Updated: Apr 6, 2020

Grab some grapes and nosh along with Joey Purp as he explores the aisles of Whole Foods and opens up about the evolution of rap culture and social progress. —INGRAIN, Spring 2019

Chicago rapper Joey Purp

STORY / Zac Connelly

Warning: This article includes explicit language that may be offensive to some readers.

Ask anyone at Goose Island HQ, and they’ll tell you that Joey Purp’s my #1. (I’ve played iiiDrops enough to make everyone’s eyes bleed.) We’ve run into each other a couple of times in Chicago (including at the annual 312 Block Party), but I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to interview him. Yet here we are in the produce department at Whole Foods, and both of our carts are empty. It’s time to shop—and talk shop.

Zac Connelly: I worked at Whole Foods for almost five years, and sampling is definitely the name of the game. I see you’re already into the grapes.

Grapes, I’m sly on the grapes. I can’t lie to you, I’m not going to crack open the strawberries and eat one. That’s borderline shoplifting. But [even with] the grapes, just now a dude was standing right there, and I walked up and looked at him and he looked at me. I took a grape, wiped it off, ate it. What are you going to say? It’s a grape. Like, come on, man.

What’s your grape of choice?

I really used to like green grapes, but for some reason I feel like green grapes used to be way more tart than they are now. Like now, green grapes are actually kind of sweet; [maybe] that’s some GMO shit. I’ve been red and green grape crazy my whole life, but now I’m definitely a black grape type of guy. I just got into black grapes. Black grapes are A1—you know what I mean? And they’re always right there next to the red grapes. I just neglected them.

And grapes fall into that vegan/gluten free section on the Venn diagram. How difficult is it to maintain your diet?

That’s like asking someone who has certain religious beliefs if it’s hard because it [requires] certain mandatory beliefs or practices. It’s the same thing. I obviously can’t walk into, like, a combination Subway/gas station, like Sbarro or some shit in the middle of nowhere [when we’re] on tour, and get a meal the way everybody else can. But I can, like, slide and get, you know, some snacks. It kind of weeds out that type of fucked-up eating, too.

Are you a Top Chef at home, that guy with the fancy blender?

I’ve got the fancy blender, but I don’t cook a lot. I’m decent with the cooking, but my smoothie game is really magnifique. You definitely [need a] frozen banana base, right, and avocado; both are mandatory off the top. A scoop of, like, Super Greens vegan protein powder, some walnuts, almond milk, and then some type of frozen fruit like strawberries, a berry mix, or mango chunks. You dig? Super serious, super serious. The frozen banana makes the texture, though. When you freeze bananas, dude, it turns into, like, candy or some shit.

You started off as vegetarian, though, right? Then you went vegan a couple of years ago? Was the transition from vegetarian to vegan hard?

Yeah, it was really more of a health choice [to go vegan]. I mean, the more I didn’t eat meat, the more it kind of started to be crazy, the idea of eating meat. It’s dead. [That stuff] is all dead, even the cells are dead. It’s laying there, and they do so much crazy stuff to meat. It’s just wild. But it’s really easy to be vegan and be not unhealthy, but malnourished. You’ve got to eat hella the right things—hella dark greens, leafy vegetables [and] hella nutrient-dense foods—or take supplements. You all ever had soursop? [Purp walks by a pile of the prickly green fruit.] You just crack it open and eat it, G. When I used to go to Jamaica, we would eat these bitches, bro.

I haven’t. Toss ’em in the cart, and let’s crack that soursop and talk about Quarterthing.

Oh yeah, this soursop is...this one’s A1 right here, bro. But don’t be coming up here and blowing up my [soursop] spot in the summertime, man. I’ll be coming up here to get soursop, and there ain’t no soursop left because you all’s ass is throwing fucking parties and shit.

[Laughs] I didn’t think we’d be squaring off over soursop. So, Quarterthing, the fucks, man, it’s so good. Should people expect iiiDrops 2.0?

