When we listen to music, whether or not we know it, we’re fiending for honesty and human connection. Hip-hop, the ultimate storytelling genre, provides artists and fans the perfect space to commune over their life stories and hardships, and Charlotte-born, Philadelphia-based rapper Ivy Sole has tapped into that special energy to deliver her formal debut record, Overgrown.
“It’s one big-ass love album,” Sole tells me gleefully over the phone. “All different types of love. There’s this album by this indie band, and the concept of it is really cool because every single song on the album is about a different type of love, a different manifestation of love, and I guess it kind of got into my bones. Literally, every single track, it seems, is about love in some way.”
While love is one of the sweetest feelings, writing about different types of love has proven difficult for Sole. As she explains, certain types of love are less accessible to us, less easy to reconcile and carry in our hearts, but Overgrown does not sound burdened by pensiveness. In creating this record, Ivy Sole had her own reconciliation.
“I just don’t think that people wanna talk about things that they’re uncomfortable with,” Sole explains. “I think it takes a level of vulnerability to talk to yourself honestly about different forms of love. It’s that much more difficult to speak honestly about some shit that you haven’t completely reconciled within yourself.”
Yet, Ivy Sole is no stranger to spilling her soul over wax. Her 2016 project, Eden, was a sprawling exploration of self, which was followed by two equally introspective EPs, East and West.
In 2016, Eden gave Ivy Sole the strength to embark on a solo career. Two years later, Overgrown has impressed upon Sole the importance of truth. “There’s nothing more liberating than just being your full self in public, which is why I think there are so many people who are sad and frustrated,” she says. “I think Overgrown is really my full self on display. I think I still have more growing to do, but I think Overgrown has given me the opportunity to tell truth on wax, and that’s all I’ve wanted.”
DJBooth’s full interview with Ivy Sole, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: When did you go from being a casual music fan to an artist?
Ivy Sole: I probably started to think of myself as an artist when I got to college and started to build a network of collaborators, and from that point forward, defining myself as an artist. An amateur, for sure, still figuring out what I wanted to sound like and what I wanted to say, but thinking of myself as an artist and as a creative.
How essential was collaboration to helping you define who you are as an artist?
It’s fundamental for me. I don’t think that I am an artist that thrives in solitude. I think that all of my best work is done with people that I care about, and people that bring out the best in me. Particularly, the small group of folks that I make art with repeatedly. In college was the first time that happened, and it’s carried me through thus far.
Your music is very meditative. Did you always have such a calm energy?
I think that the calm that people tend to glean from my music is reflective of a lot of personal development. I think that people who knew me when I was a teenager knew me as a quiet person. I think the difference between the quiet and the calm is that the quiet was a repressive energy, and the calm is a more centered and grounded energy. When I was younger, I might’ve appeared calm, but it wasn’t the full picture. This calm is after doing a lot of mental health and spiritual work to get to this place.
What role did the music play in finding your center?
Music has a grounding effect on me. I’m my best version of myself when I’m working on music; however, I don’t think that music is the answer to my problems. I think that I thought it was, and then I was confronted with situations and mental health issues and eroding relationships that proved to me that music in and of itself was not the end all be all, and there were other therapeutic avenues that I needed to pursue to have a healthy and whole life.
Overgrown is a very loving project; every track is another vision of love. Was that intentional?
I don’t know if anything that I write is extremely intentional. I would love to be an artist that wants to make an album about something and executes it that way. For me, I’m writing what’s most urgent to me, and clearly love was most urgent to me on this album [laugh]. You’re right, it’s one big-ass love album. All different types of love. There’s this album by this indie band, and the concept of it is really cool because every single song on the album is about a different type of love, a different manifestation of love, and I guess it kind of got into my bones. Literally, every single track, it seems, is about love in some way.
What’s the most difficult type of love to write about?
That’s a hell of a question. I think the most difficult type of love to talk about is probably either love toward your parents, at least for me, because it’s very, very complicated. Obviously, there’s love there, but sometimes the love manifests in ways that other people might not relate to.
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I think the second one would be probably self-love. Either trying to express how you got there or trying to express why it’s not happening, all those different things. I think because we hear romantic love songs, and we hear breakup songs, and we hear “I’mma steal you from your girl” songs so often, those are more readily available for our minds to substitute our experiences in. I think other, less commercial types of love are a bit more difficult.
