In the midst of job–hunting season, it’s easy to fall back on the stereotype that no one at Penn does anything cool after graduation. More than a few of your artsy friends may have abandoned their dreams of careers in the arts to stare at Excel spreadsheets for a comfortable starting salary, which is a pretty disillusioning sight. But don’t get it twisted—in an “Odd–Couple”–esque pairing, Penn has found itself buddying up with the hip–hop industry. Angel Del Villar dropped out of Penn just one semester short of graduating way back in the 2000s and has built himself a remarkably successful career in underground circuits as Homeboy Sandman. For a more recent example, Steven Markowitz (W ’10), better known as Hoodie Allen (or the only rapper on the average Rumor pregame playlist), quit his associate position at Google for a much more lucrative position: independent hip–hop artist selling out for college–age crowds across the nation. Even the faculty is getting in on it. Legendary producer 9 th Wonder, who has worked with the likes of Drake, Kanye West & Jay–Z, has been an artist–in–residence for the Africana Studies department this semester, teaching a class on hip–hop so popular that notoriously busy Penn students have been clearing their schedules in droves just to audit it.
With all that Quaker talent above, would you believe me if I told you there was a group ready to set the bar even higher? Meet Indigold, a genre–bending threesome formed by Ivy Sole (W ’15), Devin “Dev*” Hobdy (C ’15) and Corey “CS–W” Smith–West (C ’15). With Dev* and Ivy showing off their versatility by singing and rapping over CS–W’s jazzy production complete with live instrumentation, the group released their debut EP, “Home,” in January. The unintended product of the three sharing a house together in West Philly this past summer, “Home” is a cherished lovechild nonetheless, transcending above the group’s influences, some individual and some shared, to create a unique sound accessible both for those heavily into hip–hop and those who just like things that sound good. The six–track EP’s lead single “Many Moons” already has almost 17,000 plays on SoundCloud.
With that said, let’s meet the group.
Credit: Amanda Suarez
NAME: Ivy Sole
HOMETOWN: Charlotte, NC
MAJOR: Management & Consulting of Expressive Culture
ROLE: lead vocals
“[As a woman in hip–hop] either you’re in the SZA, Erykah Badu, Kehlani conversation or the Rapsody, Noname [Gypsy] and Lauryn Hill comparison. And I’m okay with that, because otherwise I could be in the camp of “’nobody’s talking about me.’”
Probably the most individually “successful” of the three so far, Ivy’s James Blake–sampling solo single “Free Fallin’” has picked up nearly 200,000 plays on SoundCloud to this date. It’s no surprise she knows how to market her music—she created her own major while at Wharton, Management & Consulting of Expressive Culture, that was tailor–made for this exact purpose.
Born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina as the daughter of a classically–trained singer, Ivy credits her mother for giving her the opportunity to develop her music skills and taste from a young age. “[My mother] couldn’t pursue it for a lot of reasons, primarily because her father wasn’t about letting his kids pursue anything outside of work. She made sure that I could, so I played a whole bunch of instruments.”
Ivy grew up around gospel music, which shines through in her own verses, like when she sprinkles in spiritually–tinted phrases like “so I rebuke and resurrect us” on “Many Moons.” She isn’t afraid to break her flow to flex her pipes, catching the listener off guard in a way that might remind the listener of contemporaries Chance the Rapper and Noname Gypsy, both of whom are known to show off their church music influences.
While those comparisons are meant to be praise, it’s easy to see how they can get tiresome for an artist in a genre not known for its open–mindedness when it comes to female artists. “Either you’re in the SZA, Erykah Badu, Kehlani conversation [known for their soulful singing], or the Rapsody, Noname [Gypsy] and Lauryn Hill comparison [generally renowned for their lyrical ability as rappers].” This is just the tip of the iceberg. “Hip-hop listeners are already trained to hear a man’s voice on records,” Ivy explains. “It’s just something that we’re conditioned to hear. So when we hear a woman, she’s [either] singing or she’s Nicki Minaj. Nicki is great. She’s a great rapper but she’s not me.”
Ivy lists her biggest musical influences as D’Angelo and Gabriel Garzon–Montano (Ed. Note: you might know him as the guy Drake sampled on “Jungle”), and when it comes to rap, she mentions Q–Tip of the legendary hip–hop group A Tribe Called Quest (according to her, Dev* is Phife [Dawg]) as an inspiration. The other members of the group, especially Corey, have expanded her interests to bands like Tame Impala and Unknown Mortal Orchestra .
Credit: Amanda Suarez
NAME: CS–W (Corey Smith–West)
HOMETOWN: Farmington, CT
“I thought I’d play in a jazz band during the day, and then write punk songs when I got home.”
