Lizzo Talks “Good As Hell,” Female Rappers & Prince: Interview

Mike Wass | April 27, 2016 12:15 pm
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Lizzo won a loyal following and massive critical acclaim with independently-released albums Lizzobangers and Big Grrrl Small World, but she’s ready to broaden her horizons with brutally catchy Barbershop soundtrack cut “Good As Hell,” her first single since signing to Nice Life/Atlantic Records. And while the track finds the 27-year-old in an unusually carefree mood, don’t think she has said goodbye to the politically charged, bitingly hilarious tone of her early work.

The singer/rapper recently dropped by our Los Angeles office to talk about “Good As Hell” and her eagerly-awaited third LP. Lizzo opened up about the female rap scene, being a defiantly woke artist and music’s new golden age. She also spoke about collaborating with Prince in the most glowing terms. (This interview took place before the pop legend’s unexpected death at age 57). Find out more in our Q&A below.

How did “Good As Hell” come to life?
It came from Ricky Reed and I. We have such a great chemistry in the studio and I think we had maybe made one or two songs prior. We were still doing chemistry tests with each other. We were in the studio and he was playing this piano riff and he was like, “How does this make you feel?”. I went through a lot of things in my head but it made me feel was like the hair toss emoji.

You know, the pink sweater emoji girl with the hair. So I went from that hair toss, to checking my nails. It was a natural statement that came out my mouth. Ricky was like “feeling good as hell”. We just rolled with that. After that everything just kind of came out so easily. That’s when I think our chemistry was really sealed. I just felt like everything’s going to be okay.

You’re signed to his Nice Life label now?
I am. We had been just making music together and I think his wife Laura Miller, who put me on to him, was like “Are you going to sign her?” He was still contemplating because Ricky don’t just do anything without, unless it’s right. He has a very innate sense of… a very good inner compass.

I think he was like, “Yeah, you know what, after ‘Good As Hell,’ it was a wrap”. He was like, “I’ve got to sign her.” I was so happy. Nice Life is a part of Atlantic, it’s an imprint so I get this wonderful community and network at Atlantic with also the small indie label feel and family feel of Nice Life. I know everybody at Nice Life. They’re all super close. They seem like a family and I’m just happy to be a part of it, an extended cousin or something.

“Good As Hell” sounds like a hit to me. Are you going to push it further with a video?
Yes. We shot an amazing video in LA. I’ve never shot a video in LA before. We got all of these beautiful natural hair girls. All different shades of chocolate and brown. We’re just having a good time. That was always the idea for the video. I just wanted beautiful brown natural girls in the music video.

Then we got Barbershop. Then we wanted to do this video. Then Atlantic was like, “Yo, can it like be in a barbershop?” and we’re like, “YO, we already were going to do that”. Everything fell into place. It’s coming soon. I’m so excited to see it.

Were you excited to be part of the Barbershop legacy?
Definitely. I was such a fan of Barbershop, I’m such a fan of Ice Cube. If you pay attention to Barbershop, it’s so hip-hop. Like Eve, Ice Cube. You know what I’m saying? Common’s in this one. Nicki Minaj. It’s so hip-hop and I think it’s just an honor to be included on a roster like that. It’s on the soundtrack!

Is “Good As Hell” indicative of your new album?
Yeah, I think my records have been really, I like to write in different places. Lizzobangers, which was my first solo project, I made in this dude Ryan Olson’s smokey studio. It feels like that. It feels very raw. It was just me trying to get my voice heard. Second record, Big Grrrl Small World, I recorded at Justin Vernon’s studio April Base. In the middle of the woods.

It has that feel. It’s kind of dreamy. It’s kind of dark sometimes. This time I’m recording this record, we don’t have a name for it yet, in Echo Park. The location that I’m in affects the music so much. Where I’m at right now it speaks to the Detroit soul part of me, so I really just got to go with the flow.

You tackles some really tough issues on your first two albums. Are you having more fun this time around?
I have a lot of fun talking about issues and I have so much fun standing up for what I believe in and representing, but one of the keys to me to being a feminist, or to being an activist, sometimes is just being about it and showing it instead of talking about it. I think that my first solo record I was so angry. My second solo record I was so smart with it.

Now, this time, I am just going to show it. I don’t have to specify anything. You’re just going to know what I mean. You’re going to feel it. I think I don’t have to be so literal anymore and I think the music really reflects that but we not making no fluff. Anything you hear don’t be fooled, there’s a deeper meaning for sure.

I feel like your early record were a precursor for more mainstream artists being more woke in their music.
I appreciate that. I was very woke immediately with my music. I couldn’t make music for no reason. I was already speaking about police brutality on Lizzobangers, which came out in 2013, which was just a little bit before Black Lives Matter hashtag. I’m so happy that exists now because I feel like I have a community to voice my anger.

By no means do I feel… I just felt like I was a part of it. Something that grew. My voice is growing. My style is growing and I think that the person who was yelling about Chuck Berry and Dorothy Dandridge and Michael Jackson, what you do to our brown entertainers. That girl who was screaming that on a song called “T-Baby” is still singing for that cause. We’re just grown up now.

