Norwegian rapper Ivan Ave first garnered attention as the author of the Low Jams EP. The five-track project was released by Berlin label Jakarta Records in 2014 and quickly became the calling card of the Oslo-bred MC. His effortless flow and infatuation with entendres proved charming enough to elicit a cult following and distract from the sustained absence of a discernible narrative. Produced entirely by Mndsgn, Low Jams was a totem to the Golden Era hip-hop of Ivan Ave’s youth. It united two of the most promising talents on the international lo-fi scene and marked the beginning of a steady stream of projects from both artists. Ivan Ave’s 2015 collaborative album, Fruitful, was produced by fellow Norwegian and Mutual Intentions crew member Fredfades. Fruitful preceded his full-length 2016 debut album, Helping Hands, which found Mndsgn back on beats. Ivan Ave has released one project per year since the debut of Low Jams. The Kaytranada and Kiefer-produced single “Also” arrived at the top of 2017 to portend a new direction. Making good on that promise, Every Eye is the first project in which Ivan Ave ventures to add fresh blood to the mix, placing Kaytranada, DJ Harrison, Sir Froderick, Dam-Funk, and Kiefer behind the boards alongside Mndsgn and Fredfades. It is also the first in which Ivan Ave’s infatuation with language evolves beyond the novelty of ornate but vacuous rapper’s rapper bars into a collection of coherent, timely, and carefully planned statements about life and the human condition.
Every Eye is an album about perspective and the role it plays in defining the human experience. In it, Ivan Ave pens letters across 14 tracks that examine the world through different lenses. Each questions the human tendency to see oneself through a narrow lens that allows individuals to overlook the value and experiences of people whose lives contrast with their own. Though his penchant for dishing out rap game braggadocio and chatting up women is a noticeable component of the songs on Every Eye, Ivan Ave’s familiar tropes are no longer a dominant factor. Instead, the writing is rooted in experiential wisdom and keen observations buoyed by careful musicianship that elevates his sound without alienating his core audience of bedroom beat junkies. The lyrics detail internal conflict, reflect the rise of fascism, champion the creative process, highlight missed opportunities, and pair sage advice with production that marks a clear transition from stripped-down boom-bap to an aesthetic informed by jazz and futuristic west coast boogie funk. The tracks are punctuated by archival audio from vintage public television broadcasts, which reinforce the project’s existential arguments with imagery that bests the vivid language that has become an Ivan Ave mainstay. Ivan Ave’s well-timed ad-libs complete the equation; his signature is a derivative of Pusha T’s concerted throat clearing that serves as an understated reminder of how sick his flow is.
“Monitor” is a crew love track produced by Mndsgn and Arthur Kay Piene that signals Ivan Ave’s return to form and serves as a prelude to the subsequent single “Steaming”. A sample of Cajun chef Justin Wilson discussing the merits of his dirty rice is a tip of the hat to the creative processes behind slow-cooked projects that thrive in an era where the demand for a constant stream of new material mirrors an impatient society characterized by smart phone- and fast food-driving convenience culture. “Steaming” is a feather light gem co-produced by Dam-Funk and Kaytranada. Second only to his vision, his shoes are the recurring thematic barometer that predict his movements as he seeks balance: “Looking inside for how to maneuver the madness/ Looking down at my shoes like/ Dude, look where we landed/ Looking at these masses/ Evolution pulling my strings, tryna re-brand shit.” DJ Harrison and Sir Froderick take the reigns on “Jellylude” and “One Eye”, which speak to their mutual respect for chromatic scales and the percussive diddy-bop of J Dilla’s production. “Warm Couture” is a trip back to Gza’s cold world that doubles as a clinic in delivering bars. Ivan Ave spins lines into garments to insulate himself ahead of “Running Shoes”, which finds him evading persistent fears over production from Kiefer and Like. He sums up his thoughts in the span of two celebrities: “From the bottom of my feet, I’m feeling problem-free/ Straight-up ignoring how it feels/ So, now I’m walking on a cloud like Aaliyah/ Sporting rare shit, lacing up some tartare beef/ I’m stopping the clock/ I ain’t ready to read R.I.P./ Stevie. No — my finish line being ribbons in the sky/ Running circles around my problems since about knee high.” The closing trio of “Squint”, “Old Eye”, and “Young Eye” suggest the importance of things like focus, defeating fears, and standing back in a forest to see the trees — keys to this criminally short and occasionally bittersweet life. His nod to television painter Bob Ross’ “happy trees” at the end of “Young Eye” reinforces the point with the sound of brush strokes and Bob’s soothing allusions to light.
Every Eye is billed as the follow-up to the Helping Hands album, but it deserves to be recognized as a singular release. It marks a calculated risk for Ivan Ave, in diversifying production partners and developing his storytelling chops. It is an example of the magic that manifests when MC’s balance showmanship with substance. The decision to step outside of the box has yielded the solid lyrical maturation that evaded Ivan Ave on previous releases. Still blooming in a drought years after the Low Jams standout “Obedience” first surfaced, Ivan Ave steps away from rap as he has known it to re-envision his own sound. In doing so, he refines his pen and captures a personal awakening that is formatted to force listeners to look at themselves and others. The rich sonic palette of Every Eye combines with honesty and an unfettered love for mankind that is not made plain very often in rap or life. Every Eye suggests the world might be made better by a bit more of both.
Essential Tracks: “Running Shoes”, “Warm Couture”, and “Old Eye”