It was probably just a coincidence, but “W.E.R.K. Pt. II” — the part ode de hustle, part hater-response track — was an appropriate opener for Lizzo’s set at Totally Gross National Party two weeks ago. That Saturday was particularly grinding for the budding rapper, who preaches working “like a boss” in the song’s shoulder-popping chorus.
The quick-tongued emcee has been on tour with Har Mar Superstar, pulling double duty opening gigs with a solo set and singing backup in his band. After a late show in New York City the night before, Lizzo hopped an early-morning flight home, fighting fatigue to perform at her label Totally Gross National Product’s annual bash before rejoining the tour the next day.
“When you work hard in this society you become a boss,” she said a few hours before taking the stage. “I feel like I’m the CEO of my own company — Lizzo Enterprises. I started as a janitor, working my way up; receptionist, mail man. Then you work your way up to CEO.”
If it wasn’t already, Lizzo’s CEO status will be cemented when her first solo album, “LizzoBangers,” arrives Tuesday. As a partner in suave hip-hop/R&B trio the Chalice, she balances sultry harmonies with her ballistic rap attack. While Lizzo still gracefully slips into sing-songy pockets on her solo material, her authoritative mic skills are better showcased by not having to trade off verses. “I ain’t your hook girl, boo / I’m your feature,” she pointedly declares on standout song “Hot Dish.”
The record came together after Lizzo broke a severe case of writer’s block when she heard Doomtree beatsmith Lazerbeak’s instrumental LP, “Lava Bangers.” At the time, she wasn’t very familiar with the locally cherished rap collective, but her friend and publicist had recently slipped her their entire discography. Lizzo put the CD on and immediately penned the battering-barred “Be Still.”
“I just kept going — it broke the yolk,” she said.
A few tweets later, Lazerbeak and Gayngs ringleader/super producer Ryan Olson were on board. While Lizzo’s solo debut has the muscle of those two local heavyweights behind it, she admittedly knew very little about the Twin Cities when she moved here from Houston two years ago. “I was calling it Minneanapolis, like a jerk,” she said.
The versatile singer/emcee has since chiseled herself into the music community, having played with her former electro soul-pop duo Lizzo and the Larva Ink, Caroline Smith, the Chalice, the Clerb and her hot new Grrrl Prty group with Chalice mate Sophia Eris and La Manchita. Lizzo performs with Grrrl Prty and the Clerb at the Cabooze Plaza during Saturday’s Zombie Pub Crawl.
On stage, Lizzo is a force, rapping with a Killer Mike-like intensity while maintaining enough poise to hit soulful notes on tracks like the gospel-touched “Go.” For all her ferociousness, the real-life Melissa Jefferson insists she’s just trying to keep her cool after learning how to perform as singer/flutist in Houston prog-rock band Ellypseas.
“I always have to calm myself down,” Lizzo said. “With my first rock band I would get drunk and just scream because I didn’t know how to sing. I was just like, ‘Let’s go! Blaaagh!’ I had to go from that to singing backup in Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps.”
In her short time in Minneapolis, Lizzo has emerged as one of the brightest young stars among a vibrant class of post-Rhymesayers, post-Doomtree rappers. Outside the Twin Cities, she’s earned positive write-ups in the Boston Globe and the Guardian with “LizzoBangers.” While she’s quick to count her blessings, she regrets that her father isn’t alive to watch her career take off. The self-described daddy’s girl said her father, who died in 2009, encouraged her to become a musician, but never got the chance to see her perform.