The Current

Great Music Lives Here ®
Listener-Supported Music
Donate Now

Album of the Week: Lizzo, 'Big GRRRL Small World'

by Andrea Swensson

December 14, 2015

Lizzo, 'Big GRRRL Small World'
Courtesy of Thirty Tigers

It's hard to believe it was only about three years ago now that I first heard Lizzo's voice. I know this is going to sound over the top, but I still remember the exact moment when I heard Lizzo rap for the first time. I was listening to the first single released by her trio the Chalice, and her verse hit me like a bolt of lightning. Who was this woman? She was somehow all of these different things at once: She was smart and funny and antagonizing and fierce, and she switched between different voices and deliveries like a chameleon. I had to hear more.

The Chalice went on to release an EP and win the City Pages best-new-band poll Picked to Click, and Lizzo returned as a solo artist the next year and won the poll again. It was the first time a hip-hop artist had taken first place in the poll, and she did it twice. She is now easily the most popular new hip-hop artist in the scene, capable of selling out First Avenue's Mainroom with her bestie Caroline Smith or her crew GRRRL PRTY, and thanks to some relentless touring with Sleater-Kinney in the U.S. and on her own overseas in the U.K. and France, she now has an international following.

Lizzo released her solo debut, Lizzobangers, in 2013, and it was picked up for international release by Virgin Records in 2014. Now, she's releasing new music on her own terms: Big GRRRL Small World is coming out on her very own label.

Much like that early verse from the Chalice that first hooked me, this new album swerves all over the place, from club bangers to soul-baring ballads to a vocoder breakdown about halfway through that'll have you in tears. And throughout the album, Lizzo dives deep on social issues ranging from body politics, self-acceptance, and empowerment to race relations and feminism. Lizzo has been an active participant in the Black Lives Matter movement and an increasingly vocal champion for women's rights — her shows with her crew GRRRL PRTY are some of the most empowering I've seen this year — but she never preaches at you or puts too fine a point on her ideas. There's an old feminist adage that says that the personal is political, and Lizzo seems to understand this concept intrinsically.

Throughout the album, Lizzo invites us into her world, and it often feels like we are sitting right beside her as she hops a plane to Paris or checks her voicemail, hoping for a call from a love interest back home. We are in her head as she processes her relationship to her own body and self, and reflects on the reality of being a woman of color in a society that's constantly trying to diminish her value. It's potent stuff, and a lot to digest in one sitting, but Lizzo makes it go down easy.

Hear more about Lizzo and her new album on The O.K. Show podcast with Andrea Swensson.