Cover photo: Lee Shaner
October 22, 2018
When it comes to what constitutes a powerful female voice in rap and hip-hop, the criteria are clear: a combined force of relentless flow with potent lyricism and a deadly, show-stopping presence. Artists like Missy Elliot, Queen Latifah, Lauryn Hill, and Rapsody carry those traits with an unwavering, cooler-than-cool confidence that landed them in the music history books forever and gave rise to a new generation of voices ready to pick up where they left off. In that new line of artists, there is one that has made the legacy of these iconic women all her own, and she hails from an unlikely home.
Ivy Sole, the Charlotte native and twenty-five-year-old rapper, singer, multi-instrumentalist, and producer is falling right in line with the path of the greats after the late-September release of her much-anticipated debut studio album, Overgrown. The album follows several mixtapes as a continuation of Sole’s concept work, and it’s already being welcomed with quite the acclaim. But Sole isn’t focused on basking in the glow of a job well done– she has her eyes set on what’s in front of her. But when her voice came over the phone with that same calm collection that’s portrayed in her music, what she began with was a look in the rear view– what made her who she is.
The first step she addressed was her move to Philadelphia in 2011 to attend the esteemed UPenn Wharton School of Business and how that move opened her up to an entirely different world of music, one that offered her much more to satiate her endless cultural appetite than her Southern roots could afford to.
“The south is dominated by soul music in variations. A lot of the hip hop that comes out of the south is a lot more melodic. It’s based in soul, R&B, gospel, etcetera. In the north, because of the advent of cities, it’s a lot harsher– more rugged. It’s a part of the reason why I love Philly so much. There’s also a lot more cultural melding. There’s a lot of dancehall, reggae, reggaeton,” she said. “All of that is in close proximity, so it also impacts what you hear on the day-to-day. I got exposed to a lot more music right away. There are different priorities for what music is showcased.”
This experienced shift is evident in Sole’s music and between her 2016 mixtape Eden and 2018’s Overgrown she has continued to include a multitude of stylistic changes that exemplifies her absorption of the boundless cultural diversities that exist right outside her doorstep. But those two years between the records aren’t only marked by a musical expansion– Sole has used all of her material, including two shorter mixtapes East and West, as part of an overarching lyrical concept based in personal growth. That growth extends to her deviation from organized religion, her exploration of sexuality, and her transition from old roots to new seeds. And that work may not be finished just yet.
“I don’t know if [the concept] is finished, because until I start putting time into my next record, there’s no way to say that. I didn’t expect Overgrown to be an extension of my older projects, but it ended up being both an elaboration and a conclusion in a lot of ways. I think the questions that I asked on Eden are being answered in one way or another on Overgrown. I think I’m very honest in my music,” Sole said. “For a while, the story of the Garden of Eden was weighing heavily on me. I was trying to figure out a lot of questions about spirituality and the existence of God– all of these very normal existential questions that people have– that story was the way I was working through all of those questions. Overgrown is the name that I wrote down a long time ago, and it felt right for this moment. I do feel that I’ve outgrown a lot of versions of myself, and I’m thankful for the version of me that exists now, not only on the album, but in real life.”
Sole’s lyrical prowess is ultimately and clearly based in her perception of herself and the environments that have shaped her on her path. While she devotes a great deal of credit to the cultural landscape of the north east concerning her influences, she’s always sure to remind her listeners how much love she has for the Queen City and the soul of the south. She’s previously said that her 2017 mixtape West serves as “an ode to Charlotte” and with that in mind she delved into her own Charlotte experience.
Sole was a gifted student from early on, finding herself bussed out of her West Charlotte home to be enrolled in IB programs at various high schools, including Davidson and East Mecklenburg. She spoke with a careful honesty, pausing at length to collect her thoughts as she referred herself as a “quiet kid” wrapped in thought and the “super-corny nerd friend” that kept the company of her more popular peers, much to the apparent confusion of her classmates– an observation that draws a clear parallel to the lyrical profundity that permeates her music. Before long, her recollections moved from the lunch table to her beginnings as an artist.
“I started rapping when I was sixteen. It started with me watching Def Jam Poetry. I felt that it was authentic. It was an art form that I felt I could emulate. Since Def Jam Poetry often had rappers on it. It was a natural progression from there… It was definitely the more poetic storytelling vibe that got me into it. I know a lot of people enter through battle rap as opposed to the storytelling stuff, but for me, my entry point was definitely the poetry.”
This impetus is what eventually connected Sole to artists like fellow North Carolina-native Rapsody, who Sole acknowledges as one of her most prominent influences. Having attended the Mac Miller gig which Rapsody opened for in Charlotte shortly after Sole’s eighteenth birthday, she was immediately inspired by the rising talent and decided to become part of Rapsody’s street team. This led to Sole sending some of her early music Rapsody’s way and receiving feedback that would launch her career into its introductory phases. Now, seven years later, Sole has more than come into her own and, while she is far from boastful, she is firmly rooted in who she is and what she is capable of.
“I think I’m making the music now that I was attempting to make when I was eighteen. My cadence is mastered. My subject matter is mastered. My confidence is mastered. The things that I wanted to explore have been mastered,” she said. “The things I sent [Rapsody] were shaky because I was eighteen and didn’t know shit. I didn’t have anything worthwhile to say. I had ideas and I had passion, but the execution of those things wasn’t where it needed to be.”
As Sole continued on how her past ties into her present, her thoughts turned back to perception. How she views herself versus how her listeners view her, the expectations versus realities of the matter, and in one of her most pointed remarks, she set the record painfully straight.
“I hate to be Mr. Rogers with it, but I’m literally your neighbor. I don’t want to be painted as some sort of celebrity. I don’t have an interest in being purported as ‘genius’ because I think that ‘genius’ has a weird connotation to it. I don’t need anybody’s validation to feel that my music has value,” she said. “I just want people to enjoy the music. I want people to glean something from the music, and I hope that I’m contributing to the honesty and integrity of the music. That’s all I want. Everything else is secondary in my opinion. At the end of the day, I’m a fucking writer and a musician. As long as I’m writing words and making sounds, I’m happy.”
Through her first-hand account of her journey so far, Ivy Sole made it abundantly clear that she is entirely indifferent to the turmoil of outside opinion when it comes to the core of her creativity. She is assured of her ability, of her potential, and of her trajectory. There is nobody in her way. With her two homes at her back, Ivy Sole is empowered and unbothered, ready to take on the world and continue to do what she does best.