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Lizzo Brings Ideas, Humor And Sass To 'Big Grrrl Small World'


This is FRESH AIR. Music critic Milo Miles is enthusiastic about the latest album by Lizzo, an alternative hip-hop artist who's opened for Sleater-Kinney and sung with Prince. Milo has a review of the album. It's called "Big GRRRL Small World."


LIZZO: (Singing, unintelligible).

MILO MILES, BYLINE: Early last year, the reunion tour of Sleater-Kinney was the music show to see in Boston. But when I first heard the opening act was Lizzo, my response was, who's that? Turned out Lizzo was a vivacious and high-energy alt rapper who bounded onto the stage and dominated it with harmony vocals and percussion from DJ Sophia Eris, who is sometimes almost a co-star. Lizzo flowed from raps to soul-testifying to captivating spiels about food, sex, partying and not taking guff from nobody. The big hooks of numbers like "Batches & Cookies" from her 2013 debut Lizzobangers and Lizzo's flair for prompting audience sing-along and promoting hard-nosed optimism made her a wonderous opening act. She left the stage with the audience fired up and full of brand-new Lizzo fans.


LIZZO: (Singing) Yeah, (unintelligible). Caroline but I had to make it rhyme. I'm addicted to that weather like heroine. That is why I cannot give it any time. Just say no. It's too good to me. You are too good to me. O.D. on compliments. I need some oxygen. So I dip to the BMW. Some of you don't know what that is - good. Need a little solitude with my crew. Remembering what's real is what makes you you. It's too good to me. No, it's no good for me. I can't be out here homey. What it used to be. Sitting in bed like...

MILES: Lizzo was born Melissa Jefferson in Detroit, though she grew up in Houston and is now based in Minneapolis. These widespread locations reflect her diverse influences, which include not just indie rap but gospel, neo-soul and especially the female rocker defiance in the riot-girl style. Lizzo's deeply packed rap suggests sly performers like Lyrics Born. And her skill at holding moods together through force of personality remind me of Indie rocker Kimya Dawson. Most of all, Lizzo adopts whatever mode feels right and works for her, which makes her a more harmonious opener for Sleater-Kinney than you might imagine. At first, her new "Big GRRL Small World" sounds softer and sweeter than Lizzobangers, with his click-click-boom insistence. But much of the album wins you over and begins to seem simply happier as well as more subtle. The best start of tone complexity shows up in "Bother Me." The tune begins jokey but also annoyed with Lizzo insisting on proper personal space.


LIZZO: (Singing) Have you ever been to Paris at night. Say something French. Right out the gate I'm glowing individually. You own me. You check respecting (unintelligible). I swear to God (unintelligible). Free as (unintelligible), I'm paid to amuse you. Amazed at how soon we could get this far. Broke off a mixed tape You're broke off that mixed tape. But I promise y'all that it won't last as long because me and my girls (unintelligible) we rent jewels and the trinkets. Trumpets (unintelligible) pumpin' (unintelligible). Fanfare when we arrive like hard rap hard trap made for the mall rap. Hard wrapped law track made-for-the-mall rap. Blast this (unintelligible). Don't bother me when I'm on the road. (Unintelligible). Don't bother me.

MILES: Over the course of a couple minutes though, the push of "Bother Me" becomes a pull, or at least tug close to intimacy, with the help of electronic keyboards and gospel choir harmonies.


LIZZO: (Singing, unintelligible). I've been drinking (unintelligible). And you know I, know I, know I do think about you. But I don't got time for living inside the confines of (unintelligible). So I'll leave it up to me.

MILES: Lizzo's theme throughout the record is self-acceptance, improving self-regard. And if she growls, who needs men, she also satirizes self-love, even as she turns it into a praise song for her body on "In Love."


LIZZO: (Singing) I'm in love with myself. I'm in love. Kissing all my mirror, staring in my eyes, appreciating every curve and crevice, smack my thighs. Smack it twice. Watch it jiggle. You a bad [expletive], cookie cream filling in the middle. I'm a very picky girl. And yes, you can call me Mama. I got an A in self-esteem, so save the drama for Obama. Presidential in my Sketchers.

MILES: Listening to "In Love," you can hear why Prince asked Lizzo to sing on one of his tracks. But she had a stronger humor than he does. I like that she prefers sober looks to grins in her photos. But I cherish Lizzo most of all because she makes me laugh, laughter inspired by ideas, insights, and sass.

GROSS: Milo Miles reviewed Lizzo's new album, "Big GRRRL Small World." Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, why we love the foods we love and are repulsed by certain foods we hate. I'll talk with Bee Wilson, author of "First Bite: How We Learn To Eat." One of the things we'll hear about is the best time to introduce new flavors to a baby.

BEE WILSON: Between 4 and 7 months, when humans are more receptive to new flavors than they ever will be again.

GROSS: I hope you'll join us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Milo Miles is Fresh Air's world-music and American-roots music critic. He is a former music editor of The Boston Phoenix.
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