money is just a name we thought of when we were teenagers to call ourselves. We’re homies. It’s really about friends; it started off as that before the music. Vic and Chance used to make me rap. They would tell me to come to the studio to rap with them… But Save Money, at a basic level, it is about friendship, and that’s before the music… and now we don’t even stress the name as much as we stress the friendship”.
Meeting with Joey in London in person, he’s undeniably articulate and very chill. He’s a fan of football (although he wasn’t really sure who was playing when we met), he thinks the U.K. city of Leicester is a “terrible name, it just sounds uck, right?” and he’s a vegan. Growing up all over Chicago, his Mum ran thrift stores (which has certainly influenced Joey’s fashion sense today) but it was his friends, that got Joey Purp into rap: “There wasn’t a certain or specific track that got me into rapping, I just like the whole process of music. Thinking of a song idea, then seeing it come to fruition. That’s what got me hooked, and then seeing people’s reactions. When I was younger, I questioned myself lot, but then when I got older a lot of my friends kept telling me I needed to rap so I just kept going with it, and here we are”. And here we are.
Five months after the release of his latest project ‘iiiDrops’, which was completed after, as Joey puts it, “one year in the studio and 22 years of living”. The project includes features from his Save Money fam – Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa – as well as guest spots from Mick Jenkins, Saba, theMIND and Teddy Jackson, ‘iiiDrops’ is very much a Chicago project, in both sound and content. For a city like Chicago, one that’s dominated the global news for surging violence and crime, the idea of cleansing both the city and the people isn’t too far off. This is where Joey and ‘iiiDrops’ comes in: “The original concept was all about cleansing vision — like the way eye drops are cleansing. Then there’s the double entendre with the three i’s in the title, linking that to the whole idea of your third eye”.
When he reminisces over the making of ‘iiiDrops’ Joey’s face lights up; it’s filled with positive memories. One of the more turn-up tunes ‘Girls @’ was made with Joey and his friends getting turned up at the studio, then “going to hit the club after”. The video for it is also lined with good memories for Joey, “we shot it in Chicago, on top of a parking garage. It was fun. Too much fun. It was a collaborative effort with Weird Life Films. They produced Twin Peaks videos and I loved their videos, so we started talking about a video. It was fun, really fun”. Then tunes like ‘Godbody’, packed with a heavy guitar riff throughout, took Joey a lil longer, “Godbody’s a weird one because I never wanted to write it, but one day it just came to me and I wrote it”.
Then there are songs like ‘Cornerstore’, one of the first songs created for the project, which is a travelogue of growing up in Chi Town – framed by a location that holds significance in communities globally, “In lower income hoods, they’re the epicentre of where everything is going on. Sometimes there’s no grocery stores, we sometimes call these areas food deserts, which means there’s no grocery story for like a mile, so everyone needs to go to the cornerstore to get crap food, blunts, diapers, formula, chips… Literally everything is there. You then got people selling stuff outside, then your drunks… Literally, everyone has to go to the corner store. Everyone’s mum would send them. It’s the first place your mum would send you alone. It’s fundamental in Chicago and shapes peoples outlook on things”.
Musicality aside, Joey Purp is wise beyond his years. Over the course of his rap career, Joey has developed his style and added depth to his lyrics; he’s got better. But with close friends making huge musical moves and the ears of hip-hop’s tastemakers closely pinned to Chicago, waiting for the next big thing, you may think Joey Purp is under pressure, but he’s not: “I don’t believe in pressure, I understand why people believe in it, but I don’t succumb to it”. Explaining this further, Joey goes on to add: “It’s imaginary, the idea of it… This table is real, our clothes are real, but you can’t tell me what pressure looks like, it’s an idea in your head and you run with it. It’s a feeling, and it turns physical because it manifests itself through you. I try not to think about pressure as much as possible. Pressure, fear, anxiety, these are all words that you can understand what they mean, but you couldn’t tell me what it looked like. If you can’t tell me what it is, that means it’s not real to me. Someone said something to me about fear once… it was a friend of mine from Chicago, Malik Yusef. He explained there’s a huge difference between fear and danger. If there’s a lion in this room, then that’s danger but the feeling you feel is fear, but that feeling is not real, because if there was a cage around the lion, you wouldn’t be feeling fear – even though the lion is still there”.
Let’s break the flow of the interview for a second with a damn – “I try not to believe in concepts that aren’t real – things that aren’t tangible. I believe in positive intangible things, like love, and compassion. But I try not to believe in the negative ones – because it’s easy to fall victim to something if you can’t see or feel”.
The kids now are becoming more conscious and care and are aware about what’s happening around them now”.
Pressure and peers aside, Joey’s out to create a balance in his music, “I think it’s important to say what has to be said, but also say what you want to say”. With so much emphasis placed on musicians, they can influence listeners from what brands they start to buy, to what politicians they should support, “there’s things I need to say because I would be irresponsible if I didn’t, but then there’s thing I want to say because it sounds cool as shit!” A word that spring to mind while Joey was talking was ‘woke’, not necessarily that Joey is woke, but he’s aware of all the shit that’s going on and knows he can reflect this in his music. While we laugh about calling people ‘woke’, Joey notes: “You know, kids now think about what’s going on more so than I ever noticed. When I was a teen we weren’t trying to go to rallies, we were fucking around. But now my friends lead rallies and there’s dozens of kids, like 16, 18 year olds – that wasn’t happening when I was young. The kids now are becoming more conscious and care and are aware about what’s happening around them now”.
Music is often seen as a fairly individualist pursuit. It’s easier to step on others to get your come-up. But for artists like Joey, collaboration is the major key, “When I was younger, a lot of my friends were eager just to put out music. And there’s a lot of music from them and me, that’s not that good. But we were just thirsty to get in the shine. But then I realised everything happens when it’s supposed to. I would rather drop my project after everyone, all my friends could be famous – rather than drop it before then just because I’m thirsty to be famous”. Joey is all about everyone eating. From working with his graphic designer friends to create his album artwork, to working on a clothing collab with his friends in the future, “If I’m eating, everyone can eat” is a mantra Joey lives by.
Joey’s first time in Europe is drawing to a close and after having performed in both Kamio in East London, and at an MTV event in Rotterdam, it looks like his collaborative Chicago sound is ready to go global. But one thing for sure, Purp is gonna stay grounded: “I’m just getting started, hopefully I get to that level”.
Joey Purp’s ‘iiiDrops’ is out now, stream it here.