Picked to Click 2013

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

Lizzo uses the metaphor of going off into the woods to describe the discordant place she was at during this time last year. The difference now, as she sees it, is that she's got a knapsack and a compass.

"I have been making ugly music for a long time," she says. "My rock band, you can look it up. I'm not ashamed of it. It's not the prettiest music. It was chaotic, it was rough, and I was rough. My whole thing has been about refining myself. I'm going to make beautiful music."

Over the past 12months, we've gotten to know a lot about Greg Grease, but this could be just the jump-off. The rapper, producer, storyteller, and musical collaborator won't let himself be confined to any one thing.

"I really just want to show people that there's more than one way of doing anything," Grease says. And then, as though to play down the importance of such a claim, he adds with a laugh, "I think I'm just trying to impress my friends a lot. And I have a lot of really good artist friends, so that probably plays into it."

One thing he's grown especially adept at, through recent records like 2012'sCornbread, Pearl, and Gand especially last spring'sBlack King Cole EP, is conjuring the reality of being young and black in this country. "There's so many different levels of life," he says. "I really just think I try to show the perspective of people who don't have their perspectives shown." He may not exactly be a "conscious" rapper, but there's no doubting the compassion of his work. "I was raised where actions speak louder than words, so I'm the type of person who wants to lead by example."

Grease spent a half-dozen years of his childhood living in Atlanta, Georgia, and those years played a crucial role in the other half of his musical equation, that of a producer. It was in Atlanta that he got his first taste of playing live music, first as a singer in the church choir ("Before I hit puberty," he jokes) and then as the drummer. Today, that southern-fried gospel flavor is still deeply ingrained in the thick, luxurious grooves of his music.

But in truth, Grease — an avid reader, a lover of films, and a would-be visual artist — draws on more than just music for his inspiration, even if it remains his central creative outlet. Thus, when he springs a surprise like jumping onstage with Marijuana Deathsquads for a set in New York, or remixing a Poliça song, it's all a piece of the same creative puzzle.

"Something I've always tried to do is make it so people can visualize it, to take them to a different place, you know," says Grease. As a rapper, he uses his words as though the songs are his canvas, tools to bring characters and scenarios to life with rich, crisp details. "My father raised me to be observant and just kind of sit back and watch what's going on. I try to just observe and then portray what I've seen."

The three entertaining ladies of GRRRL PRTY are captivating enough to host their own hip-hop version of The View. Instead, these friends' in-jokes and convivial banter color one of the area's most exciting new rap acts.

You already know Lizzo from the cover of this issue. Here, she's joined by Sophia Eris, her cohort from 2012's Picked to Click champs the Chalice. And then there is Manchita, who also collaborated with Lizzo in Tha Clerb, and has returned to Minneapolis after an extended sojourn to Chicago. Got it straight?

Conversations about the formation of GRRRL PRTY took place well before the Chalice came together and blew up on the scene. "These are the types of musical projects that people like to get into, you know what I mean," explains Lizzo. "It's not like one group or another; this is Minneapolis. So every time somebody wants to create something new it's completely acceptable. GRRRL PRTY is so fun, and so hip-hop, and fulfills so much of my N.W.A. tendencies."

A lot of ground gets covered in first single "Wegula," a song that evolved from a late-night run to White Castle. It's a sassy introduction, and showcases each rapper's unique power on the mic. Live, they're accompanied by the duo of DJ Lanae & the Hot Pants, and DJ Clean Drop.

"We just started making more and more songs, and we were like, 'Why don't we just do this?,'" Manchita says. "When you work well with someone you hold on, and you're like, 'This feels good, this feels right.' It was like when you've got a crush on someone, or when you're courting someone, and you get to hold hands or kiss on the cheek for the first time. I've always wanted to be on stage with a bunch of bad-ass chicks, so this is my dream right here."

Before any clever Kathleen Hanna comments figure in, know that any direct correlation with riot grrrl, the DIY '90s feminist punk movement, is purely coincidental. "Our manager said to us, 'Hey, do you know what riot grrrl is? You guys should look them up," admits Sophia Eris. "And when we looked it up, we were like, 'That's awesome.' And we feel like we do embody that new wave of feminist movement, but in the hip-hop realm."

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