Review: Philly rapper Ivy Sole masters introspection on ‘Overgrown’

Philly rapper Ivy Sole's vulnerability and soul-baring lyrics make for one of 2018's more intimate album experiences

“I’m the truth, young Euclid of prose,” Philadelphia rapper Ivy Sole boasts on her song “Backwoods.” Euclid of Alexandria, unlike a Picasso or a Shakespeare, isn’t used commonly in hip-hop metaphors, but this one fairly describes Sole’s artistry, since her ability to splice lines together and construct emotive verses is not unlike the expertise of the ancient mathematician that is credited with fathering geometry. 

If there’s one thing that is clear about the Philly emcee, it’s that she’s very observational, introspective, and thinks very often about matters of the heart and of the mind. “I sink too much into myself,” she raps on the song “Master Plan,” from her 2016 debut album Eden. “They say my raps be so good because I’m thinking ahead.” Ivy Sole taps into the human condition by asking what we feel but rarely have language for — questions about love, healing, familial conflict, religion, etc.

In an interview with Billboard, Sole alluded to a period of emotional upheaval, which inspired the direction of her latest album: “I broke up with someone about three, four months prior … I was watching a lot of my peers, some of my closest friends, really level up in their careers and in their professional life which brought out a lot of insecurities … I had just made one of several breakthroughs in therapy as far as mental health was concerned. My relationship with my family was…in a transition phase. There was just a lot going on.” Sole’s sophomore album Overgrown, released back in September, is her attempt to process some of these emotions while searching for truth, intimacy, and healing.

The Philly rapper sets the tone of Overgrown with “Lovely Fiction,” a meditative intro filled with glistening guitar strums and staccato strings. Here, Sole ponders motherly love, as she dreams about the future and the possibility of having a child. She approaches the prospect of a child “with due caution” as she begins to realize just how daunting a task parenting, especially Black motherhood, can be: helping children “form their first sentences,” “survive the police,” and “master forgiveness” — the latter of which she admits even she “ain’t mastered” yet.

It’s fitting that forgiveness is a topic Ivy Sole explores throughout the project. On “Bloom,” one of the album’s highlights, Sole is accompanied by an ambient backdrop of manipulated doo-wop vocals (courtesy of producer Kam DeLa) as she waxes poetic about self-forgiveness, self-care, and the process of physical/spiritual healing while constructing these intricate analogies — none of which resonate quite as profoundly as this particular bar she raps in the latter half of the second verse: “Seeds only know darkness ‘til they break ground / So I’m working ‘til my spirit finds a breakthrough.”

Spiritual and emotional breakthroughs remain relevant themes on Overgrown. Sole addresses these topics by opening up to the listener, exposing her emotional and spiritual struggles much like the bare cheekbone of the album’s cover art. On “Achilles,” Sole raps with enough vulnerability to elicit tears, as she speaks candidly about being sexually assaulted by a relative. More heart-wrenching than hearing about the incident itself is the way Sole unpacks the fallout of this traumatic event, detailing the ways in which her trauma took away the physical and emotional pleasures of intimacy: “And every person represents your next potential blow / So I couldn’t let him touch me, couldn’t let her close”; as well as her struggle to find solace or relief in religion and faith: “I prayed for a sign, but all that came was some shame”.

In the aforementioned Billboard interview, Sole briefly discussed being raised in a religious community in her hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, and her struggle to reconcile traditionalist teachings with her reality and her queerness. “Trying to figure out where I fit within the church community, it was clear to me that I wouldn’t be able to,” she said. This understanding elevates the poignancy of certain verses on the song “Parables,” where she raps lines like “Preacher say I’m a Jezebel, thinking he might be right,” or “When I talk about God, I get the skeptical looks.”

The introspective nature of this album extends itself to the more melodious tracks. It is in these moments that Ivy Sole’s gospel music background, a product of her being raised in the church, manifests itself. She sings with the intimacy and reverence of a worship song, even when the songs diverge into more worldly territory. Whether she’s addressing the emotional ups and downs of romantic relationships on “Roller Coaster,” or reflecting on moments of ecstasy on “Bones,” Sole’s soulful compositions encapsulate love and its expansive, often-erratic nature.

Though her career began only a couple of years ago, Ivy Sole’s sound is mature and refined, as if she’s been rapping for a decade. Overgrown has all the bearings of someone who, despite having lots of questions and a lot “more growing to do,” is not afraid to be honest and vulnerable. Balancing her welcoming voice and incredibly soul-baring lyrics, she delivers one of the year’s more intimate album experiences.

1 comment on “Review: Philly rapper Ivy Sole masters introspection on ‘Overgrown’

  1. Pingback: In light of Jermaine Dupri’s recent comments, these seem more relevant than ever – Baffled Stereo

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