Higher Education: South Side hip-hop phenoms Ivy League graduate to national fame

Ivy League courtesy of Ivy League

Ivy League, a rising hip-hop group from the South Side, is leading the “New School” of hip-hop. And it takes its leadership seriously by taking attendance, keeping its audiences in their seats, and teaching them exactly what they need to know: “[to] read between the lines [and] take [things] outta context.” Ivy League’s inspiration emerges out of concern, as group member Novakane explains, “at a time when the dropout rate of quality emcees is at an all-time high.” Ivy League observes, “Hip-hop is undoubtedly in need of a fresh crop of artists.”

Comprised of three members, Agacee, DJ Illa, and Novakane, Ivy League has been working together since its own college days at Northern Illinois University. Since then, the group has become well-versed and experienced in the growing underground hip-hop scene in Chicago, or as they call it, the “G-O.” Described as having “the most talented artists concentrated in any one city,” Chicago acts as Ivy League’s classroom; the group performs wherever it can, motivated by its love of the city. In fact, Ivy League credits its style to the place where its members grew up–right at 76th and Cornell and Stony Island.

Ivy League’s most recent success, however, happened outside the G-O’s grid. Performing a sold-out concert on MTV’s Sucker Freestyle New Year Show in New York City, Ivy League showcased its proud South Side flavor to the rest of the world. And with the help of their fans’ 102,000 online votes on MTV2.com, the group proved that it’s possible to bring local, underground music to the forefront of the mainstream industry. Introducing itself with its hit, “Jamaican Carl,” Ivy League kept their class’s attention with a tight flow of smart rhymes, compelling beats, and a nice hiss of alliterative “s” noises.

The group’s style is the product of a subtle balance of each member’s hip-hop panache. Mixing Agacee’s “controversial topics and flat out cocky wordplay” with Novakane’s “edgy, more street-oriented flow,” Ivy League puts out a refined sound, but still rough enough to “tap into what’s going on in the ’Hood,” says Novakane. The technical aspect of the group’s work is evident in DJ Illa’s beats; his complex use of sultry cascades of scales played by violins in “Tryin 2 Make It” rounds out Agacee’s urban tone and pulls it all together–consistent with Ivy League’s curriculum vitae of sound.

The group’s music, influenced by other hip-hop giants like Jay-Z, Run DMC, De La Soul and 8 Ball, is a testament to the its hard academic approach to bringing back a disappearing hip-hop aesthetic. In the group’s use of educative imagery–its name, its owl emblem, and its slogan–Ivy League strives to send a message through their music. In particular, Novakane brings attention to the need for fresh, smart music, explaining, “Education is very important to us and we grew up in a time where hip-hop was fun, but it still said something. We are taking [hip-hop] back to that.” Ivy League describes its sound as “timeless” and only achieved by “putting love” and passion into everything it creates. The group enlightens its listeners by giving critical attention to, as they describe, the “study [of] the art of song making and other genres of music” and not hustling their style for a quick hit. Like building any knowledge of a subject, Ivy League studies the fundamentals and pushes its skills along.

Take a look at the group’s emblem: an owl sporting a graduation cap, a letterman’s sweater and a thick gold chain. It’s obvious that Ivy League means to symbolize their fierce scholarship in hip-hop with the symbolism of an owl, representing wisdom and unwavering attention to its surroundings. But unlike an owl, whose movements are typically associated with a sustained and nocturnal perch, expect Ivy League to increase its credentials by spreading its wings. Keep an eye out for their established clothing line, Road Scholar, and the group’s upcoming album, “A League of Our Own,” in the early summer; just be prepared to pay a price because, after all, Ivy League’s “tuition is high”–but like all good education, worth the admission.

Find out more about Ivy League at www.ivyleagueil.com