Right before he launches into a relentless, spacious flow on his airy song “2012,” Chicago rapper Joey Purp acknowledges his producer. “Yo Knox,” he quickly slurs over a chiming sample, shouting out trusted collaborator Knox Fortune. To hear the 26-year-old producer and musician tell the story of how they assembled the tune, that brief salutation represented the energy the two captured in the room together.
“We were just sitting around. I think I started to play the sample-sounding thing, and from there, [Joey] just started rapping, maybe with no drums even,” Knox recently told MTV News over the phone, minutes after stepping off a plane in New York. “It just built really organically. It was nice because it was something we really didn’t have to think about at all.”
The proverbial sausage often gets made via much messier (and sometimes much sexier) methods. But when it’s among two musicians who’ve worked alongside each other for years, sometimes it really is that simple.
Knox and Joey first met through Vic Mensa and quickly began collaborating on Joey’s Leather Corduroys project with KAMI. In 2016, Joey got a boost from his impressive iiiDrops mixtape, executive produced by Knox, which included the infectious Chance the Rapper-aided “Girls @.” Joey returned the favor, helming Knox’s debut, Paradise, in 2017.
It only made sense, then, that Knox would have a hand in Joey’s proper debut, QUARTERTHING, which dropped on September 7. He worked with Joey on three songs — “2012,” “Aw Sh*t!,” and “QUARTERTHING” — building on sessions the duo had stashed away from recordings in Los Angeles and London. “I’d arrange them by most to least interesting, and then put them in potential places that they can work,” Knox said. “And if it doesn’t work, [we] just immediately removed it and just stuck to a set guideline of, ‘Do we like this? No, we don’t like this. OK, it’s gone.’ And then we never think about it again.”
That’s why, in listening to Knox tell stories of creating these songs with help from the Social Experiment‘s Peter Cottontale, Nate Fox, and Nico Segal, who executive produced QUARTERTHING, it almost sounds accidental; as if they randomly stumbled upon great moments. But it’s not quite that, he said. It’s more like following a formula that definitely wouldn’t work for everyone but nearly always works for them.
“A lot of artists you work with, you’ll have a four-hour session with them, and they spend all four hours working on a song, trying to get it finished up,” Knox said. “Joey will sit and play [NBA]2K and listen to shit I’m making or just playing in the room for three and a half of those hours, and then in 30 minutes write the best verse you’ve ever heard.”
It’s easy to visualize this from one full listen through QUARTERTHING. Joey seems to morph with the music on each track, entering exultant and victorious on the album’s opening bars like a wrestler stomping down an entrance ramp. By the time the house-indebted “Elastic” hits, he’s gone icy to match the clubby vibes before dialing the charm back up to shout out Mike Jones a few songs later.
Of course, it pays to be prepared for these moments. Knox’s attention to detail is pristine, and he admitted that he’s “usually very in control” of his contributions. He added the sounds of shaken-up spray cans to “QUARTERTHING” along with selections from “Rick Rubin’s personal modular synthesizer.” To coalesce all these elements into a beat is tricky, especially when you’re creating music someone else has to meld with. That’s where Peter, Nate, and Nico come in — sprinkling a “Pop Goes the Weasel” soundbite at the end of “Aw Sh*t!” and recruiting DJ Taye’s low synth rumbles to finish it off.
As much as he likes being in the driver’s seat, Knox called it “super, super reassuring” to have the trio, plus Joey, as closers for QUARTERTHING: “It’s very nice to be able to take something where you’re kind of at a dead end with it and be like, ‘What do you guys think of it?’ Cause they’ll always have something for you.”
With projects from peers like Noname and Very Slight, as well as his own handiwork, out in the world — not to mention some new Knox Fortune originals potentially ready to drop as early as October — Knox feels like it’s Chicago season once again, a sentiment he amplified on Twitter. “It feels like one of those moments again of something special in Chicago, and that’s completely what it’s all about for me,” he said. “That’s why I enjoy doing it.”