Picked to Click 2013: #1. Lizzo
Photo by Emily Utne
#1. Lizzo: 87 points
"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.
See Also: Picked to Click official site
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."
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."
Stream Lizzobangers here.
Lizzo's Lizzobangers release show. Saturday, December 28 at Triple Rock Social Club. Tickets here.
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