Tossing her hair, flashing a confident smile, and “Feelin’ good as hell,” Lizzo wields the kind of voice that’s right at home in soul, pop, hip-hop, R&B, rock, and gospel. The vivacious and versatile vocalist’s impassioned delivery and dynamic range bonds the six tracks on her critically acclaimed major label debut EP, Coconut Oil [Nice Life Recording Company/Atlantic Records], achieving what she refers to as a “genre-less style.”
“My voice becomes the genre,” she explains. “It’s the common denominator between any track—whether we’ve got a West African backbeat, throwback soul, rap groove, or dancehall production. The vocals are the thread that ties the whole story together. It frees me up in a way.” That voice also turned the gleefully unpredictable Coconut Oil into a quiet phenomenon in late 2016. Lauded by Noisey, Entertainment Weekly, Paste, Rolling Stone, Spin, Idolator, and more, the EP boasted the hit “Good As Hell,” which featured on the Original Soundtrack to Barbershop: The Next Cut and churned out over 7.3 million Spotify streams and 1.3 million YouTube views in less than six months. This collection represents the culmination of a wild musical roller coaster ride thus far for Lizzo.
Born in Detroit, she grew up in Houston, TX. Between becoming an accomplished flautist, she spent her formative years rapping throughout high school before joining a progressive rock band at 19-years-old. Influenced by vocalists as diverse as Queen’s Freddie Mercury, The Mars Volta’s Cedric Bixler-Zavala, Beyoncé, and Aretha Franklin, she smashed boundaries from the get-go—“Crooning in girl groups and screaming in bands.”
Relocating to Minneapolis, MN, Lizzo went from co-founding local underground favorite The Chalice to releasing her 2013 independent solo full-length Lizzobangers followed by Big Grrrl Small World in 2015, which she recorded at Justin Vernon’s April Base Studios in Fall Creek, Wisconsin. Along the way, she enamored audiences at Hangout Music Festival, Boston Calling, SoundSet Music Festival, Bonnaroo, in Paris, and beyond, while everybody from Bastille to Prince sought her out for guest appearances. Working with the Purple One & 3rdeyegirl on Plectrumelectrum’s “Boytrouble” proved life-changing…
“Prince made the transformation in me from a musician to an artist,” she goes on. “When he kept everything I recorded, it gave me so much confidence going into studio sessions with songwriters who have written some of my favorite music.” Introduced to GRAMMY® Award-nominated super producer and Nice Life Recording Company founder Ricky Reed [Meghan Trainor, Twenty One Pilots] in 2015, Lizzo found a creative kindred spirit. During their first session, they cut what would become Coconut Oil’s “Worship.”
“Ricky taught me that ‘Less is more’,” she says. “This new minimalism in my music allows me to really evolve. We hit it off right away. I was so excited to share what he and I had been working on. It was a huge leap from writing in a cabin and working with only one producer to being in L.A. and writing with this amazing team. It’s like there were two versions of Lizzo. I was going in a new direction. It was may more soulful. There was more singing. My roots were coming out. Ricky and I didn’t want to wait any longer, so we decided to put out Coconut Oil.” On the title track, she struts through a soulful swell of organs, rolling from robust rhymes into a soaring refrain. From the outset, our heroine sets the tone with the declaration, “I remember back, back in school when I wasn’t cool. Shit, I still ain’t cool, but you better make some room for me.”
“‘Coconut Oil’ means the most to me,” she continues. “Being a black woman, I wanted to make music for a few reasons. The first is the visibility of being a woman who looks like me in the mainstream pop space. There aren’t enough of what I like to call ‘the others.’ Secondly, I wanted to speak to everyone who looked like me, felt like me, and went through the same things I did. Musically, it encompasses my entire journey. It has flute, I’m rapping, and there’s weird electro-pop guitar reminiscent of my rock ‘n’ roll days. I knew this was something that could connect to black and brown girls and boys. It perfectly represented the entire EP.”
The 2017 single “Scuse Me” slips from effusive trap-style bravado on the verse into a sweeping and empowering refrain. “It turned into a moment of self-reflection versus just bragging about yourself,” she remarks. “It’s saying, ‘I’m in my zone. I know I look good.’” Ultimately, Lizzo shares that feeling with everyone who listens. “When I discovered what my mission was, it enabled me to be who I wanted to be,” she concludes. “If something I rapped, sang, or even the beat makes people want to dance and forget everything in the moment, that’s the most amazing thing.”