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Joey Purp - iiiDrops (Album Review)

Tuesday, 12 July 2016 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

The lines between hip hop albums and mixtapes have become increasingly blurred over the years, to the point that some critics are prepared to deny that there are any.

Mixtapes were initially designed as curated compilations to generate hype, slowly morphing into the free LP-length projects we see today, and it’s still worth considering that the rules governing them are slightly different. Albums tend to be judged on how they flow and their conceptual vision, but most mixtape-producing emcees don’t bother with those considerations.

A$AP Rocky used ‘Live.Love.A$AP’ to establish his cloudy aesthetic. Joey Bada$$ did the same, but with ‘90s-style boom bap. J. Cole, meanwhile, called one mixtape ‘The Warm Up’, suggesting it was little more than a practice run before he got down to the real business of artistry on ‘Cole World: The Sideline Story’, his first 'studio' release.

By contrast, Joey Purp’s approach on ‘iiiDrops’ is that of an all-rounder. Rather than sticking to a single sound, the Chicago rapper experiments with classy brass samples, bass-driven club beats and even Latin jazz rhythms. It might not make for a coherent tracklist but it doesn’t need to, not least because Purp sounds confident and charismatic on every cut.

He avoids being too lyrically dense, tackling the diverse beats with lucid narratives and infectious vocal hooks. Refrains such as ‘When they hear this jam…they know what’s up’, on the Neptunes-esque Girls, and ‘All I hear is money and bitches’, on Photobooth, might not be entirely original but they fit the vivid production well.

This approach doesn’t always work, though. Purp’s whiny cadence on Say You Do is a letdown given the track’s experimental feel, while Kids feels like a bespoke ‘rapper sings’ track aimed at younger audiences. Like his fellow Chicago natives Chance the Rapper, Mick Jenkins and Vic Mensa, Purp’s real strength lies in the clarity of his own ideas.

When he does his own thing and eschews outside pressures he’s absolutely dazzling. On the first track, Morning Sex, he opens with the proclamation that he’s “seen both sides of the burner”. A common theme in urban America? Sure, but here it’s delivered with conviction over a beat that sounds more triumphant than despondent.

On Cornerstore, another highlight, he contrasts “white kids arguing with they dads” with black kids “who never knew [their] fathers”. Like Chance did on ‘Coloring Book’, Purp deals with heavy subjects with sensitivity rather than cynicism or despair. He doesn’t claim to have the solutions, but lays bare realities with clear, simple messages.

Ultimately, that’s all that’s necessary. ‘iiiDrops’ is a mixtape that acts as a window into Joey Purp’s character, his lifestyle, his passions and musical tastes. His artistic intentions are vague because it’s doubtful he even knows all of them yet. But that’s OK. The fact that he’s fresh, interesting and sounds comfortable rapping in a wide array of styles is enough to announce him as one to watch in the coming years.



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