We were fortunate enough to talk ish with Poet…J. Ivy!!! J. Ivy is a Grammy Award winning poet/artist/author who has worked closely with entertainers such as Kanye West, Jay-Z, Martha Stewart, John Legend, performed at events for Deepak Chopra, voice overs for sports events for NFL’s Sunday Night Football, multiple appearances on Def Poetry Jam and that’s only to name a few of his accomplishments. J .Ivy is scheduled to release his upcoming book, Dear Father: Breaking the Cycle of Pain early January 2015. Lets get to know more about J. Ivy…
3 Voices: Alright, Mr. J. Ivy, you have done so much over the course of your career. Can you just give a summary of the highlights for those who may not be aware?
Ivy: It has definitely been a host of blessings that I have been able to come across over the years. If you’re from Chicago and you were around on the scene in the 90’s people know me from the poetry days at Rituals. If you weren’t here, later on I was the first African American to represent on Def Poetry. I was on season 1 of Def Poetry and I followed up and did 2 more seasons. Folks know me from the verse I spit on Kanye’s first album, The College Dropout on the song Never Let Me Down. I got a Grammy for that. I’ve done voiceover work for Sunday Night Football, Monday Night Football, different networks and across the board doing voiceover work. I’ve worked with Deepak Chopra and hosted his events over the past couple of years. My latest highlight is my book Dear Father which I’m about to release in January.
3 Voices: Tell us about how you started writing and performing poetry.
Ivy: I got started on the performance side first. When I was in high school, my Junior year. My English teacher had us write a poem as a homework assignment, but I didn’t think much of it. I was good at writing notes to girls, but I didn’t think much of writing other than that. So I wrote this poem and the next day she surprised the class and made everybody read their poem in front of the class. So I reluctantly read mine. To my surprise, after class she pulled me to the side and she was like,“You have a nice speaking voice, I want to put you in a show” and at the time I was very shy, to myself, within my crew I was the life of the party, but I was very shy. I had to warm up to folks. So I really wasn’t feeling the idea of getting on stage in front of a room full of folks and performing so I didn’t do the show. So she had another show come up and she approached me again. She was like, “Look, I have another show. The last time I asked you to do a show you faked me out, you didn’t do it. This time I’m not asking you. You have to do it.” So my English teacher my Junior year, challenged me and made me do the show and I was like, well you know, I’m not a punk. I was playing sports at the time. I was playing football and running track, I played one year of basketball. I loved the idea of being challenged. She challenged me to do this performance and my first time ever on stage I got a standing ovation.
Within that moment I fell in love with delivering and having a voice and using my voice. It was a beautiful feeling. After that I was looking for that next moment, that next hit, that next high, the next time I could feel that feeling. So I was doing every show after that, which led me to going to college and in college I was looking for the stage and then I ended up writing this poem for this girl for Sweetest Day. She loved it, all of her girls loved it, I took it to my English professor, my English professor loved it and she was like, “Look, I have this show coming up and I want you to write a poem and perform it”. At this point I’m looking for the stage, so I’m like I would love to perform and I was like wow, I can perform what I write, man I’m with that. So that’s how I ended up performing poetry. Between my two teachers and this girl that I liked, it led me to expressing myself on the stage and it was wonderful.
3 Voices: You were featured on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam multiple times. How did that come about and what was that experience like?
Ivy: The Def Poetry experience was amazing. At the time when the auditions were happening for Def Poetry, I had been hearing about Def Poetry for a couple of years. There were talks of Def Poetry, about Russell Simmons doing Def Poetry Jam. So there was talks for a couple of years and I was hearing that a show was coming soon. At the time I had moved from Chicago to Nashville, so when I went to Nashville that’s when the show actually came to Chicago and the winner of the competition in Chicago was going to be selected to be on the show. So when I heard the news that I missed it, I was sick, so sick. I felt like I missed my opportunity, my chance.
So at the same time I met a manager in Nashville and my manager linked me up with one of his friends in LA, this lady named Michelle. Me and my girlfriend at the time, she’s now my wife, but she was my girlfriend back then, we took a trip to LA, just to go and do some work, change up the scenery. The weekend we went out it just happened to be Michelle’s birthday, so we go to Michelle’s birthday party. She asked me and Tarrey to perform. We performed and rocked the little house party, it was a beautiful moment and the next week I get a call from her and she’s like, “Hey J, have you heard of this show called Def Poetry?”, I’m like, “I’ve been hearing about it for years and trying to be a part of it.” She’s says, “Well my father was at the barbecue and he loved you and he’s best friends with Stan Lathan and Stan Lathan is the director of the show and he told Stan all about you and Stan wants to meet you to see you perform in a show. You need to get back to LA. You have about a month to get back out here before he leaves town.” I said oh wow, that’s amazing. How am I going to get back to LA? I’m going to figure it out. The very next day I get a call from one of my buddies like, ”Hey J, I’m doing this show out here in LA. We don’t have much money, but we’ll fly you out here, put you up in a hotel and put your name on the flyer. The show is in Hollywood.” I said when is it? He says, “It’s in 3 weeks.” I said, man, put me on that show. He put me on the show, I go out and it was just so perfect, everything lined up perfectly. I go out to the show and I’m like well, Stan Lathan he’s a big wig, he’s not going to come out to see me. Right before I went on stage this guy came backstage and said, “Who is J. Ivy? Stan Lathan is here to see you.” I was like wow. So I went out there and when I say this was one of the best performances I have ever given in my life, it was just amazing. The energy was great. I rocked it and then after the show we talked and he was like, “Look, I’m doing this show Def Poetry, MosDef is the host, it’s in New York.” He was giving me dates for when the taping was and he said he couldn’t make the final word because it was a crew so he asked me to send in a tape. I sent in a tape and the next thing I know I’m getting a call saying congratulations, you have been selected to be on HBO’s Def Poetry.
