INTERVIEW

Minneapolis based rapper Lizzo once refused to speak for three months, except for when she was walking the streets singing Beyonce songs at the top of her lungs

lizzo

“I would marry the Doughboy. Just imagine that!” Lizzo is currently explaining the exploits of a drunken drive from Brighton to London. Just to be clear, she wasn’t driving. She was in the back playing ‘Fuck, Marry, Kill’. “And what if Godzilla has a spiky little member? I don’t wanna deal with that. So I would kill Godzilla for humanity, have sex with Mr Clean because he has a real nice body, and marry the Doughboy because it would smell like cookies all the time and I love cuddling. I will cuddle with dogs, humans, pillows…”

Raised in Texas and matured in Minneapolis, Lizzo has been blessed with the gift of the gab. That’s probably why she became a rapper. Seated in an east London pub, I quickly deduce that she can run with any subject and take it in unexpected directions. Much like her slick, quick-fire rhymes, which can go from tackling boobies and doobies to tax evasion in less than two minutes (as in her debut single ‘Batches and Cookies’). So you won’t be surprised to hear that the young MC is now discussing “Mr Smelly Nose”, a bear with a scratch-and-sniff schnozz that she cuddles when she’s at her mum’s house in Denver. “It would remind me of Christmas and good times,” she swoons, “but you can’t really smell his nose any more because it’s been years and everything’s scratched off. I don’t sleep with anything, but I’d like to find a human teddy bear to cuddle with.” At this last remark she emits an infectious, heart-warming laugh and you can’t help but join her. This big, bubbly personality of Lizzo’s has had folk lining up alongside her throughout her life to be a part of whatever madcap girl group she happened to be conjuring up at the time.

Back in third grade, when Lizzo was nine years old and people still called her by her birth name, Melissa, the songstress enlisted her first cohorts in a pop outfit called Peace, Love & Joy (she was Joy). But she soon realised that while she took the music deadly serious, the others were just playing around. “All we did was draw and write happy little pop songs like the Spice Girls,” she elaborates, “but move forward a couple of years to fifth grade, when I saw Destiny’s Child, then I started actually writing songs in my room and forming these groups – motley crews of girls. I remember auditioning girls over the phone.

“Then cut to Cornrow Clique in eighth grade, which was my group of best friends at the time, and that’s where I got my nickname Lizzo because everyone was dropping the last part of their name and replacing it with an ‘o’. We were hanging out at the YMCA and heard Diamond’s verse on Crime Mob’s ‘Knuck if You Buck’ – ‘I come in da club, shakin’ my dreads, throwin’ dem bows, and bussin’ dez heads’ – and we all wanted to be like this! That’s when I started finding confidence in my rapping.”

It was also around this time that Lizzo became obsessed with the flute. Learning this instrument played a big part in her cadence, which is now a melting pot of all the greats – Missy Elliott, Andre 3000, Busta Rhymes – but that took time to refine. “The way my flute teacher described me, is that I would start off too big. I was wild. I was playing everything really fast and efficiently, but I wasn’t doing the right fingering. It’s like when I started singing, I would close my eyes and scream and roll around. I just had this big energy, this big style that I had to learn how to refine because it’s raw and gross sometimes. If you’ve heard some old stuff I’ve done, it’s horrible.”

Before little Lizzo even began screaming, however, she stopped using her voice altogether. “When I dropped out of college and moved to Denver with my family I got really depressed and stopped talking for three months. My mum got really frustrated and I didn’t talk to my brother either. But every night I would go out, listen to Beyoncé – at the time her latest album was ‘B’Day’ – and that was the only time I used my voice, to sing Beyoncé songs whilst walking. I wanted to sing but I had a terrible voice, so I started to sing every night and in three months I felt like I was a better singer. Finally I felt vindicated. Now my friends tell me that was a vow of silence, like a monk.”

With her voice firmly found, Lizzo joined Jonny Lewis in trip-hop duo Lizzo & The Larva Ink in 2011. The two soon moved to Minneapolis to make it big, but the band soon broke up and by 2012 our protagonist formed R&B trio The Chalice with Claire de Lune and Sophia Eris – the latter of whom has stuck by Lizzo’s side in their all-gal hip hop troupe Grrrl Prty and in Lizzo’s solo crew. “It’s been a journey,” admits Lizzo. “I feel like I’ve been in love with music for so long. Like if you were in love with your best friend, but you never realised until now and then you get married – that’s how I feel with music. We just got married, but we’ve been best friends forever.”

