The Chalice take hold of hip hop

From left: Claire de Lune, Sophia Eris, and Lizzo
Shea Dunn

"When women come together and are great, it's magical and it explodes." This is the voice of Lizzo, one-third of the Chalice, a Minneapolis hip-hop revelation. The 24-year-old singer-rapper with an intricate head of long braids can be brash and hilarious, but she's laying it down like brick and mortar at the moment. "Destiny's Child," she continues. "No one knew it was going to hit like it did. When you see Missy Elliott, and it's a roomful of dudes, it's not because she's female, it's because she's great."

During an hour-long interview with City Pages — between sips of ginger ale and cold-press coffee in Icehouse's outdoor seating area — inspirational figures including TLC, SWV, Erykah Badu, and Lauryn Hill burst forth from Lizzo and her collaborators Sophia Eris, 24, and Claire de Lune, 22.

The three — a mix of energy, colorful ensembles, and confident self-knowlege — are proving Lizzo's explosive point. There's an undeniable je ne sais quoi simmering at this table as they unpack stories, in-jokes, and wisdom they've accumulated in less than a year as a group. And yeah, this is not just any three women who decided to form a hip-hop group in the Twin Cities. She says she's from Detroit, but Lizzo's voice and experience are also colored by a decade of gospel and marching bands in Houston, and she's been in Minnesota only since moving here with a bandmate in another group, Johnny "Larva Ink" Lewis, about a year ago.

"The Chalice was so important to me because I saw so many powerful women in this scene, and none of them were united," says military brat Eris, who always seems to have her hair wrapped up in colorful cloth. She came here from Ohio earlier this decade to study music business at the Institute of Production and Recording (IPR). Claire de Lune, who lived in New York City until age 12, is the closest to being a local. After spending a few years in St. Peter, she attended the Perpich Arts High School and began singing in coffee shops. Eventually she began forging bonds with local rappers like TruthBeTold of the Tribe and Big Cats! and has appeared on tracks with MaLLy and Guante.

"I've always said women need to have each others' backs, but then I was always working with dudes — singing hooks with dudes," de Lune says. "I was like, that's really hypocritical of me. To say one thing is the nearest and dearest to me and then do something entirely different. I remember thinking I'm finally putting my money where my mouth is."

Lizzo and Eris met at last year's Red Stag Block Party, and they excitedly shout out the songs they sang with a group of karaoke revelers at the VFW later that night. With a shared love of Destiny's Child hits "Bootylicious" and "Say My Name" and Salt-n-Pepa's "Whatta Man," the two eventually became roommates, and started experimenting with music. By November, de Lune had linked up with them for a song that needed a hook, the attitudinal "Push It," which nods to their rap foremothers and is completed with her sultry delivery of "Whatcha gonna do to me."

All three Chalice members sing — and sigh and harmonize and emote — on the We Are the Chalice EP, but poet Eris and "beast with an inner beat" Lizzo are firmly the rappers of the crew. Recorded at Waterbury Studios with Eric Blomquist, the eight tracks feature production work by Larva Ink, Big Cats!, Prophis, OD, and 2% Muck. "Mama" impressively mines Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" for its refrain, and breaks off with pistol-toting power that flies in the face of the conscious-rap tone found abundantly in the Twin Cities — without coming off as pop pandering. Similarly, "W.E.R.K." employs the playfulness popularized by Nicki Minaj, but is its own creature altogether. "Look like a girl/Act like a lady/Think like a man/But work like a boss," is the repeated mantra, and it shows in the way the Chalice carry themselves onstage and off.

Backing the Chalice for their release show at 7th St. Entry are area soul-flavored rockers Sexy Delicious, and it's part of yet another fortuitous situation that these women have orchestrated in the weeks leading up to the concert. The calculated way they talk about each other and every step taken this year — even a few errant negative YouTube comments following their exposure on the Current are seen as the needed fuel to keep an edge — it's an art in itself.

"Not to say that we haven't worked our butts off — because we've worked our butts off — but the Chalice was super charmed from the beginning," de Lune says. "Something about the three of us together feels like kismet, fate, charmed...whatever you want to call it. Let's nurture it and help it along. It's something bigger than the three of us."

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