Published Apr 16, 2019"If I stop to realize I'm breaking barriers or breaking ceilings, I would end up comfortable. I just have to keep moving forward. I didn't give a fuck about that barrier in the motherfuckin' first place, and I really don't give a fuck about the debris I leave," Lizzo laughs.
Since the release of Lizzobangers in 2013, the Detroit-born, Houston-raised and Minneapolis-bred 30-year-old artist, born Melissa Jefferson, has taken the underground rap world by storm, delivering music that's self-aware, socially conscious and ultimately, as her 2015 EP Coconut Oil said, good as hell. Lizzo's ability to be comfortable in her own skin, quirks and all, has unintentionally led her to become a human rights advocate for some of society's most targeted groups: black, fat and queer.
"The only thing I can appreciate in my life are my accomplishments and my milestones — my personal joy," says Lizzo, whose rapping was featured on Prince & 3rdeyegirl's "Boytrouble" in 2014. Though Lizzo notes that accomplishments, milestones and how one defines success are subjective, the recent GLAAD Media Awards performer and Playboy featured star has a lot to celebrate — including her major label debut album, Cuz I Love You.
"I was kind of afraid of my singing voice and didn't really want to unleash it. I didn't want to take it all the way like I did, because I was afraid of getting pigeonhole or retrofied," she notes "But then one day I stopped caring and I just stopped being afraid of it and embraced it. I was like, 'You know what, let's just go all the way there. What if Aretha was in the studio and made a rap album in 2019? What would that sound like?'"
The result is a melodic album suspended by funky soul chords, booming bass lines and unfiltered confidence. Cuz I Love You reflects the everyday rollercoaster of life itself, including love, relationships and self-care, but also sits upon an overarching energy that is Lizzo's presence itself — which, in 2019, could only be described as "big dick energy."
"Big women are pursued for relationships, big women deal with fuckboys, big women are beautiful and loving creatures, and it's just not talked about, because it's not the story that mainstream media chooses to tell," Lizzo says addressing more intimate singles like "Jerome" and "Lingerie." "I'm not creating a fantasy — if it's shocking, it's because that story isn't told and that's often because big women aren't even involved to tell their [own] stories. I just happen to be here in the room, I have a platform and I'm telling the story. I'm not going to shy away from it, I'm not embarrassed, this is who I am."
Fifteen years prior to Lizzo's first release, Virginia rapper Missy Elliott was busy paving a new way with the release of her 1997 album, Supa Dupa Fly. Like many little girls who gravitated toward rap music growing up, Lizzo looked to Missy Elliott for more than just her music, but also for validation that chubby, confident and "unconventional" black girls could exist and be heard.
Fast-forward to August 2018, and Lizzo experienced her own full-circle moment, announcing that she had new music with the veteran MC on the way; the result, a body-positive anthem called "Tempo" was released in March.
"I'm very fortunate to be in a position where I have access to send Missy beats, and I have the privilege of being like, 'Yo, let's get Missy on this track.' I was really hopeful that she would hop and she did, and now it's become this moment for me. You know, when the song was first going down, it was more like 'Finally I can talk my shit about being a big girl,' but when Missy jumped on it, it really did make it a full-circle moment of being seen by her existing when I was younger. Hopefully I can really do the same for young girls today," she says. "But really, I was just making bops."
Lizzo's music is her power, but extending herself to others as a pillar of strength is her superpower — whether she recognizes it or not. In fact, to celebrate the release of "Tempo" and performing at Coachella this year, Lizzo hosted social media auditions for backup dancers of all body types.
"Ever since I've had to start auditioning dancers, I thought that all the girls who were represented don't look like me. I really need symmetry on stage, and I really need an extension of myself on stage in every way, and it was just saddening and disheartening that there weren't any bigger girls getting representation," she explains. "I know there are bigger girls that can dance. I'm really just trying to meet my own needs and if I meet my own needs and that helps change the industry in any way even in a microcosm, I'm grateful."
As a professionally trained flautist, Lizzo, who's been playing the instrument since she was 12, created the alter-ego Sasha Flute (after Beyoncé's Sasha Fierce, of course) to highlight the "true nerd" in her. While Sasha Flute's Instagram account is peppered with videos of Lizzo twerking while playing the flute, creating unconvetional images of the woodwind instrument, Lizzo is creating space in an industry that often fails women who look like her. She's also consistently educating others in the process, and it's exhausting.
