“You take a little Biggie and a little Big L, add an adolescent on the corner with packs to sell. You take a little Em and Andre 3k, and guess what you got, the 2016 2Pac, back and improved.”
The verse — or rather, the really scorching hot take — comes from the 10th track of Joey Purp’s most recent mixtape, iiiDrops (pronounced “Eye Drops” because of, yes, weed). Purp is a little overzealous in his comparisons, largely because he overrates his bars by putting himself in such company — but at the same time, it’s also what rappers do. The line is off-base mainly because of who Purp compares himself to rather than making the comparison at all. Purp isn’t necessarily a mix of Big L, Biggie, Eminem or Andre3000. Rather, he embodies the likes of Jay Z, Kendrick Lamar, a dash of Kanye West — and sure, a bit of Big L too. The mixtape’s first song, “Morning Sex,” sounds like a mix of Ye’s “Devil in a New Dress” and Jay Z’s “Encore” if that isn’t proof enough for you.
Purp is a member of the Savemoney Crew, a large, loosely linked Chicago based collective of rappers and hip-hop artists that features the likes of Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa. Prior to iiiDrops, Purp had been rather quiet, having last released a project in 2012. In the time between his mixtapes, Purp saw his fellow Savemoney brethren abruptly ascend to varying levels of fame (some arguably reaching the top of the rap game, depending on how much you enjoyed Coloring Book). iiiDrops reflects this brooding period in Purp’s life. It’s efficient, consistent and anything but repetitive, an especially impressive feat for an 11 track mixtape.
In his time spent away from the limelight, Purp manages to craft something distinctly new school with iiiDrops. And I don’t mean that in the sense of being a trippy, synthy, sampling-Mario-noises-while-autotune-flexing mess. Rather, it’s new school in the sense that embodies the classic sounds of ’90s rap, but ’90s rap that was obviously made with the help of a MacBook Pro. Purp exists within the ’90’s boom bap tradition without restraining himself to it, testing musical boundaries with nuanced beats and unique flows between tracks and choruses. It’s a subtle play on convention, which is (ironically) brave in the current day rap climate.
All this comes to a head on “Photobooth,” the halfway point in the album — and, by far, the project’s most complex track. The beat shifts three different times and cuts out in a variety of places. By my 10th listen I can't decide if the scratchy-screechy sound makes me want to plug my ears and hide or vigorously headbang to the song. The bars match this purposeful confusion — it's pissed off, celebratory, socially aware, serious and funny.
Then there is “Girls @,” which features a Chance verse that reminds everyone that Chance is, first and foremost, the face of Savemoney. “Girls @” is fun. It’s the kind of song that might play at a bar, but the kind with strange, pretentious paintings on the wall and an atrium with ferns (but still a bar I’d love to go to). At first, the single feels out of place. It’s happy, basic, and a song simply about Purp and Chance repeatedly asking “where the girls at.” It lacks some of the frustration and anger that the rest of the tape teems with. There’s a perfectly reasonable argument that the single doesn’t belong on the tape, but it’s also possible the light-hearted digression is exactly what the project needs. iiiDrops ventures to paint a picture of a community and of the kind of life within that community, and “Girls @” is a light-hearted facet of that illustration.
Ultimately, iiiDrops introspects and reflects. Purp raps on “When I’m Gone”, “I’m tired of fickle fans / Don’t understand my new direction / I’m sick of people too closed minded to view progressions.” Something happened between 2012 and 2016 for Purp. Maybe it was seeing his Savemoney friends like Vic and Chance succeed in bringing their more socially aware music to the masses. Maybe it was realizing a need for profundity in his music. Maybe it was finally realizing the potential he has. Whatever it may be, Purp’s transformation conveys a type of rapper who’s confident in his convictions and unafraid to tackle the kind of heavy commentary needed in today’s hip-hop scene. iiiDrops might get lost in the shuffle of 2016’s rap mega-drops, but the tape finds itself in more earnest company than other similar projects that have been released this year.