What does it mean to be an artist?
For Divi.jpg, there are many answers. Born Divine Ikpe, she’s a visual artist in many forms: photography, oil painting, drawing, collaging. They’re getting a master’s in art therapy from Pratt Institute. And she’s a singer-songwriter who has created a creepy, captivating sound through two releases: Ouch… in 2023 and Oh! My heart… in 2022.
The latest release is a deeply personal look at the ups and downs of searching for and being in love. It was written, produced, and released in one year, resulting in an intimate, detailed collection of songs compared to the years of accumulated work showcased on Oh! My heart… From their light blue bedroom in Atlanta, Ikpe tells me over Zoom, “It’s more of a snapshot of this particular period in my life… Music is a form of catharsis.”
Ouch… starts with “6PM,” a plodding exploration of a relationship close to its end. On top of a sharp violin and quick plucking, Ikpe sings, “Obsessed with who I think you are / obsessed with what could be, be … but for how long / can we keep this going on? / forever’s way too infinite.” Ikpe’s songs are thumpingly electronic with classical influence, and both the sound and the lyrics of “6PM” set the tone for the rest of the album. Musically, it has an orchestral tinge that comes across as eerie and ominous; lyrically, they explore questions of young love. Ikpe cited FKA twigs as a major influence—it makes sense, then, that Ouch… feels MAGDALENE-esque: sorrowful, desperate, vengeful—along with Marina and the Diamonds and Caroline Polachek.
The next track, “6AM,” begins with the same haunting violin before picking up and becoming much more poppy and punchy. It’s about the acceptance and recovery of a partner leaving: “For a second I actually thought it would last / I was foolish, naive / thought I wouldn’t leave, for once / I was foolish, naive / thought you wouldn’t leave, oh fuck, fuck.” Admonishment is plentiful on Ouch…, both of self and others—and the anger-meets-sadness in Ikpe’s strong voice demonstrates a familiar breakup feeling.
The rest of the album oscillates between these rhythms, with some slower melancholic tracks and some more dancey upbeat ones. Ouch… definitely reads as a breakup album, and across all the songs, Ikpe explores every side of love, both the good and the bad. She conveys, with ease, the pain of a breakup, the fury of being scorned, the relief of being out of a relationship, and the struggles of being single. On “Respite,” they thank a partner for leaving (“Goodbye / glad you’re not in my life”); then, two tracks later, on “Single :P” she wishes to have one again (“My heart longs for many / will I ever be satisfied? / I thought I was for a little bit / but perhaps that was a lie”) while relatably lamenting their relationship status (“The single life is fun in theory / but everybody is so flakey! / Why don’t men know their fucking schedules?”).
They released their debut album, Oh! My heart…, exactly a year before Ouch…. Ikpe chose her birthday, February 26, to be the release date, largely due to having a weird relationship with the day and wanting people to focus on the music more than her birthday. “There’s also some symbolism on the cycle of life, as always, the importance of that day being the reason I exist, and therefore my music exists,” Ikpe said.
Oh! My Heart… is also a thoughtful, intriguing album, but not quite as tight as Ouch…. Ikpe’s development as an artist within that year is evident. “My first album was less focused than my second. It’s about Atlanta, anti-capitalism, other things. Basically, just me figuring out myself,” they share. Ouch… feels more centered and concentrated, both lyrically and sonically. A friend who regularly mixes and masters songs recorded the album, as opposed to her first album, which a different friend recorded on a home microphone, imposing distorting effects on Ikpe’s voice.
Present on both albums are mysterious-sounding instrumentals inspired by various sources. Hyperpop somewhat inspires Ikpe, but she revealed most of that sound comes from a love of dark classical music, as they played viola through middle and high school and especially admired Vivaldi and Tchaikovsky. Other mediums come into play as well, such as the moods of A24 films like Midsommar, Hereditary, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, in addition to other unsettling thrillers like The House that Jack Built, House (1977), Suspiria (both 1977 and 2018), and The Lobster. “When I’m producing, I don’t actively think, ‘I want this to sound scary.’ Most of the time, it just kind of happens, and I’m, like, ‘yeah, that sounds cool.’”
Despite being a multi-dimensional artist, Ikpe has certainly proven her propensity for music and her ability to cultivate a sound that is truly unique yet consistent enough to be easily recognizable. And with a third album on the way, they aren’t stopping anytime soon. Inspired by her friend’s passing earlier this year, Ikpe has been working on another album, which she plans to release on June 12, their friend’s birthday. Though the entire album is not about death, writing music has been a way for Ikpe to process their mourning. “It’s about different kinds of grief: not only the grief of losing my friend but also the grief that comes with other kinds of life changes. Grief of breakups, grief of friend breakups, grief of losing the love I had for Atlanta,” Ikpe said. “I think this will be my most personal album yet.”