Ivy Sole: On Queen Latifah, Saving Hip Hop, Guilty Pleasure Music, and More

The Opal Club X SXSW

Ivy Sole is the beautiful Taurus multi-genre artist you absolutely need to know! And we’re here to introduce you. Breezy beats and earthy melodies are rooted deep in her artistry. Lyrically, she takes us on a journey through her world, one that feels spiritually cleansing: fresh, hauntingly real. The Charlotte-born and Philadelphia-made performer has dabbled in music one way or another throughout her life. From choir to band, Ivy has done it all, mastering her talent to gorgeous perfection.

Ivy’s 90s vibe and soulful lyrics akin to her idols James Bladwin and Queen Latifah. “[Queen Latifah] has been able to have so many iterations of her career and has been important in all of them. She doesn’t do anything half ass, which is really inspiring.”

Chalking it up to hard work, self-reflection and seeking her truth, Ivy has accomplished so much as a since her high school days. “I was the nerdy friend in my group of cool black hotties. I played basketball for a little bit but quit because of a disagreement with my coach. I started making music when I was 16. I was the kid in my friend group with a super strict mom. I also worked all through high school. Now I’m a lot more sure of myself.” Ivy’s confidence has helped her blossom into the artist she is today. From opening for new blues artist Rag’n’Bone Man to breaking one million streams on her songs; Ivy can only go up from here.

German rapper, Cro, executive produced her newest release Overgrown. However, before then it was a learning curve. “My biggest mistake has been feeling rushed to release music. Feeling like ‘if I don’t get this out in a month the entire world will keel over’ but if you do it now vs. later nobody is going to be concerned. That’s something I learned over the last two EPs. Be patient with yourself. It takes time to make good things.”

"How High" is a single off of OVERGROWN (2018) and is available on all streaming platforms now.

On the summary of her life story, so far:

I was born and raised in Charlotte NC, moved to Philly to go to school, graduated from school and stayed in Philly. It’s extremely cheap and I am frugal as fuck. I’ve been doing music in one way shape or form my entire life. Choir, instrument lessons, marching band, the whole 9. I started making hip hop when I was 15 or 16 when my friends started making beats. I’ve been doing it since 2014 seriously, first mixtape out 2016.

On guilty pleasure music:

I don’t really believe in “guilty pleasure music”. There’s music people wouldn’t expect me to listen to, like Kacey Musgraves. Maybe stuff that’s super pop-y- or even super trap. I think people regard me as a savior of hip hop , butI like trap too. Maxo Cream, I’m a stan. He’s a Nigerian immigrant trap rapper from Houston.

On idols:

James Baldwin, as far as writing is concerned. Queen Latifah is an idol of mine. She’s been able to have so many iterations of her career and has been important in all of them. She doesn’t do anything half ass, which is really inspiring. She’s one of the first black cover girls and one of the first plus sized women in a romantic comedy lead.

On her dream venue:

Either one of the larger rooms at the Kennedy Center or the Sydney Opera House. I’m sure the acoustics are amazing. Any orchestral house. My favorite type of hip-hop show, obviously a DJ and a band are cool, but when you can have a full orchestra playing the music it’s pretty insane.

On her favorite songs:

This is a hard question. All of my songs have a special place in my heart. I can’t decide, it’s like saying which is your favorite kid. My favorite song to perform is Backwoods. Each of my songs are important to me. Life is important to me because it was the first song I made with one of my main producers and it ended up being the thing that turned the tide for me in terms of streaming and was the start of my career. On the most recent album Bloom is the most important song. I like my music. I couldn’t always say that. There’s some things on my computer that I listen back to and think “so glad you didn’t see the light of day.” You need unrealistic cockiness about you for sure, but somethings are just fucking terrible.