I feel very much a part of it. I hope to influence a little of it but I was definitely influenced by people like Kendrick Lamar, you know what I’m saying. So many people who are vocal. Beyonce always been very pro-black, just not obvious to people. There’s people who’ve been doing it and I’m just happy to be amongst them. When you listen to my music, this is not inner thoughts, this is a conversation.

On the flip side of that your music is hilarious. I still laugh at the quip about starting a support group for Men Without Lizzo.
I like to keep it lighthearted. It’s like a piece of candy with a little razor blade in there, a little poison. I think that’s what humor is or my humor at least. I keep that pretty present in my music. I’m never going to make no joke song but I keep it pretty funny. I want to keep people smiling because I want to smile.

Are you going to rap on the new album?
It’s funny, I sing “Good As Hell” but the verses are rap. I was just in the studio and I did four rap songs. I’m so excited about them. We’ll see what happens. We don’t have a release date or a finish date. I just want to make music until we are satisfied.

What do you make of the female rap scene at the moment?
Everyone’s always like, “Oh my God, what’s it like being a female rapper? Isn’t it hard because there’s not many of you guys? I’m like, “No, there’s so many of us. There’s just no opportunities for us. They’re not making room for us to be heard.” I feel like the ones who make it through, break through, are extra bossy, extra fierce. You know what I’m saying, we have to go just this much harder.

There’s so many women, I love Dominique Young Unique and Santigold just put out a record. Azealia Banks put out Slay-Z and slayed it. There’s just so many amazing rappers. Dej Loaf you know. Of course Nicki Minaj, she put this new generation on. Myself. Honestly, Noname Gypsy, she’s dope. There’s so many of us we just don’t get that platform. We got to fight for it. More of us just need to keep on doing it. Keep doing it girl. Keep on.

Are there any collaborations on the record?
You know what, I’m not going to lie to you. I never have. Only person I’ve ever featured was Sophia Eris on my records because she’s my best friend, she’s so talented. She’s a killer rapper. She’s on “Batches & Cookies” with me. I just feel like there’s something about a body of work. I feel like features are for singles or features are for super collaborative songs where you’re in the studio and you’re writing it together.

If I do, it’s going to be intentional. There are tons of people I want to work with. Whatever the universe brings to me, I’ll deal with when the time is right. Right now, no. But I’m sure that’s going to change.

You must have a little bit of a wish list though.
Obviously, Missy Elliot. I would love to work with Missy Elliot. I would love to work with Anderson Paak. I would love to work with, who else would I really want to work with. DeJ Loaf, you know. Obviously Nick Minaj.

Do you like Dej’s new mixtape?
I haven’t heard it yet. It just came out though. She looks amazing on the cover though. It’s like low in theory vibes, yeah I want to check that out. She’s dope, man. So much good music. There’s so much good music out now. Music is on the up and up. Who would’ve thunk. To be a part of music right now… it’s golden right now. It’s a great time. There was a low. No lie. There was a low. I feel like 2006 was a good year, but the last time there was a golden era was like the Timbaland, Missy, Aaliyah era. You know when them boy groups were singing. We still had Whitney and Mariah. That was a golden age and then it lulled out for a long time. Pop became king. Pop was like real specific. Now we’re back, it’s grimy again.

You’ve featured on a number of records. What was your favorite?
I love Clean Bandit. That was the first one and I was like I’ve got to go hard. I was so excited.

How did they find you?
I don’t know, by the grace of God. I just got the email. We had been touring London a lot. We had been touring the UK a ton. Way more than America. Radio 1 really liked us. There was all these people who were like playing my records because radio’s different in America than it is in the UK, we all know that.

We were out there popping and I think that Clean Bandit got wind of us, one person told the other and they’re like, “Yeah, you want to hop on this track?” And I hopped on it. That was fun but there’s nothing more surreal than working with Prince. I can’t even.

Did you get to interact with him?
Yeah, it’s weird. It’s nuts. He’s literally a living legend. One of the more selective, most exclusive human beings on the planet and the fact that I was chosen in that exclusivity to be part of any project that he’s done is… my mind I blown.

He’s an idol of mine.
Who is he not an idol to, you know what I mean? I don’t talk about it but when it comes up, everyone’s like, “Yo!” They either have a Prince story or their jaw is on the ground because he is the one. He still has mystique after all these years and that’s so hard to maintain in this industry. God is good, yeah.

What’s on your playlist right now?
Everyone always asks me that. I don’t listen to music when I’m writing because, I don’t listen to music I’m discovering when I’m writing. I don’t want to be too swayed one way or the other. I don’t want to compromise my individuality, trying to be somebody else because it’s real easy. Toronto’s popping, Canada’s popping. I jam Alessia Cara. She just speaks to the loner side of me. I love Drake and Future. I just listened to him, of course that’s in my playlist. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Brazilian Jazz like bossa nova. It’s like the coolest, laziest beach vibe and like João Gilberto. Yeah, that’s what’s been going on in my ears. Weird stuff.

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