Do you feel like certain types of love are inaccessible?
I just don’t think that people wanna talk about things that they’re uncomfortable with. I think it takes a level of vulnerability to talk to yourself honestly about different forms of love. It’s that much more difficult to speak honestly about some shit that you haven’t completely reconciled within yourself.
That’s why “Bloom” is my favorite song on the album, because of the heavy, bare writing. How did you get yourself in the mental space to write the track?
Dude [laughs], so the story behind this album is that this German rapper emailed me a year ago and was like, “Hey, I love your music, I wanna collaborate.” I’m thinking, “Yeah, send me some shit, I’ll write to it, and send it back to you.” He’s like, “Nah, come to Germany.” So he flew me and my manager out to Germany, we spent a week recording, and then when I was ready to make my album I hit him up: “Yo, I think it would really cool to collaborate on the album. Can I come to Germany to record the album?” That’s what happened.
Back in January, February, we’re at his house. “Bloom” is the second to last song that I wrote. After 10 days of writing and recording, I reached my wit's end. I was like, “This is the most terrible thing that I’ve ever done to myself. Why did I do this? I hate everything.” I think, to a certain extent, I was avoiding this song a lot because it was so devastating to lose my friend. It was so fucking hard.
We had already started making the beat, and I kept trying to write to the beat, and then I got the first two lines out, and I knew that was what I was supposed to be writing on the beat. I ran away from the studio and bawled for an hour, wrote for another hour, then came back and laid down the song. It was the worst, but I’m also very, very happy with how it came out. Because [the subject of “Bloom”] really did mean the world to me and people who were involved with the album. It was 100 percent worth it, but not the most enjoyable experience [laughs].
Do the toiling experiences produce your best work or is that a myth?
I wish it was a myth, and I’m working towards getting to a place where I don’t have to have a grueling experience to make beautiful art. That is one of my goals in life.
As of right now, the best things that I make often come from places of pain, but I think that is an unfair reality, and I think that unfair realities are worth working against and working toward something better.
I agree, it’s very damning when we romanticize art that comes from suffering.
Yeah, I would 100 percent rather have my homie. I’m not celebrating what was necessary to make this album. I’m not celebrating the loss of a loved one. I’m not celebrating childhood trauma. I’m not celebrating heartbreak. “Wasted” is kind of a celebration, because I was just feeling… It’s the most petty song on the album. I just feel like I’m not celebrating any of these things, I’m just happy that I could make something good out of the situations. I’m very thankful for literally forging a silver lining out of nothing.
What lessons from your past three solo projects helped you craft your formal debut?
I learned that there are more people that are interested in hearing the truth and things that are very personal and intimate than I could have possibly imagined. I also learned that there’s nothing better than to build something with people that you care about.
Music, for me, it’s always been a collaborative experience, and I was able to spend time with four people who mean the world to me and make 13 songs that I think are gonna withstand the test of time. I had already forged these relationships, and we had already begun to build something, but it’s the first time that it feels like all of the pieces were in place at the right time. It’s also learning how to be grateful for what you have instead of wishing you had something else, because I had the pieces all along. I just needed the opportunity and the fortitude to put them together.
In 2017, you said, “Eden gave me the confidence to embark on my own.” What has Overgrown given you?
Overgrown has just given me the opportunity to just tell the truth in a way that I think I needed to be able to tell the truth. There’s nothing more liberating than just being your full self in public, which is why I think there are so many people who are sad and frustrated. Either they don’t feel like they can be their full selves in public, or they put their lives in jeopardy if they are their full selves in public. Mainly, queer folks and trans folks, and Muslim folks if they choose to wear hijabs. It’s all these different things about putting your full self on display, and I think Overgrown is really my full self on display. I think I still have more growing to do, but I think Overgrown has given me the opportunity to tell truth on wax, and that’s all I’ve wanted.
What do you hope Overgrown gives to listeners?
I’m hoping that people just enjoy it. I think that it’s an enjoyable record. I think that there are heavy moments, but the overwhelming sentiment is about finding joy. That’s what I want for every listener, for this to inspire them to find joy and to guard it with everything they have.
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