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Joey Purp - QUARTERTHING Music Album Reviews

Following 2016’s iiiDrops, the Chicago rapper returns with another album that defies expectations. There is a greater range of flows explored, a greater range of tones discovered, and a sharper focus throughout.

Toward the end of QUARTERTHING, a distinction is made: “There are two types of people in this world: the type of people that look and the type of people that see.” Joey Purp has long been in the latter camp, possessing both a steely awareness and the ability to detail the nuances of the world before him. He is proudly a dope dealer’s son but wants a different future for his own. He’s so attuned to his own contradictions and the ways they reflect the communities that made him, that he often sees all the angles—a byproduct of a life spent straddling binaries. QUARTERTHING is where everything he’s seen starts to bleed together. It’s an expansive album that casually balances his puffed-up swaggering and his conscience-stricken morality.

He’s been vocal about his commitment to defying the expectations of what it means to be a Chicago rapper, something he’s been building toward since 2012’s The Purple Tape. QUARTERTHING is his most daring progression, rewrites the laws that previously governed his songs and takes a sledgehammer to any sonic barriers left. It’s a transformation similar to the one Vince Staples underwent from Summertime ’06 to Big Fish Theory, shifting from clear-eyed documentarian to composition-concentrated aestheticist without compromising the integrity of the powerful, personal stories captured inside. Some raps stumble upon episodes from his dealer past, others are all about securing the bag, but his actions speak louder than his words.

Many rappers contain multitudes, but Purp is among the most effortlessly pliable. He can be two different things in the same breath. On QUARTERTHING, he is a survivalist who is only a few steps removed from his days as a co-conspirator in a family drug enterprise and from making it out of a crime-adjacent life for good. He spends a lot of time dreaming, and reconciling those dreams with crushing realities: “Dreaming about the problems money bring/When you used to not having shit young niggas brag about everything,” on “Look at My Wrist.” You get the sense that he’s speaking directly to QUARTERTHING’s thesis: that Purp has entered the stage of his rap career where he’s seeing more money than he’s ever seen before, and this is him making a big show of that big payoff.

It’d be easy to hear this record as broader than its predecessor, a turn away from the finely spun tales that felt pragmatically lyrical. The writing is undoubtedly less mindful and scene-driven here, less determined to one-up talented local friends like Chance, Saba, Vic Mensa, and Mick Jenkins. But the rapping on QUARTERTHING is even more loose-jointed and pleasing to the ear, slashing in and out of beats so precisely it’s almost surgical. There is a greater range of flows explored, a greater range of tones discovered, and a sharper focus throughout.

His raps are less wordy and less committed to description, but they aren’t without plotting. They maintain the same vigilance, the same cautious optimism, and the same shrewdness. He’s still liable to rip off a perfectly measured meter, like this one on “24k Gold/Sanctified”: “Thinking ’bout the game and all the ways it should be redesigned/Thinking ’bout the pain and all the days my brother spent confined/Thinking about the stages and the ways they infiltrate the mind.” If the observations are framed more simply, the constructions are just as complex, if not more.

And there’s nothing simple about the ambitious and wide-ranging songcraft, which veers from reverential soul to Chicago house to barking trap without ever feeling unfocused or cursory. Each style feels lived in; Purp masters everything from fleet-footed club rap to expressive, cinematic Just Blaze-like chipmunk chops. The sounds are more dynamic, too; bigger, as on “Godbody Pt. 2,” or more far-out, as on “Paint Thinner,” or more remote, as on “2012.” iiiDrops was all maximalist brass and skipping Neptunes-ish funk. The songs honked and wheezed and skittered, a controlled cacophony Purp commanded with force. These songs are more finely tuned without any jarring transitions. His raps vary to fit the textures of each production, which sample a great breadth of sounds.

If there’s any pathos lacking in QUARTERTHING, Purp fills it in with thrilling performances and exquisite arrangements from Knox Fortune, Thelonious Martin, Nez & Rio, RZA, and more. Even for a rapper who has made a point of showing us his versatility before, this feels radical and exploratory. These are songs that refuse to be beholden to what came before, songs that understand and even cherish their connections to music of the past but have entirely different destinations in mind. That unwillingness to retrace any steps is a true mark of vision.

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