It fucks? “It fucks” is crazy. That’s so hot! That’s a good one, though, Quarterthing fucks. In a way, yeah, in a way it’s like iiiDrops. It’s a little different-sounding in certain parts—you know what I’m saying?—but it’s like the same approach, same vibe.

As a musician, can you see your growth from album to album, from iiiDrops to Quarterthing?

I guess it’s hard to judge myself in that way. But I think I got better at working in the studio, at making songs overall. I got better at deciding what I want to do and what I don’t want to do on songs. iiiDrops was kind of rapid fire. It wasn’t off the top, but it had a lot of spur-of-the moment decisions that just ended up really good in the long run. Quarterthing is more dialed and more calculated and shit.

That album demands to be listened to over and over again. Not that iiiDrops didn’t, but there’s a lot to unpack in Quarterthing, starting with the first song, “24K Gold.” You’re talking about some real shit but also weaving in an uplifting chorus and beat into what at times is a very grim reality.

Yeah, I never thought about it like that. My philosophy on life is that it’s always going to be better and it always could be worse. I’m blessed in so many ways. And I think that bleeds into my music. Like [even] the word uplift means that you must have been down, so you can’t even have uplifting things without having that down period. You have to [keep] elevating to another level. With anything that’s triumphant, there has to be something you overcame. Otherwise, there is no triumph.

And speaking of triumph, you performed “Godbody Pt. 2” on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. What was crazier for you, performing on Fallon or performing alongside RZA?

I mean, to be on a late-night television show in America on any day is crazy, and then to do it with RZA with us was just crazy too, man, you know? I never would have imagined that shit, though, like back in the day—never, never, never. Never, period. That was such a cool moment.

Did you grow up a Wu-Tang Clan fan?

Oh, 1,000 percent, 1,000 percent. That was my introduction to music, let alone rap music. I wanted to ask him so much, but I don’t even know the man, so I couldn’t be like, “Yo, tell me all the secrets.”

Is there one song off the new album that jumps out at you?

All of it, really. All of it, like deffo “Elastic.” [That song] goes up, and “Aw Sh*t!” goes up. I like performing all of it, [also] “Diamonds Dancing.” People have been responding to it really well too, like knowing the lyrics and shit.

Chicago rapper Joey Purp at Whole Foods

I always tell everybody that they’ve absolutely got to see you live. I’ll never forget seeing you at the 2017 Pitchfork Music Festival. It was like a fucking meteor hit Union Park when you rolled out onto the blue stage. Some people have stage presence, and some people don’t. You definitely have it.

Oh, God. That was love. Thank you, man. I appreciate that. I don’t know. I’ve been onstage for a long time, like I used to dance when I was a kid. I’d try to break dance because I grew up on hip-hop; I did graffiti and shit, so I was kind of used to being in front of people. And then I was hype manning for Vic [Mensa] and Chance [the Rapper] all the time when we were all coming up, so I was onstage with them a lot.

Obviously, this city has such an insanely rich musical history. But there’s something truly special going on right now. Whether that’s you, Twin Peaks, Chance, Saba, NE-HI, or Jamila Woods, there seems to be a camaraderie regardless of the genre. Where do you think that comes from?

Deffo man, Magnet schools. A lot of us went to schools outside of our neighborhoods, or a lot of us had friends who did. That creates this interconnectivity; also, growing up with the internet. Like, I’ve known who Saba was before a lot of people knew [him], just off the strength of the internet. It’s just the interconnectivity of everything.

Oh for sure, I see you and the Twin Peaks dudes going back and forth on Twitter.

Them my homies. They went to Jones [College Prep High School], so we knew them from the beginning. My first show I think was with Twin Peaks at No Exit Café up north, off the Thorndale red line or something like that.

How do you think hip-hop has grown over the past 10 to 15 years from an acceptance perspective?

I think that rap’s grown, obviously, so much on that front. Today you can be yourself, whoever you want to be. You can be openly gay and be popping as a rapper now. That was not a thing before; you couldn’t be gay when DMX came out [in the 1990s]. In order to be famous, you had to be like tough as fuck, apparently, or you had to be “for the ladies.”

Do you think there are specific people who led the way?

