Brooklyn-based artist Ivy Sole is perhaps one of the most inventive artists making music right now. Ever since their debut album Overgrown in 2018, Sole has been on a roll of making fiercely inspired, razor-sharp gems that lie somewhere between soulful alternative rap, spoken word, and neo-soul. With the release of Candid, Ivy Sole has attained a level higher than ever previously thought as they explore the nature of incarceration, familial relationships, and community through a daring conceptual album that teases and exceeds the boundaries of what modern hip-hop and soul music should sound like.
Over 3 years in the making, with hundreds of hours of writing and tinkering with sounds, Candid is Ivy Sole at their most, well, candid. "In the 80s, my mother met a man, married a man, and then watched that man disappear behind the walls of a prison before he returned to help raise me" Sole explains, "In that same decade, the man who would soon be responsible for half of my physical being, was released from an institution of the same kind. I consider both of these men my fathers. This album takes the circumstances of my birth and fictionalizes them; and in that process, I get to experience an empathy for my parents that would otherwise be lost to me." Any listen to the project feels so innately personal and special, even more so when coupled with the multilateral themes of Ivy's upbringing and their insightful ruminations on the nature of family in a postmodern society still clinging to archaic definitions of love and family.
Inspired by a diverse smattering of artists including but not limited to, "D’Angelo, Hiatus Kaiyote, Nick Hakim, Kendrick Lamar, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Radiohead, Phonte, Jill Scott and hella Philly heads/90s soul folks in general" according to Ivy; the project's wide range of inspirations is never far from the ear. With each track playing with different sounds and influences, the biggest accomplishment of the project has to be its tonal synonymy, flying through genre influences while telling a cohesive narrative with ruthless efficiency. "'Bamboo' is the most pop-leaning track on the album and has a bunch of Black femme/queer inspirations like Tracy Chapman, Dionne Farris, and even some Meshell Ndegeocello. I also count it as a joy to collaborate with so many amazing artists who provide such a wealth of inspiration – Kingsley Ibeneche, Lee Clarke, Bathe, Kam DeLa, Max Hoenig and of course, my creative partner Ethan Tomas. It’s an honor to be making music in the time of my friends and in the times of my peers."
The project is a narrative triptych, i.e. presented in three, separate and distinct parts that create the whole. Speaking on the natural divisions of Candid, Sole explained, "'Easy to Kill' acts as a thesis statement. Tracks 2-5 contain my parents’ stories – of needing alibis and the lifesaving interventions that words can provide ('Call Me'), the warnings their parents gave them about love and other drugs ('Dangerous'), and the loneliness and longing for one another that inevitably follows incarceration ('The Ways' + 'One More Night'). Tracks 6-9 are my stories – the uneasy ocean of loving someone who seems ashamed of you ('Bamboo'), the pressure of expectations and the subsequent freedom you feel when released from them ('Chico'), a love song for language ('Talk That Talk'), and a bitter ending ('Nights Like This'). The final stretch of the album combines climax and denouement – it resolves some of what the central question presented in the album’s intro. “Mama, why you make me easy to kill?” gets several answers – 'Reincarnate' says, “I already lost two of my children, you are here because they couldn’t be.” 'What You Deserve' says, “You’re capable of love and you deserve it in equal measure to what you give.” 'Runaway' says, “We are your parents but you write your own destiny.” And 'Otherside' is me stating my intention to get redress for the harms committed against my family by the state."
Ending the project with the powerful "Otherside" was, of course, intentional by Sole, narrating yet another deeply personal and self-reflective story on family and their upbringing. "My mother lost two children before she had me. This is a letter to them, first and foremost, but also to everyone lost to the state, in the many ways systematic white supremacy and capitalism work in tandem to shorten our lives. The material conditions my mother lived in are just as culpable for my brothers’ lives as the material conditions that dictate our quality of life today. And for that, I must aim to hold them accountable by working towards their end."
Candid is far from the end of the story for Ivy Sole, as they plan to roll out CANDID Radio, an experimental podcast featuring narrative vignettes expanding on the story of the project, in March. There is so much story to tell that it seems impossible to confine it to one project, but as the scope of their opus broadens and intensifies, fans should continue to tune in as Candid continues to evolve and expand its narrative. It's fair to say after several listens, that Ivy Sole's Candid will be the type of album that will make it on more than a few year end lists for its masterful and vivid storytelling.