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Creative genius J. Ivy talks working with Jay-Z, Kanye West and Fortune 500 companies

J. Ivy photo by Evan Iskovitz

J. Ivy photo by Evan Iskovitz

Do you most often actively seek inspiration or does it find you? Or is there a combination of the two?
It’s without a doubt a combination of the two. Inspiration hits you every day when you least expect it. Whether it be from a conversation, something you heard on the news, or something you observe out in the streets inspiration is everywhere. At the same time, being a poet, writer, and artist, I do seek it out when I get that itch to create.

What led you to art in general and to your art form(s) in particular?
I stumbled in to art so to speak. It was something that was always there but had gone unnoticed until Ms. Paula Argue, my high school English teacher, pointed out my “nice speaking voice.” From there, she literally made me do a show, which led to another show, which led to the next. At the same time, I was always good at writing notes to the girls and it wasn’t long after that my written flirts developed into a love for writing poetry. Along with my self-realizations, my late father, Jim Richards, was a DJ for Chicago’s popular black radio station, WVON, in the early-mid eighties. And his brother, Isaac Richardson, was the band director for Mississippi Valley State University’s legendary Magnificent 100, so it was always in me waiting to be discovered.

Have you and your artistry ever been involved in traditional business? If so, how?
My art became my business, my career. Performing and writing was always fun but time would reveal opportunities for me to make money and travel to showcase my talents. Shows like HBO Def Poetry, giving talks with Deepak Chopra, recording opportunities with Kanye West and Jay-Z, voice-over work for the NFL and NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” gifting John Stephens with the moniker John Legend, national ad campaigns for Verizon, Allstate, Bombay Sapphire, LRG Clothing, Sprite and McDonald’s, etc. my art of poetry, writing, ideas, performing, and voice-over talent have exposed me to a lot of business opportunities. Now maybe that’s not considered traditional, but it has been business nonethe less.

In addition to mastering their art, what other skill sets to you recommend that artists develop if they want to be successful?
With art, or with making a living from your art, you must develop creative ways for getting your work to the world. With any career it’s all about networking. Most artists naturally want to spend most of their time creating, but exposure is vital to your career and your art. People want to work with people that they have good relationships with. When opportunity that suits you becomes available, you want to be on the minds of those in position to extend it. Both your art and your presence have to stay fresh and relevant. Like the old saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind…”

How do you stay at the leading edge of your craft?
I stay at the lead by being open to the change that the world constantly brings. You have to be able to adapt to the evolution of life. When you evolve so does your art.

Do you think that there are any widely held misconceptions about art and/or artists? If so, what are they and how do you work to dispel them?
The biggest misconception that I have faced is the starving artist theory. All artists aren’t broke and struggling. Yes there are challenges but no different than any career one might choose to pursue. Life is full of ups & downs. The emotional, physical, and financial swings are not reserved for artists alone.

How do you map out your goals? How do you measure your success?
I map out my goals by what current message I’m looking to share with the world and what medium I’ll use to do it, whether it be literary or musical. I measure my success by the completion of those goals and how they help or affect others.

Who do you consider to be your peers in your field? Who do you see/use as examples for you to emulate?
Poetical peers include Jessica Care Moore, Black Ice, Malik Yusef, Saul Williams, Lemon, Sunni Paterson, Georgia Me, Abyss, Poetri, Shihan, etc. In my field of entertainment my peers include Tarrey Torae, Dave Chapelle, John Legend, Deon Cole, Common, Talib Kweli, Jill Scott, Coodie & Chike, The Roots, etc.

I am inspired by many, but it is vital that I express my voice and my voice alone. For me, originality equates the core of creativity. Those that move me the most are those artists who have discovered their own voice, who are found in their own sound, and who are both liberated and liberating when they share their gift. I’m moved by those who have conquered their fears a countless number of times and have used their courage to create change. I believe strongly in that and apply the same ideals to my own craft. I work hard on emulating no man, woman, or child. I refuse to plagiarize someone else’s style. The day I do is the day that I stop being an artist.

Name two of your top role models: one in the art world and one from outside of it.
Actually I have four. And it’s only right that I go in order of us crossing paths. My first top role model in the art world is the late great Gil-Scott Heron, poet, singer, musician, pioneer. When I was attending and performing at Illinois State University, one of the advisors introduced me to one of Mr. Scott-Heron’s books titled, So Far, So Good. Pages into the book, I was blown away by his intellect, wordplay, and storytelling. In moments, my own creativity found new levels of freedom so naturally. I searched for more books and music always being captivated by his unique style. Years later, I was living in Nashville, Tenn. and was asked to open up for him. To perform in front of one of your idols and to later sit back and watch the master do his thing with his band was amazing for me as a young poet. It was liberating.

In the midst of discovering Gil-Scott Heron, I was blessed to read up on and listen to the sounds of the world renowned Last Poets. Living legends, I realized that I had known their work for years. They had a magnificent way of speaking with a magnitude of power and truth. You can feel the fire in their words. In 1999, I hosted and performed at a show for them in Chicago. Again, it was liberating and beyond cool to meet, kick it, and rock with those you admire the most. When I moved to New York back in 2002, I discovered that Abi Odun of The Last Poets hosted an open house every Sunday for poets and emcees at his home in Harlem. Like most young artists, he showed a tremendous amount of love and took me under his wing. We’ve built a lot over the years and he even extended me the honor of working with him by featuring one of my songs from my latest album titled, Little Brother. Love that brother!