Yeah, Pharrell, fucking Cam’ron, Young Thug, and Lil Uzi Vert. I think those have been the most, like, critical [and] low-key, dressing differently. Lil Wayne.

I want to bring up another name: André 3000.

Oh, fuck yeah, bro, G.O.A.T.! I had The Love Below and Speakerboxxx physical CD when I was in grammar school. 3-Stacks was another one of those people that broke a lot of barriers, as far as, like, black male sexuality and masculinity. He was like Prince to me. On the album packaging and the images on The Love Below, he was shirtless with the pink pistol and shit. Seeing all that stuff was just ridiculous, and it just made me want to be like that.

Chicago rapper Joey Purp quote

So who’s on your top 5 list in rap right now?

So you’re talking about young people? Because does Jay still count as an active player in this conversation? Jay-Z’s the best. Lil Wayne’s my favorite rapper ever. Lil Wayne was the best for a period of time, too.

I don’t know. Maybe Jay’s player coach. I’ll leave that up to you.

I feel like it’d be disrespectful not to include him, but at the same time it’s, like, come on. [He’s] still in the league, like Mike on the [Washington] Wizards, but it’s like I love you, bro, and you’re still putting up numbers, but the Wizards? But definitely Young Thug, Meek Mill, Lil Durk and 'Ye. I don’t know who takes that fifth spot, man. That’s a hard one, because Wayne just put an album out that was great, but I still don’t consider him part of what’s going on right now. Drake. I’m choosing Drake. Why not? Yeah, definitely.

Okay, I’m glad you brought up Drake. In November of 2016, you (@JoeyPurps) tweeted to Drake, “You got room for me, bro?” I’m assuming in reference to the presidential election?

I’m still trying to get to Canada. People was telling me like, “Voting is important. You’ve got to vote.” I’m like, “This shit is sewed up. This n**** was on reality television. Are you kidding me He’s not going to win.” Woke up in the morning like–I felt like Diddy with the mohawk–“Vote or Die.” I’m like, “Damn, how do I go back to count my vote? What do I do? I’m sorry.”

Chicago rapper Joey Purp

It’s two years later. What are your thoughts on where we are right now?

I actually think we’re at an amazing place, man, because it just means things are about to be raw in every way. The universe is like a rubber band. In order for the forward motion to happen, you’ve got to pull that bitch back. It’s that nighttime before sunshine type shit. We’ve almost run the well dry, and we can do nothing but fill that bitch back up. We’re making progress in a lot of ways; I don’t think that the current political situation is necessarily not progress. We learn from our mistakes. If you succeed every time, you don’t ever really learn.

So true. One of my favorite stories to tell is when you flew back from SXSW just to do 312 Day. I thanked you for coming, and you said that you always show out for the “home team.” How important is Chicago to you, growing up here?

Man, it’s everything. I couldn’t happen anywhere else. If you’re from here, you just know that Chicago is different. My dad is from Englewood, and my mom is from Garfield Ridge, like Archer and Harlem. My parents are from two of the most “Chicago” places in Chicago. She’s from where, like, every person who did manual labor during the first half of the 20th century lived—every plumber, every fucking bus driver, every truck driver. [It was a] heavily Eastern European population. My mom is Polish and Lithuanian. And we have Marines in the family you know, we’re an American family on both sides. Chicago is the heart, it’s the middle of the country; there’s just so much about Chicago that’s sacred. And Chicago’s such a historically special place. You feel me?

Definitely. What’s a true Chicagoan to you?

Chicagoans come in so many shapes and sizes, but [to me], it’s someone who is resilient, someone who is stern or confident in some way or another. Most Chicagoans are stubborn, and I think that’s just [because of] the wind—the winter and all the wind. If you’re not going to leave when it’s negative 10 degrees, and you’ve built a whole society on this shit, there’s just something different. Something different because we’re just NOT going, you know?

Chicago rapper Joey Purp's favorite places to chill in the city of chicago

Speaking of Chicago, let’s talk Barack Obama. Recently you said that there’s no Chance, no Chief Keef, without Obama, that he put Chicago on the world’s stage. You also said that he had everyone talking about Chicago the way we talk about it. How important was that, to have a voice from somebody who has lived and breathed the city, and he’s the president?

