Picked to Click 2013

The 23rd installment of Picked to Click, or when the rappers took over

Picked to Click 2013
Emily Utne / Hair and makeup by: Amber Rose Hair + Makeup / Special thanks to Cliche and Rewind Vintage for providing the accessories

Until last year, no rap act had ever won Picked to Click, City Pages' yearly poll of the best new local artists. Not Atmosphere (23rd in 1997), not Heiruspecs (24th in 2001), not Dessa (26th in 2007), and definitely not Prof (31st in 2006). A few who came closer include Brother Ali (4th in 2003), Kill the Vultures (3rd in 2005), and Maria Isa (5th in 2006), but only in 2004 did rap make the top two when P.O.S/Doomtree finished behind the Olympic Hopefuls. Finally in 2012, the Chalice edged out Pony Trash for the win.

Proving that hip-hop's enhanced Picked to Click presence wasn't an anomaly, Lizzo, Greg Grease, and GRRRL PRTY lead this year's group. (And yes, we know that some of that awareness stems from ties to the Chalice.) Sure, plenty of rappers have thrived here without a Picked to Click bump. But right now, Twin Cities hip-hop itself is on the podium. —Reed Fischer

"I'm so glad you ain't asked a question about being a woman in hip-hop," says Lizzo midway through a conversation with City Pages. That makes a whole music scene of us.

Everything you need to know on that topic is addressed on her debut full-length, Lizzobangers. "I ain't your hook girl, boo, I'm your feature/And I don't need your attention because of my features," she spits on the menacing "Hot Dish," one of several tracks that interweave autobiography with her brash artistic stance. Far from just another "rapper with a womb," Lizzo has an allure that's far more rarefied. This daughter of Detroit and Houston needed to be in Minneapolis for only about a split second before she started rebuilding it in her likeness.

A year ago, she, Sophia Eris, and Claire de Lune were only a few months into their existence as the bombastic party clan the Chalice, and barely had any songs to their name. Still, they became the first hip-hop group to win Picked to Click since it began in 1991. Now she's the only rapper to repeat that feat.

It's hard to imagine that Lizzo doesn't know that this is why she'll be photographed again at the City Pages offices in a few minutes. With her many wigs stowed in her silver Toyota, she's taking a break from opening for Har Mar Superstar on his fall tour to do several Twin Cities appearances. As we talk at a coffee shop, she's confident and expansive. Her gesticulating digits have nails that are white with pointy red tips — much like the foam hand Miley Cyrus thumped into Robin Thicke's crotch during the 2013 MTV VMAs. She says she didn't realize the similarity, but admits enduring some overlap with the rebel ex-Disney star. Miley's new album is called Bangerz, but then Lizzobangers is the one that actually bangs.

"I'm like, this isn't trap. This isn't boom-bap," she says, describing the beats she raps over with myriad cadences at her pointy fingertips. "What is it? It's dope. I call it superhero music. I think he makes superhero music."

The "he" of this scenario is Lazerbeak, a.k.a. Twin Cities rap collective Doomtree's beat architect and a spastic drummer on his MPC. Last year, they met at Fifth Element on Record Store Day after a performance of his instrumental beat tape Lava Bangers with Plain Ole Bill. "She was in the crowd and jumped onstage after and hugged us both and said she loved that record," he recalls. By a few tweets later, she, 'Beak, producer Ryan Olson, and hypeman Cliff Rhymes had decided convene in "a sweaty, smoky room."

When Lizzo tells stories, she imitates the voices of her characters and adds sounds effects. A whoosh escapes her lips to encapsulate what listening to Lava Bangers did for her writing. In the midst of the Chalice blowing up and the crumbling of another group, Lizzo & Larva Ink, she was creatively blocked.

"His chord progressions moved me a lot," she says, getting serious and displaying an accomplished flutist's knowledge of music theory. "This is so overused, but the Beatles have this thing where they go [hums a few bars]. It's a half-step down and a jump down to a minor third or something. It's so pretty to me. You can easily make someone cry. They're like [dramatic voice], 'Oh my god' like Jurassic Park. Music can literally, scientifically bring on emotions."

The emotions spilling out of Lizzobangers — using 'Beak beats from Lava Bangers as well as more recent creations — are varied. There are plenty of boasts and playful hooks, including one declaring, "I've got my batches and cookies." That one is a product of stream-of-consciousness talks with Eris, her tour DJ. "Things'll just come out of my mouth," she says. "She'll be like, 'Save that!'" As for "Go," Lizzo instructed Lazerbeak to slow it down to 60 bpm so that she could sing over it in a soulful, vulnerable fashion.

"She's naturally, insanely gifted," Olson says. "And is so gripped. Her natural musical grip is unfuckwithable. She knows what she wants to do and she's super good at it."

Part of this grip is an attention to what works onstage for more obvious "women in music" heroes like Beyonce and Tina Turner, but also Har Mar, Prof, and especially Mars Volta/At the Drive-In frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala. "That's my biggest example of controlled chaos," she says, alluding to her prog-rock(!) past. "'He didn't mean to scream like that, he didn't mean to throw the mic like that.' Yes he did."

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