As the South by Southwest schedule started to take shape, we started to get a sense of which artists everyone will be talking about this year. In past years, this has inspired a flurry of hard Googling. Who is Anderson.Paak? Future Islands did what on David Letterman? How many dudes are actually in Migos? But it turns out, we’re already experts on one of this year’s surefire breakouts: Lizzo.
Team 360 has been tracking the red hot rapper’s rise for a minute, and by the end of last year we were somewhat obsessed with her (in the least creepy way possible). To help the uninitiated, who might be encountering the goddess-channeling rhyme queen for the first time, we’ve compiled this handy explainer.
Who is Lizzo?
Rapper Melissa Jefferson, 28, grew up in Houston, but she found her voice as an artist in Minneapolis. She started spitting as part of a few all-female hip-hop crews, the Chalice and Grrl Party, but over the past couple years she’s been building heat as a solo artist. But she’s not going it alone. Her backing crew includes some of her former collaborators like DJ Sophia Eris and members of her Big Girls dance team.
She also picked up a gig hosting the new MTV show “Wonderland” last year, and she sometimes has a hard time keeping track of her phone (watch her video for “Phone” in the music blog at austin360.com).
With the death of Prince, last year must have been pretty rough for Minneapolis musicians. Did she take it hard?
She was in L.A. when a friend called to tell her their city’s defining artist had died. She booked the next flight back to Minneapolis and made it by that night. She sang “The Beautiful Ones” for a crowd of thousands who gathered downtown at the iconic club First Avenue.
“We just kind of cried and danced to Prince all night,” she said when we caught up with her backstage at the Austin City Limits Music Festival last year. “They didn’t close First Avenue for a week. We were dancing all week.”
They played Prince videos and treated them like a concert, cheering every killer dance move and searing guitar solo. And months after the party ended she said his death refocused her artistic vision. “I’m dedicating myself to positive music and it’s a beautiful thing … it’s a new wave of positivity that I think the world really needs right now. We’ve been singing about emo stuff and drugs and depression and those people can still do that, because that’s their lane, but there needs to be a balance. Life is all about the balance and I think where there is darkness and drugs there needs to be happiness and health. That’s what I’m here for.”
So she played ACL Fest last year?
Yes, but that wasn’t her first Austin show of 2016. Team 360’s Eric Webb caught her at a SXSW day party last year where her ferocious flow and stop-you-in-your tracks voice blew his mind. It wasn’t her first time at SXSW. She had already done a few go rounds with the Chalice, including in 2013 when we found out too late.
Then, yes, she straight up blew our minds in a pair of opening sets at ACL Fest. We dubbed her “the way and the truth” and immediately joined the church of Lizzo. After playing a Super Bowl party in her old hometown, Houston, she stopped by Antone’s for a sold-out show. We didn’t make it, but many folks who did told us the show “gave them life.”
Our friends at Austin’s NPR affiliate share our love of Lizzo. During ACL Fest she taped an episode of Elizabeth McQueen’s podcast “This Song,” and while she was in town in February, she stopped by KUTX for a live performance.
So what’s so great about her?
It’s not just that’s she’s a killer rhyme-slinger who can also sing like an old school soul queen; it’s that she’s writing all her own rules. Creating her own definition of cool, sexy and beautiful, she comes so hard, no one can deny it. She’s all about body-positivity, self-love and unity between women. Her shows are so uplifting. Pure joy.
Must be tough for her, leading an all-female entourage in a genre oft-criticized for its misogyny.
She told us she believes the genre is evolving, that “rap and hip-hop is starting to move toward a respectful lane with women.” Even trap rappers like Young Thug are singing love songs these days, she noted.
In any case, she believes in the power of collaboration between women. “When we get together we can do amazing things. Supernatural things almost,” she said. “When we’re together things just click into place. We have to constantly remind each other how much we need each other because the universe just conspires with us.”
Does she consider herself a feminist?
“I’m not, in my songs, saying, ‘I’m a feminist so listen up,’” she told us. “But by merely existing with my group of women, being strong and doing what we want and loving each other and being really good at our jobs, we are feminism.”
So why do you think she’ll breakout this year at SXSW?
She’s showing up on some of the hottest parties and showcases of the fest. She’s already been announced for the NPR showcase at Stubb’s, the Onion/AV Club party at the Mohawk and Pandora’s showcase. We’re confident she’ll have a few more high profile appearances too.
Anything else we should know?
She calls her superfans, her Big Girls. It’s her version of Beyoncé’s Bey-hive. Go to austin360.com, watch the video of her riding the streets of Minneapolis with Sophia Eris and tell us you don’t want to be a Big Girl, too.