On the greatest accomplishments and the biggest mistakes:

It’s hard to see things as accomplishments. I’m trying not to jinx anything. Opening for Rag’n’Bone Man. Breaking 1M streams on any song ever. Recording my album in Germany and then going on tour. I love Germany. Two summers ago, this Nigerian German guy emailed us and was like hey the biggest German rapper likes your music and wants to collaborate. We got on the phone with him and he was like can you come to Germany? We go for a week and help him finish his album and it’s the nuttiest shit ever because his house is a 9 room 4 floor mansion on a hill with panoramic views. His name is Cro. We built a relationship and 6-7 months later when I was thinking of places to record the album he was like ‘hey, come here’. He executive produced the album. My biggest mistake has been feeling rushed to release music. Feeling like “if I don’t get this out in a month the entire world will keel over” but if you do it now vs. later nobody is going to be concerned. That’s something I learned over the last two EPs. Be patient with yourself. It takes time to make good things.

On writing:

When I write, I don't think about writing for a single mother-fucking soul. I can say that unequivocally.  It makes my process 10x more difficult. If I have to write some shit that means something to me, it’s the best but also the worst. You find new and interesting ways to tell your truth. When I write for other people it goes the quickest. In the past two weeks I’ve written ten songs for other folks. But when I write for myself it takes tons of focus, I want it to be honest and pretty. I want people to stay tender. It’s close kinship with my producers that makes things a lot easier. All my collaborators are my friends.

On her stage name:

I’ve had the nickname Ivy for a long time. My mother gave it to me because I got into some poison ivy. I was in an artist collective when I was 16 that was called the Soul Collective, which is where Ivy Sole came from. I’m really the only person doing what I’m doing, so I’m alone but not lonely.

On her style:

I don’t mind the alternative R&B tag, but I do think I’m a Hip Hop artist and it’s hard to define a sub genre because I have my fingers in so many sounds. Indie R&B. I hate the thought of being called a “conscious rapper” because I feel like conscious is an empty word. I’m thankful for the comparison to Lauren Hill because she’s one of the foremost hip hop artists we’ve ever had. The issue I have with that is people associate me with her, they expect me to speak for a specific cause or speak for a specific group of folks that I don’t know if I always agree with. Particular the Hotep crowd. I don’t like using that word because it’s just an African greeting, but I’m not pro-black for the sake of being pro-black. I’m pro-black because I believe it, and I don’t think that should be anti woman or anti queer. All those things can coexist and coexist within me.

On her latest:

Overgrown is my first studio album and I’m really proud of it. It was a joy to make but it was a growing process for me. I think that top to bottom it’s my most thorough project, easily the most beautifully produced and best writing I’ve ever done and to be honest I think it’s one of the best albums that came out in 2018. We’re working on a mixtape called The Femme Tape, we’re going to be doing all women features and femme producers. That should be coming in the summer, working on a tour which should also be really soon. Hanging out and enjoying life, I just quit my job in December so trying to figure out what full time artisting is.

On being traditionally feminine, and not:

Traditionally, there has been a strict way of viewing what is feminine. It can mean long skirts, long hair, super done-up in makeup. I think I have often been concerned that my brand of femininity wouldn’t be accepted just because I’m not wearing halter tops and daisy dukes. There’s nothing wrong with that. My favorite rapper is Megan Stallion, and if she starts wearing nun-clothes I’m going to be very upset. I just think that the industry doesn’t know where to place me. I think folks would rather me do something that’s already been done. Eryka Badhu isn’t traditionally feminine but since she’s already done it, people are like “Oh yeah, just put her in a head wrap, some earrings, make her wear red yellow and green like a rasta and we’ll be fine!” but that’s not quite what I want. I don’t think there’s a blueprint for an artist like me and I think a lot of women in hip hop are experiencing the same thing. We are just kind of figuring it out. It’s only self imposed pressure when I’m doing what I don’t want to do, which is becoming fewer and further in between.

On artist recommendations:

Megan Stallion. Young Baby Tate. For visual art Uzumaki Cepeda. She made a visual and poetry book with her boyfriend AK The Savior recently, which was really cool.

Intro by: Jenna Mohammed

Interview by: Alessandra Licul