Since the “drill” music boom, spearheaded by Chief Keef, peaked in 2012, Chicago rap has definitely maintained a higher national profile than it did before it. Since the craze began to fade in 2013-4 — depending on where you live — things have returned, somewhat, to how they were before the city’s breakthrough (see: Common, R. Kelly, Kanye). Bigger-than-life, more standalone younger stars are representing the city internationally, not a “scene.”
Keef mixtapes are still events to both longtime fans and trap-loving youth through the country, but Chance the Rapper has become the city’s most high-profile rising star. The 23-year-old MC/singer emerged in the spotlight turned to Chicago after Keef’s breakthrough, but Chance worked in a verbose, playful style that was completely unlike the trap-influenced “drill music.”
But prior to the impact of his second mixtape, Acid Rap, Chance was just the brightest light in the extended Save Money hip-hop crew, a group which coalesced around the open mic scene on Chicago’s South Side. Among its ranks was now-Kanye-affiliate Vic Mensa, up-and-coming Chance sideman Saba, Nico Segal (aka “Donnie Trumpet”) and Joey Purp - the group’s biggest cut-up.
Purp’s skill is genre shifting, and has been throughout his recording career. After a couple of solo mixtapes and plenty of posse cuts, his last major project was last year’s Leather Corduroys album with Save Money fast-spitter KAMI (or kami de chukwu), which mixed rap gestures with MGMT-like psych-pop and jazzy diversions. It was hard to even term it a hip-hop album, exactly: an interesting but inconsistent experiment.
But more recent Soundcloud entries clarify that Purp is an MC first and foremost. His tracks of the past few months mix a kind of globalized, post-Drake street rap sound (“Run It Up,” Morgan Freeman”) which fiery boom-bap tracks. The recent “Photobooth” is the best of the latter category, and one of the best songs Purp has put out to date: a winding narrative of hedonism and jetsetting, clubbing, and virtual booty calls, over heavyduty, overblown boom-bap that is half N.E.R.D., half Q-Tip.
Purp may not have the big hooks for a breakthrough yet, but he certainly has the well-chiseled flow and larger-than-life charisma that deserves more national attention. If Chance or Vic Mensa would give him a bit more shine, it seems possible that with his upcoming project, iiiDrops, the fun-loving Purp could have what it takes to make a breakthrough.
For a long time — and Purp admitted this in a recent interview with The Hundreds — it seemed like he was a talented guy who didn’t really take anything he did that seriously. But if “Photobooth” and the recent Saba-featuring protest anthem “Cornerstore” are any indication, Purp has more than started to try, and figured out the kind of artist he wants to be. Look out for big things from him.