Lizzo is an irrepressible, attitudinal rapper and singer who has worked her way through more musical projects by her mid 20s than most musicians manage in their entire careers. She was born in Detroit but grew up in Houston, Texas, where a teenage-hormonal fixation on emerging local colossi Destiny’s Child led her to form short-lived R&B girl groups, among them I.N.I.T.I.A.L.S. and Cornrow Clique. Ever the genre-surfer, she sang with progressive rock band Elypseas before morphing into half of electro-pop duo Lizzo & the Larva Ink.
Upon moving to Minneapolis in 2011, Lizzo ditched the Larva Ink to form another all-girl R&B troupe, the Chalice, and their more insurrectionary offshoot, GRRRL PRTY. She was then hit by a debilitating writer’s block before coming into the orbit of local hip-hop producer Aaron Mader, aka Lazerbeak, and Ryan Olson, mainstay of Gayngs and Marijuana Deathsquads and founder/owner of the hip indie Totally Gross National Product label. The resulting album, Lizzobangers, is an immersive delight for fans of both serrated, experimental hip-hop productions and entertainingly mouthy, old-skool Salt ‘n’ Pepa-style B-girls.
Hunkered down backstage in Bristol on her first tour of the UK, Lizzo spoke via Skype with Ian Gittins about self-belief, Beyonce and Bon Iver.
On growing up in Houston:
I listened to a lot of screwed music — DJ Screw and people like Zero and Mike Jones — plus a lot of gospel. My sister liked rock, like Radiohead and Incubus, and I used to tell her, “This shit is weird!” but secretly I was listening as well. Then Destiny’s Child started popping off locally: I skipped school in the fifth grade to go see them at Wal-Mart and their voices were so beautiful it gave me the chills and made me think, “I want to be able to move people like that.” So I’d write these little pop songs and make my friends sing them with me. We’d form girl groups and break up within a week. I still look to Beyoncé for inspiration even now.
On her unfeasibly eclectic musical resumé:
I was experimenting with different music, trying to find my voice. I had been a rapper since I was 13 but I was afraid to sing because everybody in my family had such a good voice. Mine wasn’t that good — I was like the John Lennon and everybody else was like Paul McCartney, with soulful voices. When I sang with the progressive rock band, I would get really drunk and then would just yell and scream — I would go “WAARGH!” like Cedric Bixler from The Mars Volta. It’s only in the last two years that I’ve learned how to refine my voice and blend with people and be a good singer and not just a character voice.
On moving to Minneapolis:
Johnny Lewis, my friend and my partner in Lizzo & the Larva Ink, is from Minneapolis and asked me to move there. At first, I wasn’t sure — “Man, I don’t want to move to the snow!” — but then I went to SXSW and met a few cool people from Minneapolis so I moved on a whim. As soon as I got there, I felt like I was at home, I was with family. Once I was there, I started doing the Chalice, who had kind of a whirlwind year, and GRRRL PRTY.
On overcoming writer’s block:
I got writer’s block, which made me mad, because writing is what we have, as rappers and musicians and singers, and when you can’t do it because something is blocking you, you feel pissed off. Then I heard Lazerbeak’s Lava Bangers mixtape and I was cured — superhero music! The first line I wrote was, “I wake up every day and feel like slapping a nigga!” because that was how writer’s block had made me feel. I don’t feel that way now. I’m a happy bitch.
On reaching out to Lazerbeak and Ryan Olson:
I tweeted at @lazerbeak, “I wish I could get on a Lazerbeak beat but I’m a broke rapper!” He tweeted right back: “I’m not that expensive.” I was, like, word? Then within five minutes, Ryan tweeted, saying, “I want in on this!” We became this dream team, with ideas bouncing effortlessly off us. Now I am affiliated with Gayngs as well. I met Justin Vernon of Bon Iver at Ryan’s house, and we chilled and kicked it until 4 in the morning, freestyling on AutoTune.
On Azealia Banks telling Iggy Azalea that white girls should not rap because it is black culture:
I have never met Azealia Banks but I have played shows with Iggy Azalea, who is a beautiful sweet person and a fine white girl with blonde hair, rapping like she’s from Atlanta when she is from Australia. There is nothing wrong with that — that’s what art is all about. Would you keep a black man from writing classical music, which is a predominately white area? I mean, who cares about color anymore? This is my rule: If you can spit, spit. If you can’t, please don’t. I don’t care what you look like.
On what 2014 holds for her:
I’m going to do more touring and I’m already working on a solo R&B album and another hip-hop album. GRRRL PRTY are gonna be dropping some stuff as well. So look out — there is going to be a whole lot of noise…