The experience was like no other. The best way to describe it is like a sprinter making it to the Olympics. It was like, here I am, I’m running this race my whole life, doing what I love my whole life, but lo and behold I get to make it to the biggest stage that the world is going to see. The world is going to watch me do my thing and it was unbelievable. Just to be on that stage and get a standing ovation on that stage in New York, in front of all of these amazing people, it was amazing, to say the least.
3 Voices: You have worked with some major names in Hip Hop and around the world in general, such as Deepak Chopra, Kanye West, and Jay-Z. You are even credited for inspiring John Stephens to change his last name to Legend. How is it being in the industry and working with such talented people?
Ivy: It’s amazing. Whenever you have a gift, whenever you realize what your purpose is, whenever you let passion drive that purpose it’s always rewarding to be able to work with people who you can see that passion and that purpose in as well. It’s really amazing to see that on people and have the opportunity to work with them. Somebody like Kanye, to be in the studio with him, to see his energy, to see how he goes about creating, to hear what he creates, to be in that atmosphere is amazing. At the same time, it feels like home. It feels like where you should be. So to work with Kanye.To work with John.
I always have these moments where things just kind of happen. The night that I recorded Never Let Me Down, which was another crazy story, but the night that I recorded the song, we listened to Never Let Me Down a million times and after we listened to it Kanye was like, “Man J, you heard of this new singer named John Stephens?” I was like yeah, I’ve been hearing about him in New York. We were in LA in the studio. He was like, “Let me play you this song.” He played this song and the song was amazing. It was like a breath of fresh air. It was soulful, it felt familiar in the sense that it reminded me of something from the old school, but it felt new. It was something that was fresh and new. It was groundbreaking. So I hear the music, I’m amazed by it. An hour later John Stephens comes into the studio. I’m like, “What’s up John. I’m J. Ivy. I’m a poet from Chicago and I heard your music. Your music is amazing. It reminds me of that music from the old school. It reminds me of the music my folks would listen to. You sound like one of the legends. You’re a legend, dawg. You’re a legend. Matter of fact, that’s what I’m going to call you from now on, I’m going to call you The Legend.” So I started calling him John the Legend. John Legend. So a couple of days later, we’re still in the studio and nobody heard this conversation but me and him. A couple of days later, we’re in the studio in the lounge, it was like 10 of us in there and in walks John Stephens. So you know when somebody walks into the room everybody was like John Stephens, John Stephens in the house. I was like John Legend and everybody looked at me and then looked at him and was like, Oh, that’s your new name. Kanye was like, “That’s your new name from now on. You’re John Legend from now on!”
To be a part of moments like that, to have the opportunity to use your gift on a grand scale is a blessing. I think the biggest thing about working with anybody, even just working on my own work I’m just filled with gratitude to have this gift. I don’t know why I was chosen to have it. We all have our gifts, I don’t know why I was given this specific gift, but I’m so grateful for it. Those moments are beautiful reflections of that. So I’m thankful for it.
3 Voices: Tell us about your music collective, Diggin’ In The Papes.
Ivy: Yeah, I love Diggin’ in the Papes. If you haven’t heard it, go get it! It’s actually a free download that I have online. What it is, Diggin in the Papes for me is, I have a lot of music that I have created that people haven’t heard. You get in the habit of creating and then you’re on to the next and you’re on to the next and you’re on to the next and some of those joints might not necessarily make it on a project. So I have a lot of joints like that, but at the same time I’ve done a lot of really dope collaborations with different artists over the years. Like I have a collab with Slum Village and I did a joint with Crooked I from Slaughterhouse, did a joint with my man Knowledge from Kids in the Hall, did a joint with Mikey Rocks from the Cool Kids. So there are all of these joints that I’ve done with people. I did a joint with Carl Thomas. All of these different collabs and what happens is when I do a song with somebody, I’ll throw it in my J. Ivy playlist on iTunes, so I listen to these songs back to back to back. I’m like man, these sound dope back to back to back so I’m going to put out a project called Diggin’ in the Papes. Instead of digging in the crates what poets do is we go through our notebooks and our notepads and we go through our journals and we look up some of the older pieces that we’ve written. So what I wanted Diggin’ in the Papes to be was a reflection of that. Me going through these different joints that I’ve done on my own or with other people and just put them and create this collective so people can hear them like I hear them.
