Ivy Sole was born in Philadelphia and grew up queer in the Southern Baptist Church. After taking vocal classes in a church setting and emerging from the collectives Indigold, Liberal Art, and Third Eye Optik, they have established themselves as a promising young rapper to watch.
Candid was released on February 2 as a powerful record comprising thirteen diverse tracks examining the intricacies of the family unit through the prism of incarceration from an insightful and heartfelt perspective. Ivy gets closer than ever with their listeners by using their particular blend of meticulous flows and sultry R&B sounds, “My hope for my music is to provide folks with a soundtrack to live, work, love and rest too,” they say.
Hi Ivy, first, I'd like you to describe yourself as an artist. When and why did you decide to become one?
Before I graduated high school, I started experimenting with hip-hop amongst friends and peers and by the time I graduated college, I felt confident in my ability to make a living from it at some point. After a couple of years working full-time and making music, I decided to take a shot at doing music whole time.
While making a rich blend of hip-hop and soulful R&B, I see some gospel and southern rap influences in your music. What do these two genres mean for you?
I’m southern by birth and by choice but the Black church on Turtle Island (which is also called The United States) extends far past the Mason-Dixon line, and I’d argue past American borders to the continent as well. Black music doesn’t exist within a silo, it never has. So even when you’re listening to a secular genre, it still has a relationship to the spiritual music of its day and its past. I’m just a product of the sounds I grew up on and gravitated towards!
Not only are your songs really heartfelt but they also attempt to be helpful for people to become more conscious about the problems surrounding our daily life. Music might be a good tool to raise awareness but, do you believe it could potentially play an important part in creating social change?
Historically speaking, art has never created tangible social change. It can help galvanise a community around a message but the message is only the first step. My politics are to gather with and for the sake of my people, ask them and myself what we need, and to collaborate with them on how to get there via organisations like Black Alliance for Peace and the All African People’s Revolutionary Party. Additionally, I move through the world and my career with this in mind, so I won’t make any decisions without thinking about its impact on my community.
I feel like you use your own lyrics to tell yourself all the things you needed to hear in the past. Does it work for you? Is it a way to empathise with your followers? Tell us a bit about this.
In this project and beyond, I’m not speaking to my past self or anyone in particular. I’m taking bits and pieces of my life and filling in the blanks with fiction, rhythm, melody and harmony. My craft is in performing the music in a way that makes my voice indistinguishable from that of the protagonist or narrator, whether it applies to my life or not. You feel empathy there because of the specificity of the story I’ve crafted and the intentionality that my collaborators and I pour into the soundscape.
So, how does it feel to open up that much to your listeners?
I appreciate my listeners so much because they allow me to be candid. My life is not for sale, in my music or otherwise. Part of what that means is that I can be honest with my listeners about where the details in these songs deviate from my lived experience, and in doing so, we collaborate in worldbuilding. Separating my personhood from my art helps to preserve my being and my listeners support that separation.
Your new album Candid, presented as a triptych, is loosely based on your parents’ love story. What about their relationship inspired you enough to dedicate a full album about it?
I wrote this album intending to reflect on my parents’ love story and how it shaped my trajectory in matters of the heart. It was tempting to blame them for the way I am but my parents’ love and my upbringing aren’t separate from the place and time, namely America in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s. In the 80s, my mother married my stepfather who ended up in prison and started a relationship with my father who was released from an institution of the same kind. My stepfather’s return shaped my life because of his presence but the circumstances that led him there, and that led my father there before he met my mother, had a significant impact on their relationships with each other and how they ended up showing up as parents.
How the story unfolds in this album is not identical to how it transpired in the lives of my parents, or even in my life, but this much is true – Candid helped me love myself and love my family in ways I could never have imagined and confirmed that our enemy is not each other but the world we live in. How could I not talk about that when the world has only gotten more deadly for all of us?
While producing the album, was it hard to meditate about violence within and beyond the frame of the family?
Reflecting on how the ways the world’s violence impacted my family is necessary to work to continue living. Violence is everywhere I look. Some people might call it different names –transphobia and queerphobia, poverty, inadequate healthcare, substandard housing, pollution, fracking, intimate partner violence, underdevelopment, etc. It all ends up in premature death and suffering for very specific people – those people are niggas and oppressed people globally, especially those folks who live in countries that the US names as enemies.
And in regards to addiction?
I have more empathy than ever for the choices my people made to cope with this world, full stop. No coping mechanism is worse than the circumstances that made it necessary.
I am highly struck by the title of the song that headlines Candid. Who is easy to kill?
The short answer would be niggas. The long answer is niggas here in the US, there (in Europe and the proverbial West) and everywhere (the world).
Regarding the tough topics you talk about during Candid, such as cruelty and anxiety, I wonder if, at some point, your participation in a poetry workshop in the Pennsylvania Industrial Detention Centre might be relevant and possibly even inspired some of your lyrics. How did this experience affect you personally? How relevant is it for your present as an artist?
When planning the workshop at PICC, I felt separate from the inmates I was tasked with teaching but that was an error on my part. Once I facilitated, I realised that there wasn’t a single thing separating me from the folks inside but my perception of our circumstances.
When thinking about people impacted by incarceration, at first, my mind wouldn’t point to either my father or stepfather, despite both of them having gone to prison shortly before I was born.
Instead of detailing their experiences in this album, I chose to question how their time inside impacted their parenting and the love and care, or lack thereof, each of them shared with my mother. Its relevance extends well beyond my individual experience – my generation bears the weight of the impact of the state disappearing our loved ones into incarceration and early deaths from being overworked and under-resourced.
The threat of imprisonment or early death impacts plenty of our choices, and one in particular that I hope to reckon with is the choice that many Black people/displaced Africans in the Americas and Europe contend with, and that’s to join the military. At the same time, I was first exploring my voice in poetry and hip-hop (in high school), I was also being recruited for several US military academies that would eventually have me fighting wars against people who look like me and have more in common with me and my family, than not. That’s one choice I was fortunate enough to forego, but plenty of my peers’ circumstances made that choice more desirable than their alternatives.
What was it like to work with Bathe, Topaz Jones and Kingsley Ibeneche in some of your brand new pieces? Why did you decide to add these collaborations to the album?
I count each of my collaborators as my family. I’m lucky to be friends with folks who have talents in my same field and my admiration and reverence of them are one of the reasons why Candid has the soundscape you hear. Each of them was instrumental in not only the specific songs they touched but for keeping me alive and well enough to see this project through.
Before its release in March, what can you reveal about the experimental podcast expanding on the story of Candid?
Candid Radio is a six-episode audio film. Each episode is a different vignette to capture a piece of the album’s story. It’s experimental because it’s the first of its kind – instead of doing a short film, I felt that branching out from one sound medium to another would be an interesting and generative format to explore. I want to encourage the listeners to use their mind’s eye to illustrate the sounds they hear, rather than provide the imagery for them, to help reconnect and strengthen the imagination.
Can we expect a Candid tour shortly?
I plan to tour when it’s safe enough for the most vulnerable populations to join me. I’d love to tour in some places that don’t get much love, particularly in the global south, but that would require the West to remove the blockade against Cuba and to drop the patents on the Covid-19 vaccine so I don’t endanger my relatives elsewhere.