Ivy Sole raps like freedom is in reach – like it’s visible on the horizon, a predestined course with just a bit more paddling. Or rather, the rightful prize with just a bit more fighting. So close that she can envision how beautiful it could be.
On her ‘SOUTHPAW’ EP, she casts visions of freedom which are familiar, based on what she already knows to be beautiful in this life: “fucking whoever she pleases, coming twice then smoking a gallon of tree”, for example. She finds freedom in plenty of moments of her life but most often while cocooned with a lover or shoulder-to-shoulder with her people (whether in protest or in dance). Liberation will be “sinking into a heavy delight” – relishing the joy she finds in love without the fear and pain that comes from living Black and queer in America hanging over her.
Comparing her to Noname feels lazy but they both explore radical politics through warm, intimate music that teeters on the edge of rap, spoken-word and neo-soul. On this EP, however, Ivy Sole comes out of the gate with her fists up, beating her chest on some straight hell-raising rap shit.
Protest music is not always consciously made (see how “Dior” by Pop Smoke became an anthem of this years anti-police protests) but the title-track and opener ‘SOUTHPAW’ is riot music by design – the type of aural adrenaline shot needed to help you put a molotov cocktail through a police station window. Even in a war cry she keeps her cool, kicks some player shit and tells you why you should tear shit up.
While it may not be getting the attention of international press anymore, protests against the police are ongoing, with significant protests taking place in Ivy’s home of Philadelphia in October, where police killed Walter Wallace. Wallace’s mother, who begged the officers to stand down, called for emergency medical assistance for her son, who has bipolar. Police response to to the protests was expectedly violent. ‘SOUTHPAW’ is a timely dose of revolutionary fuel – a rejection of calm – as many are celebrating a Biden presidency as a return to normalcy.
Ivy says “I don’t write anything that isn’t urgent to me.” The songs that follow feel just as urgent, but, unlike Southpaw, don’t share the same energy of a frontline clash with the police. Rather they feel like the thoughts of a freedom fighter laying their head to the pillow at the end of the day – inspired by the momentum of the movement to dream and strategise for a better future.
I don’t wanna have to search for joy, I want my shit plainIvy Sole ‘Bittersweet’
I don’t want more silver linings at the edge of my pain
I don’t want my niggas marching or them chanting my name
I want my sweet without the bitter, gimme sun with no rain
She waits until ‘Bittersweet’ to introduce her rapping/singing dual act, where she sings that she doesn’t want a half-assed, compromised freedom, and makes a clear demand of prison abolition (“or bust”). It also showcases the incredible warmth of her music, crooning softly and rapping sensually over a slow-swaying guitar beat. The second verse suggests that Ivy Sole, when she finally tastes freedom, will probably spend the rest of her life in the sheets with her boo.
The purest rap track and probably my favourite is ‘KISMET’, the name meaning fate or destiny. Over light piano chords, skittering drums with ample knock and a woozy, whiny synth, she raps “No compensation to replace a body breathing/ Not a currency alive or dead to substitute the feeling of a day well spent, or an unkempt love”. The optimism of the track is like waking to a chorus of birds and a warm ray of sunshine on a workday morning – a reminder of the beauty of life to motivate a headstrong confrontation with all that is terrible in life. This balance of the beauty and terribleness of life is emphasised by a wonderful sample of James Baldwin, who urges that “you must know that it is both.” It’s really an incredible display of beautiful, poetic rapping from both Ivy and guest lojii, who matches Ivy’s sharpness and wide-eyed imagination with lines like: “Plant my toes, pour my soul and let the god in me grow/ The type of highs that feel like you brought the sky to the soles”.
The boxing-themed EP starts with a punch in the face but, with each passing track, brings you closer into a warm embrace, culminating in “Heavy”; a shoulder to cry on in the form of a song, for those going through the same treacherous times.