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We’re approaching six months since the release of her second album, Overgrown, and Taylor McLendon (aka Ivy Sole), 25, is already a different person. In music industry time — add the eight months between recording and release on top of the six months since — she’s likely grown beyond several different versions of herself. (It’s something she’s quick to admit, even when the growth bombards her with stress.) Luckily, the admissions and revelations Ivy left in the 14-day session spree in Germany have yet to age as much as she has. Gone are the Ivy Sole songs of yesteryear where she tiptoed around her truth… welcome to the next evolution of refreshing vulnerability tuned to the frequencies of neo-soul before her. Ivy roots herself in this transparency, her tales and tribulations unearthing the spirit of a Black woman who came up in Charlotte with Jesus in her heart and hit her stride in Philadelphia with an Ivy League backdrop, earning her Bachelor’s from the Wharton School at UPenn.
Overgrown is an album in constant dialogue with Ivy’s universe, naming the violence among us and fighting to rid the world of it. It’s also an extended meditation on the beauty and messiness of love, a tribute to exes past and a fallen friend, and an open peek into how Ivy owns the all of her. She opts to pick through her own pieces to stitch the truth together. Within the opening minutes, she gives a three-word synopsis of her personhood and praxis: Black Queer Radical.
At once, it’s a mission statement, a call for accountability and a commitment to honesty in the pursuit of truth. Ivy walks the world this way at all times, leveraging her privileges in effort to strike down the -isms and dismantle the barriers that keep the most marginalized of our society away from knowledge and liberation. Her recent travels overseas have given even more clarity to the operational potential of such praxis, let alone the potential of the United States as a project to shift from the systemic violence that built and maintains it, toward a true freedom. As the hellscape of today renders many of us numb to such potential, Ivy finds light in the throes of darkness.
“I know bad stuff happens every day, and I know that things are bound to happen in the future, but I think that a small group of people — with time, energy, effort and real, positive passion — are capable of changing the course of any group of people, no matter the size, even if it was a country,” Ivy says, reassuringly. “And I know that sounds really idealistic, but I don’t really have choice but to hope for it because otherwise I’m looking at doom in the face… there are so many wild things happening every day, but there are so many extremely thoughtful and extremely passionate and unbelievably gifted folks who are working against all of these systems, and I’m not sure if there has ever been a moment where this many people are connected by a common thread to overthrow these systems. So, it makes me feel like it is possible, if nothing else.”
The night prior to our phone interview, Ivy opened for Estelle at The Fillmore in Philly; Ivy relishes the thought of how 11-year-old Taylor would be overjoyed. It’s something that she couldn’t have imagined for herself, and not the standard expectations that were put on her in childhood. As told on “Lovely Fiction,” the precipice of Black motherhood both intrigued and frightened her; she recalls how her aunties dream of swimming to symbolize conception, then savors the opportunity to raise a Black child only to remember how she’d be indebted to teaching them how to survive the horrors of this world. But when the standardized dimensions of such dreams — any dream a society expects its people to fulfill — rarely (never?) accommodate queer Black women, what’s left? What’s next? How does one maneuver the weight of these expectations without sacrificing their authenticity to self?
“I think marginalized people in general are often forced to choose, and there’s this common narrative around, like, ‘Oh, can women have it all? Can black folks have it all? Can anybody really have it all?’” Ivy says, laughing slightly as she parses through the thought. “And is it really ‘having it all’ if you don’t want all the things that are entailed in that? Yes, I want a partner and kids, but it doesn’t have to look the way that traditional partnership looks, it doesn’t have to look the way that traditional child rearing looks, it definitely doesn’t have to look [like] what a traditional career looks like. I think that I’m capable of doing the many things that give people fulfillment and give me a sense of purpose, I just think it doesn’t have to look like everyone else’s. It’s like the multiverse of a comic book: All these things are happening simultaneously and none of them take away from the other universe. My universe doesn’t have to match someone else’s universe to be valuable and to be authentic and to be filled with love; it just has to exist, and I have to put time and effort into making it exist just like anybody else.”
Where queerness has been slyly breached in previous efforts, Ivy Sole spends Overgrown reveling in herself as she pines for something real, romantic and platonic, somewhere between a Russian Cream Backwood and a little liquor. This may involve falling in love with someone who’s in love with someone else, or pining a little too long for whomever won’t give her the time. At best, it’s sweet nothings in bed or pacing along the beach, as depicted in the “How High” visual. She’s just as descriptive when she details her journey to self-acceptance, never feeling closeted in high school but slowly unraveling as she grew up. Despite her piercing self-awareness — of how the word “queer” can feel too big or sanitized sometimes, and how it can be easily co-opted to diffuse its power — even she feels the slight late-bloom effect when speaking out sometimes. But she’s thankful for the beauty of queer community, just as she’s aware of how she can maneuver her cis-ness and the prospect of her visibility to fight onward.
“As I’ve gotten older, it’s like, ‘Oh, nah, Black trans women have the highest murder rate among Black women,’ I have a damn near patriotic duty to make sure that is not the case forever,” Ivy says. “And, if Black queer teens [have] some of the highest rates of homelessness, that very well could happen to me, and it has been some of my peers. So if I have the means to do something about it, I should do something about it. So, in that way, I’m like, ‘Oh, I have every right to talk about all this stuff,’ but also, in a lot of ways, I’m like, ‘Oh, I should probably defer to y’all, y’all have been around longer than I have, so maybe I should just fall back.’”
