April 30, 2022

J. Ivy: Catching Dreams

AMBASSADOR DIGITAL MAGAZINE Editor- In-Chief Musa Jackson @iammusajackson has an in depth Q. & A with Grammy nominated award winning poet, spoken word artist, author, actor & songwriter J.IVY @j_ivy.  As we close out Poetry month we salute this handsome humble Chicago native who has already achieved heights, astounding acclaim and been a part of his generations most memorable works. J.Ivy has won the Clio, Peabody, Telly and NAACP Image awards. He was featured with Jay Z on Kanye West Grammy award winning album The College Dropout.


He narrated, acted and starred in B.E.T. documentary Muhammad Ali: The People’s Champ and the NAACP Image award nominated documentary Martin: The legacy of a King both directed by Coodie & Chike. J.Ivy wrote and narrated Beyoncé’s Black Is King. Most recently his 5th album CATCHING DREAMS: Live at Fort Knox Chicago was Grammy nominated for Best Spoken Word album  and he was the lead writer on Netflix Coodie & Chike helmed documentary Jeen- Yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy. He also gave John Stephens his world famous moniker John Legend. J.Ivy life and career is the stuff for which all poetry is made of.

My grandfather used to say, “If you can make it in Chicago you can make it anywhere.” I’ve found that to be very true. It teaches you how to vibe but it also pushes you to be great.


MUSA Tell us what it was like growing up in Chicago?
J. IVY Chicago is a city grounded in faith, hustle and go get it mentality. Hard working town. A lot of joy, and hard times. But Chicago teaches you how to make it anywhere in the world. My grandfather used to say, “If you can make it in Chicago you can make it anywhere.” I’ve found that to be very true. It teaches you how to vibe but it also pushes you to be great.
MUSA How did you get into poetry / spoken word?
J. IVY I had a teacher in Junior High School named Argue. What I learned is you’re not going argue with some one whose name is Argue. She had the students write a poem for homework then the next day she made us read that poem. She gave me an “A” on mine and told me I had a nice speaking voice. From there she had me do a show. The first time ever I got a standing ovation. After that it was, “Argue when’s the next show?” ( laughs)
MUSA Tell us how you got to write and narrate Beyoncé’s Black Is King?
J. IVY A buddy of mine name Sammy Silver hit me up. We were going to do the NBA finals hopefully with Michael Jordan but then when the pandemic hit all of that got pushed back. He hit me up later and said the NBA is coming back. They were going into the bubble. We’re promoting Black Is King and we want you to write and narrate the opening promo with Beyonce. I said, Yeah. ( laughs) That’s actually how it happened. We actually just won a Clio Award for it a couple months ago.

I love the art of storytelling and acting is another form of that. I’ve always wanted to and always dreamt I’d do it. I love becoming someone else.