Yeah, we claim him, but he’s not a Chicagoan. He’s Hawaiian, but he did a lot for the city. He’s like Mike. Michael Jordan is from Brooklyn, [but] people think he’s from North Carolina. A lot of people think he might as well have been from Chicago, too. It was raw, man, to have him [as president]. At the time, I just took it as him talking about Chicago—crime in Chicago is the most important thing to people in Chicago. People in Oklahoma might not give a fuck about people getting shot in Chicago because it don’t affect the people in Oklahoma, naturally. So at the time, I’m seeing it on the [national] news and shit, it didn’t really affect me then because I had seen [the crime stories] on our news already. This is, like, one of the hardest cities to grow up in.

And then the flip side is the people who don’t know Chicago talk about Chicago as if they know it—that we only have one baseball team, that we only eat a certain style of pizza. Then other people are calling our city a war zone. Does that irk you, or is it just noise?

You know, everybody talks shit about everything. Everybody’s talking shit about everything all day, every day. People be—I use this phrase a lot lately—they hated Jesus. They hated him, they killed him, and he was Jesus. Somebody’s going to hate on everything. You feel me? [Opening a bag of grain-free tortilla chips] These Siete chips are a hit. You might have to break out that guac. Indulge, my friend.

I lived on those for a bit when I went paleo, but I’ve never had the Sal y Limon. Okay, let’s segue into Joey Purp, the person. You’ve talked a lot about personal development. What inspires that growth?

Just life, man. Like I hate being uncomfortable, but I love being uncomfortable. It forces growth. Anything in my life that makes me feel discomfort, whether it’s mentally or physically, I just try to embrace that shit. It’s like getting a tattoo. When you first start, you can’t stop thinking about how much it hurts, but then you settle into it. You could sit there for hours if you keep that mind-set. Growth comes from discomfort.

What legacy do you want to leave behind?

Well, I hope my legacy as a human being supersedes my legacy as a rapper. I hope people remember who I was instead of what I did and shit. And then as a rapper, I just want to be somebody who pushed their name forward, someone who performed at a high level. I want to be respected by people I respect or by people with respectable opinions, you feel me, and then, obviously, to create a stable foundation for the generations to come in my family.

Speaking of family, you have a daughter. You’ve been pretty open about how that changed everything for you. How do you hope this world continues to change to become a better place for women in general?

Since I had a child, I’ve just been trying to be a good person in general, a role model. I don’t want to be one of those people who’s contradicting what I say. You know, there are some people that are like, “Fuck it, I’m an asshole. That’s how I am.” I just don’t want to be that guy. And man, it’s such a patriarchal world. It’s almost scary to have a [girl today]. Like with the way the world is, you don’t know what type of people she’ll run into—you know what I’m saying? But it’s my responsibility as her father to guide her and raise her into a person who can navigate through this world and make the right decisions. Obviously, there are certain things that happen outside of our control, but I would like to think that a lot of life is based on the position you put yourself in.

Chicago rapper Joey Purp

So true. Doing the right thing, in a way, boils down to responsibility. Growing up here, do you feel a responsibility to give back to Chicago?

Definitely. I didn’t used to feel like that. My mom was really charitable. She donated her time and energy to a lot of different causes, as far as helping the homeless, outreach programs, cook drives, and shit like that. I grew up with that, but I used to think it’s not everybody’s job to fight every battle.Then as I gained popularity through rap music, I realized how much of a tool rap music could be as a catalyst for any cause. Now I feel like it’s partially my responsibility to do whatever I can to help whoever, however. Getting involved in both SocialWorks [founded by Chance the Rapper] and Vic [Mensa] who started SaveMoneySaveLife, and they’re going crazy. I want to get my own thing off the ground, programs that help kids that come from certain situations like I did.

I guess it’s time to wrap it up. You’re probably tired of eating chips and grapes and stuff.

I really never get tired of eating grapes. Chips, I might; grapes, though.

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