Before settling on UPenn to study Management and Africana Studies, Ivy pondered several different directions for undergrad, each passing option offering the potential for her craft to dive down different mediums entirely. Thankfully, she touched down in Philadelphia: one of the country’s most underrated hotbeds for Black music, and home of the very context that informs Ivy Sole’s effortless blend between the tender poetics of neo-soul and the rugged edge of her raps. A child of the blog era, as she proudly proclaims in the album’s title track, she built her sound in the city that gave us the Roots, Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild, Beanie Sigel and Freeway of Roc-A-Fella fame, and many sessions from the Soulquarians era, not to mention the Philly soul legends of the ’60s and ’70s. The collegiate framework is a hustle all its own: getting the grades to keep one there, moving the decimals around scholarships and loan money to eat something and sleep somewhere. It’s the venture that’s cited the birth and death of many an artistic career pursued within it, but four years at UPenn gave Taylor the space to finesse to become Ivy. She dived into the scene, linked up with neighboring schools and poetry communities, and started dropping music until it all made sense.
Where Charlotte’s still pulsing through Ivy Sole’s blood, Philly’s in her core; no dichotomy present, they work in tandem. Whether rapping or singing, she exudes a Southern comfortability that’s charming and disarming all the same, then backs it with a raw power as she weaves through memories and internal struggles without ever caving under her candor. The ’90s/early-2000s politics of Black Cool are well-worn into how Ivy paints her imagery: playful when it chooses, pointed when it must be and poignant all the same. The neo-soul in her aims for the heart, but don’t misplace her grit: peep the casual car convo with collaborator Anyee Wright in the “Backwoods” visual, inviting us into a hotbox between homegirls. Furthermore, peep how the bikes get thrown up in the “Rollercoaster” video, Ivy modeling her swag after her Holy Trinity: Eve, Missy Elliott and Aaliyah.
“My visual aesthetic is something that comes very naturally to me,” Ivy says. “I don’t want it to be a stretch from real life, because then it’ll become more of a labor than it needs to be. If I could choose, it would be as simple as humanly possible, always and forever. There are so many everyday intimacies that people take for granted, so I try to make those apparent, or try to highlight them rather than downplay them like a lot of people would. The minutiae of everyday life is really cool sometimes.”
Lately, Ivy’s shifting from a process of immediacy and urgency to sit with her new material, dissecting the records within community until the team refines it together. Overgrown was not done that way: written and recorded almost from scratch in two weeks in the studio of German rapper CRO. He reached out to collaborate with Ivy via the wonders of the internet; this session was a proverbial Big Ask that happened to stick. With her team in tow, Ivy whittled away at these pieces of herself until something beautiful came from it; the scars show even in the gentle moments. She recounts the traumatic with such resilience, tucking details of managing depression, surviving sexual assault and mourning the loss of a friend at what feels like a breakneck pace even as she wades slowly through the details. If she leaves these pieces behind, she tries her damndest to make peace with them. To date, she’s received fewer requests to dissect these moments than she anticipated, but she’s been met with deep gratitude from her close friends for her strides toward vulnerability in capturing these moments for them.
In the lighter sense — and perhaps the pettier — she goes as far as directly quoting one of her exes in the midst of a breakup on “Wasted.” It’s a glowing characteristic that keeps Ivy authentic: honesty to a fault. She even admitted to shifting the gender pronouns of the subjects in “Taken” to preserve the vibe and be more direct in what she had to say to whomever. Ivy plays with her artistic license as well, but all in the sake of protecting her peace and saying what she said.
“In ‘Wasted,’ in one of our last conversations, my ex was like, ‘Yo, you’re gonna be so lonely without me,’” Ivy recalls, laughing. “And I’m like, let me use that quote, though. You said it, ain’t my fault, dog! You shouldn’t have said this shit if you didn’t want me to use it. Get the fuck outta here. I’m not sayin’ that people should be prepared when they date poets and all that other shit, but like, at the same time… if you’re not being good to a person in a moment, that creates an emotional reaction, and it just so happens that my emotions often come out on songs that do pretty well on streaming services!”
In a post-Overgrown world, Ivy Sole will likely cycle through several more versions of herself by the time this year’s up. She’s still earning her stripes on the opening circuit, earning her first tour support slots and festival bids. Her optimism beams through the cellular signal, even as she struggles with the narrow, gendered comparisons she receives as she’s vying for a spot in the discourse with every other Album of the Year contender. She loves going to therapy, and encourages finding a therapist if one can afford to do so. There’s a lotta care in her character, an abundant love and curiosity brimming over into the sonic chronicles of her Black Queer Radical existence. Unsurprisingly, it’s imperative that she remains hydrated.
“I drink lots and lots and lots of water, and mind my business, but also spend time with people who legitimately care about me,” Ivy says. “I think that one of the ways that depression and anxiety in particular, steal a lot of our joy is that we’re made to feel like if we isolate the problem, it will fix itself, when oftentimes that’s the exact opposite of what our bodies and our minds need. So, the things that are healthy are literally water... and when I say minding my business, I mean particularly like not comparing myself to other people and where they are in their journey, and legitimately spending time with folks who care. It makes a world of difference.”
Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.