Rocking fishnets, heels and swagger for days, Minneapolis rapper Lizzo was a revelation in her early Sunday sets at Austin City Limits Music Festival 2016. She performed with an all-female crew — a DJ and two dancers — and together they put on one of the most memorable sets of the weekend. It’s not just that’s she’s a killer rhyme-slinger who also can sing like an old school soul queen; it’s that she’s writing all her own rules. Lizzo creates her own definition of cool, sexy and beautiful, and no one can deny it.
For the last five years or so the 28-year-old sensation-in-the-making has been bubbling up on the hip-hop underground, performing in several all female crews, most notably the Chalice. Her solo project is a reconfiguration of previous acts, featuring many of the same players, including DJ Sophia Eris. In October, she released her major label debut EP, “Coconut Oil,” on Atlantic, and earlier this year she picked up a host spot on the new MTV live music show, “Wonderland.”\
While she was in town for ACL Fest she taped an episode of the KUTX podcast “This Song” which was released online last week. She also sat down with us for this conversation about women, hip-hop and embracing your inner goddess.
Austin360: You’ve been doing this for a minute. Does being around the same crew of female artists you’ve worked with for years help you to grow as an artist?
Lizzo: Yeah. Totally. It’s our support system. I think there’s something really special about when women get together. That’s why they try to keep us so separated and insecure because when we get together we can do amazing things. Supernatural things almost. 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.
Where do you think the message that women aren’t supposed to like each other comes from?
From the patriarchy. It’s a device that’s been used to keep women in competition with each other, I think, since the beginning of time. When women were worshipped as goddesses, somebody always had a problem with that and tried to keep us from being those goddesses. Especially in this culture, in Western culture, I think that there are actual devices at work to keep women separated and intimidated and in competition with each other. Especially in hip-hop. And especially in most male-dominated things like the (music) industry and corporate America, but when we find each other and we stick together, it’s amazing. They can’t break us up.
Obviously, you’re moving in hip-hop, which over the last 10 years or so has been rife with a lot of misogyny, a lot of really negative messages. You bring this new positive energy that some of us have been waiting for.
I feel like this wave of hip-hop though, you have the typical misogynistic rapper… but rappers are starting to rap more about love. You have someone like Young Thug. Off the top, a trap rapper from Atlanta, you’re like, “What’s he gonna talk about?”
But Young Thug has a song called “That’s my Best Friend” talking about his fiance and he says (singing) “Never will I cheat on you…never will I lie.” You have someone like Fetty Wap who is talking about the girl that he loves, “Trap Queen.”
I feel like rap and hip-hop is starting to move towards a respectful lane with women I think that I’m very blessed to be coming up in this time. Maybe feminist hip-hop or someone like me, a feminist, wouldn’t have gotten as much (love) in the nineties or early 2000s.
You take ownership of the word feminist.
I’m not, in my songs, saying, “I’m a feminist so listen up.” 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. And I think that dudes, when they see us at festivals, all the rap dudes, when we come in contact with them, they respect that.
You call your female followers “Big Girls,” and you say you’re always repping for the big girls. What’s that like?
It’s easy because I’ve been doing it my whole life. I’ve never been a small person. I was on set of my show at MTV on Thursday and I walked by and one of the girls, she was like this heavier girl, she was like, “You’re making big girls look so good right now! Yes honey, you better work.”
And I was like, “Exactly.”
I realize that the way that I look isn’t gonna change. I’m a black woman with a big body and if I don’t make the best of that, then I’m gonna make the worst of life. So I feel good and I feel like a lot of women didn’t have somebody, at least in my genre to look up to like that. So I’ma just keep doing me and the haters are gonna be haters.
A friend of mine who’s in her 40s told me she almost cried watching you perform because she thought about how much it would have meant to have someone like you to look up to as a young girl.
Older women will come up after a show and be like, “I just wish you existed when I was a teenager. And my daughters listen to you.”
That’s literally why I’m doing this. That’s it. I’m not doing this for likes on Instagram or any kind of fame. I’m doing this for success, of course, and to take care of my family, but ever since Prince passed away, I was like, “I’m dedicating myself to positive music.” And it’s a beautiful thing because I’m finding other artists… 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.
(This conversation was lightly edited for length and clarity.)