When I first encountered hip hop artist Ivy Sole, it was as a student at the University of Pennsylvania. Back then, she was known to me as a standout member of the acclaimed spoken word poetry group on campus.
Fast forward to today she is still speaking to the soul, but now her words are accompanied by therapeutic beats and earthy melodies.
The Charlotte native is coming off a banner year in which she released her third EP West, and embarked on her first national tour opening for neo-blues & soul singer Rag’N’Bone Man. The recognition is starting to roll in, but Sole is still focused on growth, staying hungry, and writing her best music yet.
Q: On the title track “West” you mentioned playing basketball, and the hopes of going pro—what did teen Ivy think she was going to do when she grew up?
A: For a while I did want to be a professional basketball player, but my more reasonable goal was to be a doctor. I wanted to be a surgeon until I was in the 10th grade and I took Physics and I hated it. I knew that Physics was a requirement for pre-med, so I let that go.
Q: When did your ambitions turn to music?
A: After I realized I didn’t want to be a doctor, I started doing a program at Ernst & Young called the Young Explorer program that got me interested in business. I had been writing at the time, so I thought it wouldn’t hurt to study business and be able to control that part of my hip hop career.
A lot of my friends were already starting to tinker with Fruityloops, Logic, and Reason, so I started doing the same.
That was when I realized I really did love making music and writing songs.
Q: Your two latest EPs are titled “East” and “West” respectively, what is the relationship between the two?
A: My first project was East. I spent a semester on East Meck High School’s campus. It was a very important time in my life. The East was super black. Having grown up in primarily white environments, there were times where people would doubt my blackness, but I found [in the East] there were various ways to be black.
During the creation of West was when I started realizing how the west served as such a motif in my life. I grew up on the west side of Charlotte, I’m now living in West Philadelphia, and at the time my manager and I had just decided to do a cross country trip west to LA.
Q: One unmistakable element of your music is the prominence placed on the “Queen City,” Charlotte, NC. Why is it important to feature your hometown so prominently in your music?
A: It’s not as common as you would expect to be from Charlotte. Charlotte is a large transplant city. There’s something to be said for someone who is actually from Charlotte, for someone who actually grew up here. My family is from the west and south sides.
Many boroughs have their distinct sound and distinct identity—you hear a lot about the other cities, the New Yorks, Chicagos, LAs, but Charlotte is less well known. I am trying to shine a light on Charlotte.
Q: What is one of the biggest lessons you've learned as an independent artist?
A: I’d say there are actually two. One, be patient. Being patient doesn’t mean not doing anything in the meantime, that’s a misconception. Patience is an act of faith that things will come to pass, but you still have to put in the work.
Two, take every opportunity you can, because you never know what opportunity will translate into a bigger one.
A lot of the bigger opportunities I have gotten were by doing favors for a homie, doing a show for no money.
Some artists get too big for their breeches too soon, and then they’re not building the relationships that can prove fruitful down the line.
Q: Have you always done all, or most, of the production on your records?
A: I learned how to use DAW (digital audio workstation), with my friends in high school but I am more focused on making sure the lyrics are right—I produce when I have to, but that’s not necessarily where my heart is. “West” and “Storm” are probably the best beats I’ve made.
Sometimes we romanticize being a jack of all trades. I am ok with being amazing at word play and melodies, and so-so at producing. I would pick words and melodies every time, if I have to choose.
That said, I am always involved in the production creative process, I like to be in the room, and I like to direct the production, if possible.
I have been able to work with a lot of amazing producers—well really it’s actually a smaller number of producers, but that’s what makes the sound so cohesive. One of my primary producers is Corey Smith-West, originally from Connecticut. There is Kam De La from South Jersey, my manager and main producer Ethan Tomás. And as of recently I have been working with Cro, a rapper-singer-producer out of Germany.
Q: Your music is the theme song for new web series Leimert Park, which premiered at Sundance, how did that come about?
Everything that ever happens with me starts with an email. They reached out and said, “We think this opportunity is up your alley. Send us some music and we’ll see if it fits.” Like other chance opportunities that have come my way, I pursued it, and it ended up being way bigger than I ever expected I heard that they did well at Sundance, and I was really excited to be a part of it.
The director Mel Jones is amazing – big props to her.
Q: If you could only play one song for someone that best represents your music, what song would you choose and why?
A: It really depends on the day (laughs). It’s really hard to say because I don’t think any of the songs currently released fully encapsulate what I am trying to do right now. But if I had to say one I would say “Life” ft. Dave B and produced by Kam De La.
With the production of “Life,” it was the first time I was able to be as cohesive as I wanted to be, to have the features I wanted and to be able to tell a story. It is a really special record for me, and one of my most popular records.
Q: 2017 was a big year for you— you were featured as the face of Fresh Finds on Spotify, you went on your first national tour—how have your experiences impacted where you take your music from here?
A: I would say I am a lot more focused.
We—being me and my team— have learned a ridiculous amount about the music industry and how it works. So much. Now I don’t think there will be any surprises (laughs), but knock on wood. I just want to put out more music.
A lot of artists these days get by on aesthetics and the trimming around the music, and ultimately the music suffers. I am hoping this year to combine both—giving people good experience both aesthetically and sonically.