Ivy Sole Talks Hip-Hop Preservation And Representation: "When You Have A Piece Of Culture You’re Supposed To Protect It"

From Ivy Sole’s “Rollercoaster” Music Video

From Ivy Sole’s “Rollercoaster” Music Video

The title track of her debut LP Overgrown finds Ivy Sole musing on the being just that, larger, older and beyond one’s normalized state of being. It’s a feeling many of us experience in our 20’s, where much like a garden whose plants have grown larger and beyond their smaller size, we reflect on our youth and come to terms with the fact that our adulthood has surpassed the range of our early years. The Charlotte born and raised and Philly made rapper describes it well.

The first time I heard of Ivy Sole was also the first time I saw her perform: at a sold out Daniel Caesar show at The Rotunda in Philadelphia where she was the opener. Her songs captivated the room almost immediately, with those who knew her singing along to every word and those who didn’t picking up the chorus the second time it came around. I’ll never forget how loudly the girls in front of me sang “I can be the one if you let me” as Sole performed “Enough.” I’ll also never forget Sole saying “aye” and holding her mic out for them to hit the notes along with her.

It was an important sight to see, Black women breathing life into other Black women. Couple that with the lyrics on her first project Eden that I binged when I got home, and you’ll find that her music is equally as rejuvenating as she is onstage. 

If Eden was the rebirth that saw Sole embarking on her own in music, and East and West were the blooming of her artistry, then the Ivy League graduate’s Overgrown is the self-analyzing next step.

The Gumbo spoke to Sole about growing up in the church, the representation of women in Hip-Hop, and the importance of controlling your narrative.

You are an Ivy League graduate and you’re from North Carolina. How did your education and upbringing influence your desire to be a part of Hip-Hop?
I went to Wharton because I wanted to make sure that no matter what I would always be able to make some money. My original plan when I was in high school was to be a doctor, but I took physics and I hated it. And I realized I wanted to be a doctor more for what that meant. For the legitimacy. No one’s going to question your work or profession if you’re saving lives in any way, shape or form. This was around the time the Mac Millers and the J. Coles started to pop on the Internet. And I thought, school has always been my hustle. I can go to a place that has a really rich beautiful history and still get a really popping degree out of it. It felt like a win-win.

As far as North Carolina, Charlotte is my home. It’s something that I have grown to love a lot more than I did when I was younger. I had no strong feelings about it being from the south or North Carolina when I was younger…But in my newfound adulthood I really appreciate growing up in a place that doesn’t have any preexisting notions other than people thinking that people in the south are ignorant.

Specifically growing up around gospel and jazz and soul music almost exclusively for the first eight or nine years of my life is so important to me as far as want I want to bring [to my music] melodically and vocally.

All of those musical influences, when did you fall in love with Hip-Hop?
I think there were two distinct moments. When I was younger I used to spend a lot of time at my step grandmother’s house and I had an older cousin who would watch BET damn near nonstop. And my mom didn’t want us to watch that, she wanted to shield us from it. But I remember when I was nine or ten “Oochie Wally” came out and I remember hearing that loop and I was like this is it! This is what I’ve been missing? This is what my mother’s been trying to keep from me? 

And then when I was 16 my homie put me onto Blu & Exile’s album ‘Below The Heavens.’

Yes! That is one of my favorite albums!
That changed my whole life. That was the first time I got introduced to Miguel…And I felt like [Below the Heavens] was so current. [Blu] was talking about depression, loss, grief, being Black. And I was like “you’re telling the hell out of this story” and that’s when I started wanting to tell stories. 

That just made my whole day man.
Real ones know! I was on YouTube abusing the replay button for “In Remembrance.”

Ha! Now when we talk about Hip-Hop, despite women being so prominent in the genre and the culture, we aren’t really the gatekeepers. How do you feel about the representation of women in Hip-Hop?
First and foremost I think the music business is a microcosm of American society. It’s not surprising that we’re not in these spaces, it’s just disheartening sometimes that the person making the decision doesn’t share the same context [as] you as far as what the music means to them. So you have a lot of instances where a white dude from Cleveland or Milwaukee who found Hip-Hop when he was 14 as a way to rebel is now making the decisions for a genre that is rooted in so many identities that he will never really be able to empathize with.

And more than that I think that when you have a piece of culture you’re supposed to protect it and you’re supposed to uplift it. And I personally don’t trust many people with the preservation of Black culture, so I would love to see the people who have been preserving it up until this point, i.e. Black women, in these positions.

That’s so true and important. Especially when people don’t look like you, you’ll see a white dude making making these decisions and you’ll go “hmm…”
Haha yeah. It’s like I don’t know dog, I don’t know bruh.

Identity is everything. How does your identity as a Black queer woman play a role in the music you’re making?
I just want to be honest. The music that has always been the most impactful in my life has always been honest to a fault. I don’t think I gain anything personally or professionally from hiding the things that are true about me. When I’m talking about love - my most recent relationship was with a woman - so if I’m talking about love 9/10 I’m talking about or woman. Or a man, not recently, but either one of those things are possible.

As far as queer Black artistry I think it’s important because there are so few people getting highlighted. As a broad umbrella it would be Blackness, under that umbrella it would be queerness. So interacting with the world as a Black queer person necessitates a different perspective. It’s important to listen to people who have this perspective, especially if it’s rooted in their truth.

That is a good ass answer.
Thank you! Like Frank Ocean, he’s killing shit. BROCKHAMPTON. Kelela, her last album, we have people that are coming up. But it’s the same thing about women being gatekeepers, it’s going to take time. But I’m glad we’re in a time where people aren’t letting their insecurities about queerness get in the way of really great artistry.

I wanna switch gears, I always ask everyone this. Who’s in your Top 5?
Damn this is hard! Definitely on my Top 5 would be Andre 3000, or just OutKast in general because I think Big Boi gets the short end of the stick as far as comparisons are concerned. I definitely put K. Dot on their. He’s been instrumental in making me commit to never settling for subpar bars.

Gotta put Hov on there, mostly because if you ever sit down and read his lyrics. When I was in high school I fell in love with English, hated it at first. But we used to have annotate, and for a project we had to annotate lyrics and what he was doing with written words put me on my ass. I’m going to put Lauryn on there. There’s a lot of contention around her right now.

I know! I got on Twitter and saw what was happening and I was confused. I had no idea.
Yeah I thought it was production drama, I didn’t know writing drama. That’s a whole different ballgame. 

Very different. Who else you putting on the list?
Number 5? I’d probably put Blu up there. I think Blu is one of the master storytellers of our time. I think I would not be rapping today without Blu.

What do you have coming?
I hope to get this tour popping either late this year or early in 2019. Just more music, more life.

Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
I would love to be in a place where I’m not only making music but cultivating younger artists because that’s a passion of mine. Really bringing back the true meaning of an A&R. I would love to have a normal life and have paid off all of my student loans. I wouldn’t mind a Grammy (laughs). And just to shoot my shot a Pulitzer would be crazy. Kenny put the world on notice.

Listen to Overgrown below.