Earlier this month, dozens of Penn students flocked downtown on a Friday night—but not to Rumor, or even to a BYO. Instead, they were headed to the PhilaMOCA (Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art, 531 N. 12th St.) for rapper Ivy Sole’s (W ’15) release party for her new album, Eden. Following up her project with Indigold, her group that we covered a few months ago, the album she released last week has been buzzing all over the internet, racking up major plays on SoundCloud (and if you’re more of the download type and/or want to support, you can find it on Bandcamp) and earning itself press from Saint Heron, Respect Mag and even legendary hip–hop publication The Source.
Perhaps with a name like Eden, and song titles like “Garden” and “Cloud Kickin”, it comes as no surprise that Ivy, as she put it herself, “grew up in the church”. Her first experiences as a performer came in the form of church plays, and she is not shy to address spiritual topics throughout the project. “I’m really engaging with the idea of deity, and the idea of God and spirituality [on this project],” she explains.
The theme is evident and fleshed–out, but at the same time Ivy relies on the skill of subtlety to avoid it becoming too overbearing and taking over. Take “The Vow,” the project’s first single, for example—on the track Ivy laments her friends all getting married while she’s busy trying to get her music career to take off: “I’m barely dating, but I’m booking flights for shows in my head/Dreaming dreams of greeting fans and showing them love instead.” But glance at the song title and you’re reminded of the spiritual aspects of matrimony, and from the music it feels that Ivy shows the same level of respect and importance to her career and craft that one does to their spouse—they’re fully committed to each other now, and that might be a little weird for both of them at first, but like a well–matched couple, you’re confident they’ll figure it out. Eden comes off as the first time you’re invited over for a dinner party, and you’re pleasantly surprised with how well the two are getting along.
However, don’t get it twisted and think the road was all rainbows and happiness. The original plan, after all, was for Liberal Arts, a band composed of Ivy, Devin “Dev*” Hobdy (C ’15), Xander Goldman (C&E '15) and Kevin “K-Ru” Rugamba (C ’15), to live together for a summer and record a Liberal Arts album. That didn’t pan out, so Ivy and Dev* joined forces with Corey “CS–W” Smith–West (C ’15) to form Indigold. Yet even Indigold, Ivy tells me as Corey nods in agreement, had some communication problems in late 2015 before the Home EP was released in January. While things were figured out eventually and a solid piece of music was given to us, all the stalling had Ivy questioning her efforts in pursuing music full–time. “I kinda put my life on hold to do music,” she recalls. “Even Indigold, we didn’t have enough progress for me to say to myself that I was doing everything humanly possible for me to be in a position to feed myself off the music at any point. Like not even for the foreseeable future, just in general. Like I wasn’t doing anything worthy of making music my priority. So I hit up PhilaMOCA on like January 5th [of this year], and I decided I was going to have a tape by April.”
You read that right—a project as cohesive and polished as Eden was put together in a little under four months. While some of the material predates that, such as the verses on “Cloud Kickin” and “Malika” (which began its life as a Liberal Arts track, hence the Dev* and K-Ru features), almost everything else was put together in that tiny window. “I just put myself on the dumbest deadline,” Ivy says with a laugh. “It’s kind of dumb to say to yourself that in three months we’re going to have an entire project done, but we got it done.”
As a result, a bunch of the tracks are actually spur–of–the–moment creations. The album’s intro, “Lost Without You,” fits perfectly with the theme but was actually a last–minute addition. “[The song] wasn’t even supposed to be on the album,” she told me. “There was another beat, and I had the craziest writer’s block. Like the worst writer’s block of all time. And I found one beat in a pack [Corey] had sent me, and on the day of the recording session I just wrote something and laid it down. And it ended up being the intro.” Ivy plans on telling more stories like these through a video project titled “Story Time with Ivy Sole,” in which she details the stories behind two songs in each episode.
Speaking of videos, we can expect to see some in the near future, although Ivy was coy on letting us know which songs we should be expecting visuals for. What we are allowed to know is that the creative team behind those videos to come, along with the cover, is composed entirely of Penn students and alumni. Corey is helping with video direction, along with fellow alums Shakeil Greeley (C ’15) and Jeremy Benson (E ’14) and current student Araba Ankuma (C ’17), who also shot the cover. In fact, everyone who touched this project attended Penn at some point, from the two producers (Corey & Xander) to the engineer, Ethan Boye-Doe (C ’12).
Beyond just finding dope collaborators, Ivy credits Penn with helping her realize her potential as a performer—specifically her experiences in the Excelano Project, African Rhythms and the Vagina Monologues. “Learning how to be vulnerable…and learning how to poke fun at yourself,” she listed as the two skills that helped her go beyond writing and become a full–fledged performer, which she ruminates on as a strange experience. “This is a weird situation. I am on stage right now, and you guys are listening to me vent about my life over boom–bap beats. Like for real for real, from an outside perspective, this shouldn’t be happening. One person shouldn’t be demanding the attention of 100 people in the room. But since we’re here, let me let y’all into my little world for a second, let’s do this, and if you fuck with it, we can go that way.” In terms of inspirations on the performance side, she looks up to legendary jazz singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, along with contemporary performers like Anderson .Paak (as do we).
So what’s next for Ivy? She’s planning what she describes as a “low–key” Northeastern tour for the fall, hitting college campuses up and down the coast. Eden will get the shine it deserves in person, and in terms of new music, we should be expecting a new Indigold project first before another solo Ivy Sole joint. Expect some collabs with former Liberal Arts members as well. That’s fine by us—their last one was dope. So for now, digest this one—there’s plenty of content for you, no matter what you’re looking for. “The things that we’re doing, we’re doing very well. The beats themselves are boom–bap…and when I do trap, the trap is booming.”