In 2003, I was out in Los Angeles after working with Kanye when I met and sat down with the late great Mr. Ernie Barnes. Mr. Barnes, who forever transformed the art world with his unique and distinct style of painting, took an appreciation for my poetry. I couldn’t believe it! This was the same man who created landmarking works, which were featured on the 70’s hit sitcom, “Good Times,” the 1984 Olympics, and on the walls of mega stars. His most iconic piece, “The Sugar Shack,” was featured on Marvin Gaye’s I Want You album cover. Mr. Barnes became a good friend and mentor, guiding me on the human and artistic level. He passed four years ago and is truly missed.

Outside of the art world, my biggest role model is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. MLK’s fight for peace and the voice, passion, and heart he used to express it has always moved me beyond words. When I discovered the stage and picked up a microphone I wanted to have the same effect on the people. He made me want to inspire dreams and hope. He made me want to spark change and cause a beautiful ripple that would forever transform society for the better. I know I said four, but the same goes for Michael Jackson. These great men have truly set a positive blue print for building a loving world.

Name three books, works, performances or exhibits that changed how you view life and/or yourself.
The Bible; Gil Scott-Heron’s So Far, So Good; Nathan McCall’s Makes Me Wanna Holler; James Redfield’s The Celestine Prophecy; Alex Haley’s The Biography of Malcolm X, the film Hidden Colors, Ernie Barnes entire collection, the movie Rudy, the first Star Wars trilogy, The Roots live show, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, A Tribe Called Quest, Common, Earth, Wind, & Fire, and Roy Ayer’s music, Seeing Michael Jackson in concert when I was a young, etc, etc…

Why do you consider continued learning important?
Knowledge truly is power. Learning equates growth. Growing equates bettering one’s self. Personally, bettering myself, betters my art.

What affirmations do you repeat to yourself that contribute to your success?
My own personal quotes, “Dreams don’t come true, they are true,” “If you don’t deal with your emotions, one day your emotions will deal with you,” and “Every decision made is based in either Love or Fear. I choose Love.”

What role does art have in the community? What role would you like to see art play in the community?
My art is a source of healing. It’s a reminder of the strength and beauty we all possess. It’s a sound off for hope, peace, and love. My art is a form of power that reflects the power in all of us. This is the role my art plays and it is the role that art has always played in the community. Art is educational. The more we create, the more we learn. Especially amongst the youth.

What role does technology play in your day-to-day life? How do you utilize it?
Technology plays a huge role in my day-to-day. From using my computer to write, create songs, record voice-overs to using my iphone to communicate via email, text, Twitter (@J_Ivy), Instagram (@J_Ivy), YouTube, Facebook, or Tumblr to researching stories and information on the Internet, it’s constantly a great resource. There’s also www.J-Ivy.com.

What software, app or other technological innovation has made the biggest difference in your life and/or career?
As previously mentioned, the social media tools allow me to freely and consistently reach out to the world. I’m just a button away.

Please define your personal brand.
I use my art to heal and transform myself and others. I use my art to remind us of our purpose. I use my voice to echo positive vibrations in hope of effecting a positive change. My art, which spans from performing poetry acapella to jamming out with a band to hosting events to mentoring children has set trends of believing strongly in one’s self and fighting for those beliefs. Poetry is a platform that reaches the unreachable. In an instance a chain of words can shape and shift pain into power. Poetry saves lives, so I use my poetry to do just that.

What is your favorite vacation destination and why?
Favorite is a strong word. I love Whistler, Canada. I love Jamaica. I love Aruba. I love Carlsbad, Calif. I love Miami, Fla. I love, love, love traveling specifically for the sense of the peace it brings me, but I’m still exploring the world and think it’s too early to deem one place my favorite. My favorite destination will be that place that I will want to spend the rest of my days. It will be that place that breathes peace in every step I take. It will be that place that speaks to my soul. When I find it, I’ll let you know.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
If I could change one thing about the world it would be that people saw, knew, and acted as if we are all one, because we are. As humans we get so caught up in the divisions that have been outlined for us to follow. The race divide, the economic divide, the religious divide, the division of neighborhoods, cities, states, and countries. If we realized we were all one. If we realized the value of the spiritual experience, this would truly be heaven on Earth.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I love me for who I am. I love my strengths and weaknesses because they make me who I am. I wouldn’t change them because I would no longer be me. However, I am looking to continue growing and becoming a better me.

What does it take to be iconic? In your estimation, who has achieved that status?
To be iconic you have to be completely free from the chains of fear. You have to work harder everyday. You have to believe in yourself despite what others say. You have to embrace failure, knowing it’s a part of your lessons. You have to push forward with your purpose. You have to wear your cape and not forget that it’s there. Everyone wants to fly, but a lot of folks are afraid to leap. I believe that Jesus, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Oprah Winfrey, President Barack Obama, Harriet Tubman, Fredrick Douglass, Jay-Z, Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smallz, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, Will Smith, Deepak Chopra, Michael Jordan, and Muhammad Ali all exemplify this.