Now Lizzo is 25 going on 26, she’s toured extensively with extroverted funkateer Har Mar Superstar, befriended MacaulayCulkin (catch his cameo in the video for her new single ‘Faded’), laid down guest vocals on Clean Bandit’s forthcoming record ‘New Eyes’, and is about to celebrate the re-release of her Laserbeak- and Ryan Olson-produced debut album on Totally Gross National Product, the label co-owned by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. The LP, ‘Lizzobangers’, is 13 tracks of punchy, crunk-laced hip hop with soulful vocal licks and fireball bars that ape Missy and Andre.

You may have noticed I name-dropped those two hip-hop juggernauts earlier – that’s because their influence on Lizzo’s sound is undeniable. “Yeah, oh God, so influenced,” she agrees before justifying that although she admires these artists, she never tries to duplicate them. “I refined my style to this nice laser point and that is what makes me – no one can have that laser point. If I did listen to Missy and try to write like her, then there’d be no separating me from her because if you’re trying to be Missy Elliott then you’ll never be yourself.

“Missy visually and stylistically influenced me, plus her confidence in who she is as a person. Ludacris is definitely an influence – his precision. When he raps fast, you can hear it, it’s so amazing. Destiny’s Child too and Gospel music in general.” But what about lyrical inspiration? Lizzo assures me this is a whole other ball game. “When I’m inspired to write a song it’s normally because a.) I’ve got a great track, or b.) I wanted to express myself because I was very sad or very happy. Sometimes I’ll think: ‘Has someone ever made a dolphin sound while rapping?’ and I’ll make a weird sound, or I’ll imagine something wacky like a big heart appearing over my head or teardrops coming out of my eyes like in Japanese animation.”

As well as her nutty imagination, Lizzo will also pull lyrical content from everyday life. “Like ‘Batches and Cookies’,” she explains. “I was walking down the street with Sophia and I said that I had a book idea – ‘Get it, Batch’ – and I was like, ‘I got my batches and cookies, girl’. And I was in a bar with my old publicist, who told me: ‘Sucky people marry suckers and they suck’, and I wrote that down! There are lines people say that are amazing and they don’t even realise that could be a song.

“No one just sits and writes a song and says: ‘This is my song about beaver rights’, and then they write a song about beaver rights. That’s contrived. I think that’s the most interesting part of a song – what influences it.”

To gather new experiences and stories for her follow-up record, Lizzo tells me she’ll be moving around a lot and trying “different styles in different environments”. The hardworking woman already spent time in a cabin with Olson and ’Beak in January this year getting creative in one extended freestyle session with fellow Minneapolis musicians and label mates Jeremy Nutzman and Isaac Gale. In addition to her solo shtick, Lizzo is still working on Grrrl Prty material, is seeking new collaborations and isn’t showing any sign of letting a single project drop. “Luckily I have an extensive team of people who are making the right decisions,” she grins. “Like when there should be a Lizzo gig and when there should be a collaborative Grrrl Prty gig – the wisest thing business-wise. It’s great because Grrrl Prty does have a chance of going massive, but it’s impossible to balance things if you don’t do it with a great team and luckily we have that.”

If it wasn’t for this team of experts Lizzo never would have had time to record the two new tracks that have been added to the re-release of ‘Lizzobangers’ – ‘Love in Maine’ and ‘Paris’. The latter – a gritty number with a raw beat – has been released as a single and aired on an episode of hit HBO series Girls in February. It was an exciting moment for Lizzo, who celebrated with an 18-hour Girls marathon with Sophia. “I fell in love with the show all over again,” she gushes. “I remember the first time I watched it, I was like, ‘oh my God’. Everyone is relatable and all of your girlfriends act like at least one of them. It’s amazing. So real!”

While we’re on the topic, I can’t resist another game of ‘Fuck, Marry, Kill’… “Uh oh!” Cries Lizzo before erupting with laughter. “Well, you’ve gotta kill Marnie, God bless her. I would marry Jessa, although I saw what happens when Jessa gets married – she just left. But I’m not that guy and we’d have a lot of fun because we’d travel a lot and not do drugs. Then I would definitely have sex with Hannah, because she obviously gets down.”

It’s been a bizarre journey that I’ve taken with this 20-something rapper from Minneapolis. I’m not quite sure how we got from snuggling up with the Pillsbury Doughboy to getting freaky with Lena Dunham, but that’s just the sort of wild way Lizzo’s eccentric character can end up leading you if you give her time.

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