It’s just volume 1. I have so many of them. I’m going to do a few volumes. I’m going to put them out every so often. It’s on my website, j-ivy.com. It’s dope, and I’m super critical so if I say it’s dope, it’s dope.
3 Voices: You have a book coming out at the beginning of the year called, “Dear Father, Breaking the Cycle of Pain”. What inspired the book and what can people expect from it?
Ivy: The book wasn’t inspired by a poem called Dear Father, which I wrote after going through years of carrying a lot of weight, a lot of pain in regards to my father not being in my life. When I was younger he was there. He was a DJ on the radio and I would listen to him. He used to be on VON for a while and other stations around Chicago and around the country. He traveled around doing different stations and I would listen to him on the radio before I went to school in the morning. So my pops was there when I was younger and then drugs became a factor, alcohol became a factor. Fights broke out between my folks. They ended up separating. Later on they got divorced and I didn’t see or hear from my pops for 10 years. So as I was starting off in manhood. I think the thing that anyone does when they get of age; they start to look at who they are. You try to find yourself. With me trying to find myself, naturally I’m going to look at where I come from and really hurts that my pops wasn’t there.
I went through this whole ordeal. I went through spells of anger, of depression, just feeling worthless, feeling devalued, feeling like I didn’t have a place, like I didn’t have a voice, no one would care. You know just feeling like crap. It got to the point where I was talking to one of my cousins and my cousin, she said the only way you’re going to be able to get over this is you’re going to have to learn to forgive. So after some time I decided to take heed to her advice and I forgave my father. It was a Thursday night and 2 weeks later, out the blue, my father calls me and we have this reconnection and I went to go see him. I talk about this more in depth in my book, but we reconnected. A year and a half after we reconnected he passed away. So now I’m going through this rollercoaster of emotions and I’m just lost. So I got to the point where I was tired of that feeling, I was tired of feeling down. I was like, man, I’m a happy, upbeat dude. I like to bring to people. I like to have good times. I know we’re not promised tomorrow, so I want to make the most of today and every day that I am blessed with having. When I’m feeling down I feel like I’m being cheated. I’m cheating myself out of those feel-good moments. So it got to the point where I was tired of it, so I was like, I’m going to write a poem to my father. So I write this poem, or this letter to my father and immediately I could feel this weight being lifted off of me. The more I would read it and later the more I would perform it, I would just feel lighter and lighter and lighter. It was a sad poem, there were tears on the page when I wrote it, but it was the happiest poem I had ever written because it made me a much better man and a much better person. It allowed me to grab hold of the happiness that was escaping me.
So with the book I wanted to tell this story of this journey. I wanted to tell this story of the power of forgiveness and how I was able to find this healing from this one poem or this one letter. I wanted to use this book to inspire others, so one of the things that we’ve done is create a community service component called Dear Father Letters. We’re launching a website at the top of the year, dearfatherletters.com. The goal is 1 million letters written, 1 million hearts healed. So I want to use this book as a tool to inspire people to write a letter to their father, whether the relationship is good, bad, or ugly. I want to continue to have this conversation because we need the healing. Our community is broken, fathers aren’t home and people are lost. I want to help break through that pain. I want to help break through that cycle. That pain that we continue to find ourselves in.
3 Voices: What is next for J. Ivy? Are there any exclusives you can share?
Ivy: The older I get I have found that it is important to focus on one thing at a time. Being creative I have a thousand ideas, so focusing on one at a time, I know I have Dear Father right now, but then as I start to step towards the next solid project and the next solid goal that I want to accomplish is releasing my album, Life After Life. It’s an album I have been working on for a while. I was actually working on it years ago and ended up putting out two other albums. This album called Here I Am and Diggin’ in the Papes. So I’m finally ready to put out Life After Life, I would say coming this summer. Probably at least a single at the top of the year. We have a song called I’m From Chicago and we’re probably going to kick it off with that. To start giving people a taste of what’s to come. I have a lot of projects, a lot of big beautiful things, but that’s where we’re at right now. Look out for Dear Father, it’s coming out on January 27th, 2015. It’s on Barnesandnoble.com, amazon.com, you can find it and get it on your Kindle. I’m also working on the audiobook, so look out for that as well.
3 Voices: How can the people reach out to you on social media sites such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.?
Ivy: Please hit me up. I’m on Twitter and Instagram, @J_Ivy. My website is j-ivy.com. You can find out where I’m performing at. My blog is on there. I like to post different, I call them photo poems. I take pictures as well, so I post a picture and write a poem for it. That’s something else I’m going to be working on. Down the line I have a little project coming up with that. I do different things like that so check me out on my site. My Facebook is J. Ivy, hit my fan page up on there. That’s where you can find me. I breakdance on Wednesdays on 83rd and Damen. I’m just playing. But definitely hit me up.
And there you have it! You heard it all from J. Ivy himself! Be sure to check out J. Ivy’s official website at j-ivy.com for every pertaining to J. Ivy. Continuous success J. Ivy and keep in touch!