By Steve Scheibal, special to the American-Statesman
It’s Purp, “like the color purple, like the word ‘purpose,'” Joey Purp explained as he neared the end of his remarkable ACL Fest showcase.
When the Chicago rapper took the stage early Saturday, it had all the trappings of a dance party. His DJ fired up the crowd with extended cuts from Kanye West and Chance the Rapper, and then Purp bounded out to beats that were fine-tuned to make people bounce.
So it was jarring when he broke into the first track from his mixtape “iiiDrops,” rapping about witnessing a murder, seeing what it meant to both the victim and the killer, and living under the cloud of untimely and violent death.
Purp’s arresting flow and clear voice sucked the crowd into the story, so much so that the dance party had pretty well ground to a halt when the song wrapped up.
“You still with us, Austin, Texas?” he asked.
“There’s a lot going on in Chicago right now,” he said. “It’s up to us to have a critical discourse about it.”
To some degree, Purp’s set was dedicated to that conversation. He was the only one with the microphone, but he welcomed his audience into his songs and stories, gave them chants to repeat and made it as easy as possible to dance.
If the party occasionally got a little serious, Purp’s bright presence, big smile and sharp raps kept it from dragging. For a lamentably short 45 minutes, he propelled the audience with the exuberance of an artist who has a story to tell and knows how to tell it — and who’s risen to the point that he can at least see the brass ring.
As he closed, he had someone take a picture with the audience. “Put your twos up for Tupac Shakur,” he said, and the crowd gleefully threw peace signs in the air.
Everyone, from Joey Purp on back, felt lucky to be in the shot.