J. Ivy - Here I Am (2011)

J. Ivy

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Current events had me thinking about “Shades &Blades,” the eighth track on J Ivy’s excellent spoken word CD Here I Am. The song tells the story of a wife and mother who is the victim of domestic violence. She wears sunglasses and applies makeup to conceal the damage inflicted by the man’s blows. She justifies his violence by reckoning that she brought the violence on herself: “Why I have to act that way/bring him his beer/leave him alone/it’s been a hard year and all he want is peace at home.” In the end, the woman solves her problem with a knife. This record came in the mail on Saturday (April 23), which is the same day that I learned about the NFL player with a history of domestic violence who allegedly got stabbed by his wife.

Current events had me thinking about “Shades &Blades,” the eighth track on J Ivy’s excellent spoken word CD Here I Am. The song tells the story of a wife and mother who is the victim of domestic violence. She wears sunglasses and applies makeup to conceal the damage inflicted by the man’s blows. She justifies his violence by reckoning that she brought the violence on herself: “Why I have to act that way/bring him his beer/leave him alone/it’s been a hard year and all he want is peace at home.” In the end, the woman solves her problem with a knife. This record came in the mail on Saturday (April 23), which is the same day that I learned about the NFL player with a history of domestic violence who allegedly got stabbed by his wife. Life imitated art, and I had to admit that the song’s hook – “She keep a pair of shades/she got a sharp blade” is the first thing that came to my mind when I heard the news.

There was a time when the news reports left me grasping for explanations that could best expressed in the lyrics of a hip-hop song, but these days that seems so 1989. And I know that Ivy is a poet. The 18 tracks on this album may rock a steady hip-hop beat, but Ivy is not beholden that beat. The Chicago based artist makes that point clear on “End-Titled,” an unaccompanied joint where he says “they say he off beat/I’m a poet/the beat follows me.” In that regard, Ivy owes as much to jazz as he does to poetry and rap music. Jazz vocalists use the melody as a starting point to embark on creative flights of fancy. They often sing behind the melody, and sometimes it’s wise for poets who use musical accompaniment to improvise off the melody in the same way that a sax player or pianist might do.

Ivy is an artist whose vocals swerve from a machine gun rapid fire delivery to fire and brimstone style preaching, so he can’t be too beholden to the beat. Not being tethered to the beat grants Ivy a level of lyrical, musical and topical freedom that allows him to take his listeners on a journey to places where many mainstream artists no longer feel free to tread. For example, the tune “Did He”” describes a crossroads experience that takes place in abandoned building where the young protagonist sought shelter from the police after a shooting. The young man desperately wants to turn back the clock, and a sinister figure gives him a way out by offering to make the case go away if the boy uses his musical skills to create music that will encourage his young listeners to continue making bad choices.  At one level, “Did He?” sounds like Ivy is using fantasy to attack the record industry bent on destroying the culture and ripping naïve artists off to boot.  I guess the  A&R guy is the devil. Yet, anyone with kids knows the stakes are much higher than that. “Did He?” speaks to a belief held by many teens that some of their favorite artists made a Faustian bargain to obtain artistic and commercial success. Seen in that light, the song's hook, “did he sell his soul/I hope he ain’t sell his soul/did he sell his soul for the gold/did he sell his soul for the gold/ did he sell his soul for the ho’s,” not only sounds insightful, it rings downright prophetic. “Did He?” pretty much sums up J Ivy’s stance toward poetry and music.

On Here I Am, J Ivy seeks transform minds and save the youth. His aim is high, but so is his talent level.  Artistically, J Ivy consistently hits the mark and gives us an album that delivers all the promised goods and more. Highly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 

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