After listening to Corey’s production, it can be hard to bound it to a genre. That’s on purpose, and it’s also a product of his background. “My musical background is affected by the fact that I play a lot of instruments,” he told me. “I’m an African-American artist who grew up in a black household listening to soul, Teddy Pendergrass and Luther Vandross. At the same time, I grew up in Connecticut and had a lot of interest in indie rock.”
Finding a way to put those pieces (seemingly incompatible at surface level) together has been a large part of Corey’s evolution as a musician. “At first I always compartmentalized those two things. I thought I’d play in a jazz band during the day, and then write punk songs when I got home. But as I got older I always tried to put the two in the same spot. I’ve been trying to marry what I like about indie rock with my soul background and to experiment with different percussion techniques and different playing styles.” The fuzzy synths and plucking keys on the EP’s opener “Get Away” wouldn’t be out of place on Tame Impala’s “Love/Paranoia” from their latest album Currents. The next track “How We Know” has the sample chops, active hi–hats and booming bass of a polished, modern hip–hop producer, but it’s the unusual toppings—the airy backing vocals on the hook and the sporadic, clean guitar licks throughout—that make the track a gourmet meal.
That clean, jazzy guitar can be found throughout the EP, and Corey credited some of his more recent influences for that. “In a lot of indie rock there’s a semi-dirty guitar tone, but [Unknown Mortal Orchestra] taught me a lot about that super clean jazz tone,” he explained. “Sometimes less notes played expressively are way better than having a full passage.”
Corey had one person he especially wanted to thank for putting him on the path to becoming the multi–instrumentalist he is today. “Shout out my mom, because she spent a lot of money on instruments. My mom is definitely going to read this and feel hella validated.”
Credit: Tim Lee
NAME: Devin (Dev*) Hobdy
HOMETOWN: Queens, NY
ROLE: lead vocals
“I had the affluent black kid thing, where ‘I’m black, but my experience wasn’t stereotypically black,’ so I liked things like alternative music.”
Born and raised in the New York City borough of Queens, Dev* was exposed to the arts, particularly theater, from a young age. However, when he tried out for the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, a competitive performing arts high school in Queens, he was accepted for vocals instead of acting. Like Ivy, he credits a large portion of his musical experience to his mother. “My mom is a jazz musician, and it’s because of her that I really got into singing, and into music.”
Dev* and Ivy worked together in another Penn student group, Liberal Arts, and Dev* chose to flex his vocal chords more than his bars. After friends convinced him he could rap, he took that role more prominently on the “Home” EP with results that could convince you he’s been doing it for years. Breaking his tight flow for clever one–offs like “I’m not saying my intentions are different but/that’s how I imagine them/and I don’t see you having it/but, I don’t see you either so…” from his verse on “Mhmm” makes it sound like he’s conversing with the listener with ease in the way that someone like Childish Gambino (who all three members mentioned as a huge influence) would. “Childish Gambino is my hero,” he explains. “He made it okay [to be yourself].”
Gambino resonates with all three members for reasons beyond the music. “I had the affluent black kid thing," Dev* explains. "I’m black, but my experience wasn’t ‘stereotypically black,’ so I liked things like alternative music.” Gambino, with lines like “being the only black kid at a Sufjan [Stevens] concert,” was certainly a pioneer and an idol for kids like Dev* in their formative years. However, just like with Ivy, reducing Dev*’s music to comparisons would be silly and short–sighted. He possesses the ability to translate his own experiences into poetry in a way that takes what other artists did before him and adds a new twist. “I bought a one–way ticket to the city that I came from/where money can buy a halo and your dreams can cost your soul,” he raps on “Get Away,” referring to his return to New York after he graduated from Penn last year (he now works as a product manager at SoundCloud).
He and Ivy both rap and sing, creating a dynamic that breaks the monotonous “this guy raps the verse, this girl sings the hook” formula that plagues, intentionally or unintentionally, many hip–hop groups. In the post–Drake world, with more and more rappers, mainstream and underground alike, adding (or attempting to add) singing to their repertoires, Dev* is already prepared for success.
Credit: Amanda Suarez
What can we expect from Indigold in the future? The group is working on a full–length album that they hope to release this year. Ivy is also working on a solo project that she says will be out in April. They also plan on shooting some music videos, because as Corey put it, “We’re too cute not to make videos.”
You can see Indigold for yourself at the Jazz & Grooves show when they open for Kool A.D. on Friday, February 26 at 8p.m. at Pilam. Tickets for Penn students are $5 and can be purchased here. To contact or book them, they can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.