MUSA You are known for HBO Def Poetry. What was that experience like?
J. IVY Def Poetry was incredible. I would describe it as if I was running track Def Poetry was the Olympics. It was incredible to come to New York to perform. Coming from Chicago and perform on that platform and know that millions of people were going to see it. I was a nervous wreck. I actually did it three times. Each experience was different and better. I got more relaxed. It had some of the most incredible poets from around the world. To know that you are in front of Stan Lathan’s camera and it’s a Russell Simmons production. You had Dave Chappelle, Lauryn Hill, all these incredible artists. It was a dream.
MUSA The College Dropout was a groundbreaking Grammy award winning album for Kanye West along with you and Jay Z. What was that like?
J. IVY That was like I made it to the mountain top. I was on a record with Jay Z and Kanye. This was early Kanye but all those who were around knew what Kanye was about to do and become. We knew he was a superstar. So to be on a record with those two. To have an opportunity when Coodie called me saying that Kanye was doing a record with Jay Z and he told Kanye to put me on the record. To go from that phone call then being in the booth recording, to it going out to the world and the world listening and responding. People reaching out to me sending me pictures of my words tattooed to their bodies. They got a verse on their arm or on their chest. It was just incredible to see the impact it made and still making.
MUSA (laughs) That’s an answer for you.
J. IVY I’ve been tatted. (laughs)
MUSA You have a considerable presence having narrated, acted and starred in Award winning B.E.T. documentary Muhammad Ali: The People’s Champ and the NAACP Image award nominated documentary Martin: The Legacy of a King as well appearing on the hit HBO series Grand Crew. Is acting something you prefer doing?
J. IVY I wouldn’t say it a preference but it’s something I love. I don’t prefer it over poetry but I love the art of storytelling and acting is another form of that. I’ve always wanted to and always dreamt I’d do it. I love becoming someone else.
MUSA So you were responsible for naming John Stephens into John Legend. How did that come about?
J. IVY Actually it was the same night I recorded “Never let me down” Coodie calls me on a Saturday next thing I know I’m flying to L.A. from New York to record. After I recorded Kanye kept playing “Never let me down” over and over again. After an hour or so went by he said, “have you ever heard of this singer named John Stephens?” I had been hearing about him in New York. Kanye puts this record on and it was incredible. An hour later John Stephens comes to the studio and I’m surprised that he’s there. I didn’t expect to see him or meet him. I told him his music sounded like it was from the old school. I said to him, “You sound like one of the legends. You a legend. Matter of fact that’s what I’m going to call you from now on. John the legend.” A couple of days later we are in the lounge. There was like ten or twelve of us in the lounge. Coodie, Chike, Tarrey, Kanye. In walks John Stephens and people shouting him out. I’m like, “John Legend!.” Everybody paused looked at me then they started saying it. But Kanye was the main one. Kanye was like that’s it. You’re John Legend from now on. That’s how he got the name John Legend.
MUSA You’ve known superstar Kanye, award winning filmmakers Coodie & Chike for twenty plus years and recently collaborated on the critically acclaimed documentary Jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye WestTrilogy for which you were the lead writer. What’s it like working with such amazing creatives who you have history with?
J. IVY It’s incredible..To work with Coodie & Chike…Kanye as well but we didn’t work hand in hand on this project. Creatively he wasn’t a part of the project. But working with Coodie & Chike, these are my brothers. So the love is definitely there. It’s always a beautiful flow to begin with. A respect that we have for each other.These guys are so brilliant because of the vision they have. We’ve worked on projects in the past from the Ali documentary, Martin Luther King documentary. I mean early on we did things together. Running around doing stuff. Even with College Dropout I wanted to with on the videos. “Jesus Walks” I shot some behind the scenes. So we’ve always had this relatability. So when it came time for Jeen-Yuhs. Coodie called me and was like we about to start working on Jeen- Yuhs and I want you to be the writer. I said, “Thank you! Let’s go!” He could of called anybody in the world for this project but having brothers who look out for you. Believe in you. Respect who you are as a man and as a creative is incredible. And for Kanye to see it and that same love and respect is there for him too.
MUSA Tell us about your 5th album the Grammy nominated CATCHING DREAMS: Live at Fort Knox Chicago?
J. IVY So I put down my album “Catching Dreams” in 2020 but due to the pandemic we couldn’t tour with it so we decided to do a live album. So we brought a band in and we filmed. We did a concert film, my performance and entire album with the band. With Tarrey singing. It was really something to have people experience the project because it was something I really believed in. Then I was like what the hell let’s submit it to the Grammys. Just cause I wanted the music that was featured and the stories that was told on the project to get more light. So we submitted it and didn’t think any more of it and it got nominated alongside Levar Burton, Don Cheadle, Dave Chapelle and Barack Obama in the Best spoken word category. It’s been a dream to take spoken word and stand on that red carpet in a suit that Musa helped coordinate and get me hooked up you know. ( laughs) Shout out to Guy Wood and Dede and 5001 Flavors. To stand on that stage, that platform was literally a dream. The morning of the Grammys I cried. I just kept crying. I had to talk myself out of it. I was like you better stop crying so your eyes aren’t red in these pictures. I had so much gratitude. It’s just amazing to see where you can go or where the art can take you when you decide to keep going.

MUSA What would you tell the next J.Ivy?
J. IVY I would tell the next J.Ivy to be super duper diligent. Focused. And know that wherever it is you want to go you will make it. Just as long as you are concise with your vision and work ethics. Just keep going and dream big very big but to focus. Have laser focus ‘cause there’s a lot you can do in the world. Like Coodie always says, “I’m not going to let my imagination get in the way of Gods manifestation.” So there’s so much that can be manifested. We just have to put one foot in front of the other. And go after it. You have to believe it’s going to happen.

Talent: J.IVY @j_ivy
Photographer: @citizenchance
Producer & Creative director: @iammusajackson
Looks: Epperson @eppersonn
Death to Tennis @deathtotennis
Zara @zara

Shot on location at BURN CULTURE STUDIO

Founder & Editor In Chief:

Musa Jackson @iammusajackson

Creative Director: Paul Morejón @Paulmorejon



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