Earlier this year, Lizzo, was a guest on British comedy chat show The Jonathan Ross Show, and found herself explaining to Ross the origins of twerking — and how, in fact, it was not created suddenly in 2013, but rather, deep-rooted in traditional African dancing dating back centuries, and then again in New Orleans' bounce culture. The conversation leads to a topic that Lizzo is not afraid to speak on: the erasure of black culture and the pioneers within it.
"Don't trivialize our frustration. I have plenty of evidence and plenty of merit to be frustrated," says Lizzo sternly. "When I look up and see Elvis being called the 'king' of music he lifted from black gospel rockers, female queer black gospel rockers, it really does scare me that it can still happen. I know that we didn't have the internet back then, and though there was Jim Crow and segregation — I feel like even those things weren't the leading causes of cultural erasure and cultural bleaching. I think that whatever it is that's set in place that bleaches our culture, and appropriates and re-appropriates it, is very much alive and well today."
Our conversation takes a turn towards recent events surrounding Lil Nas X, a young artist whose viral hit, "Old Town Road," was removed from Billboard charts for not being "country" enough. Though it has already received co-signs from several country artists, including Billy Ray Cyrus (who is featured on a remix), Lizzo is fearful for the success of genre-bending black artists.
"I retweeted that with an upside-down smiley face, because that's cultural erasure in action. These country artists are like white dudes singing over goddamn near-trap music now, and they're working with the same pop writers that write all the rap songs. So, the only reason why you're putting them in the country genre is because you want those white dudes to make that country money, but at the end of the day, it is about money — it's about money and who's running this shit, and I'm just going to make a point to say that I run my own shit and I make my own money," says Lizzo.
"Genres have become so amalgamated, so re-purposed and so blended, that trying to maintain a genre at this point just looks like an attempt to keep people in a box and keep people separated. It's segregation, it's musical segregation," Lizzo continues. "If we really want to get into it, at the end the day, they used to call music that was created by black people just 'race music.' All of this separation came from a really insidious place, so when I look at genre now, it's like 'Why do we even have these?' There's so many sub-genres at this point it's like, 'Who are you fooling?'"
Though Lizzo admits she has succumbed to the pressure of choosing a genre in the past, these boxes don't define her as an artist, and certainly don't represent her current success either.
"I'm the genre. My voice is the genre. I refuse to let y'all put me in any genre at this point, because all you're trying to do is place me somewhere because I'm black, or place me somewhere because I'm a woman, or because I make bops — place me somewhere to make you feel comfortable," continues Lizzo. "If I want to make a country song, I'm gonna make a country song. There's guitar all over my album — you can technically say that 'Cry Baby' is a rock song, or you can even say there are elements to 'Tempo' or 'Cuz I Love You' that are rock. If Panic! At the Disco is rock, then my shit is rock, know what I mean?"
Listed as an "underdog" by mainstream media for years, today Lizzo finds herself being fawned over more than ever — though, when asked whether it's a title she thinks she'll ever shed, she presents a bigger picture vision.
"I've had a very successful career as far as musicians go. I've been touring since my first project has been out, I've been able to eat and take care of my family, I've been able to take care of myself financially. I'm just not all over the radio or at the awards show or have paparazzi following me. That's not even the fun part about being a musician; the fun part for me, and the successful part about me, is that my bills are getting paid. Are my friends on the payroll and are they getting paid? Are we making really good art? Are people appreciating that art? When I play festivals, do people know the words? When I play shows or tours, do I sell that shit out? Fuck yeah!
"The only people I'm an underdog to is mainstream media, and if they want to keep calling me an underdog, that's fine — but I'm always gonna be the underdog in their eyes, because the media praises the light skin, small body, know what I'm saying? And I am darker skin with a big body. At the end of the day, I'm always going to look like that person that's not supposed to be there, so that's always a title they're going to put on me."
To understand Lizzo is to know that the opinion of others has no bearing on her success. It's to understand that, at her best, she's conscious of personal space, both emotionally and physically, and she's ready to educate others when they're wrong. Most importantly, at her best, the only voice Lizzo is listening to is her own. As she prepares to release the "album of the year of the year, album of the decade, album of the millennium," Lizzo is ready for change — but will make it on her own terms, whether the world is ready or not.
"As an artist, I feel fulfilled, because I feel like I really made the best album and I keep getting better. But also as a fat black girl in America, it would be so cool to receive all those accolades for [an album] where I'm naked on the cover and I'm singing about things that are real to me, and connect with thousands or millions of people, that would be really nice for the new generation to see. But I don't care."