Introducing Lizzo: The flute-playing rapper who has a lot to say on Ferguson

Ahead of her Reading festival debut, meet rap's new rising star

There will be no arguing with the current batch of female rappers rising through the echelons of the music industry; Angel Haze, Iggy Azelea and Azealia Banks among them.

Lizzo – real name Melissa Jefferson – is the latest name to join the ranks, as she joins the Reading festival line-up this weekend.

Her personal story is more interesting than most. Born in Detroit (which, she says, wasn’t more difficult than anywhere else to grow up), she was raised within Church of God in Christ. Perhaps unexpectedly, her religious upbringing sparked her eventual love of rap and hip-hop. She completed a classical flute degree in the University of Houston and rejected a scholarship at the Paris Conservatory, so she could focus on her solo career.

She formed her first band when she was just nine and started playing the flute when she was 12 – around the same time as she discovered rap, freestyling in her school lunch room and beatboxing on the desks. Not long after, she formed all-girl R&B group The Cornrow Clique, inspired by Destiny’s Child. In fact, Lizzo has delved into more genres than most – she was a member of progressive rock band Elypseas, part of electro-pop duo Lizzo & The Larva Ink, and also hip-hop collective/crew GRRRL PRTY, who were in action up until 2012.

So before she hits the big-time, allow her to introduce herself…

She was always a “daddy’s girl”…

“Before he passed away, he was the main influence on my music. He was the reason why I continued to play flute and tried to sing and rap and use my voice to its best ability. I wanted to be successful musically, so I could take care of him when his health started to fail.”

The Church shaped her world…

“From a young age, I saw and placed importance on spirituality within religion. Seeing people catch a feeling in their spirit and sprint the aisles of the church while my cousins played driving, uplifting gospel stuck with me. I let that same feeling wash over me when I experience and perform music.”

She once went completely mute for three months…

“I can't remember what started it, but I remember the cocoon stage; a huge change was happening within me. I made the decision to pursue music in a completely different, raw way. I needed to find myself within. And when I was ready, I spoke.”

She grew up in a town entrenched in racism…

“My mother and father taught me about black excellence, and dynasty. They experienced racism personally, and when something like that happens to you and not around you, you develop a different perception than someone who has never experienced racism a day in their lives. I believed that the fight was 'white versus black' and that omitted any other person of colour. It left only white and black. That left no grey area. That left no room for change.”

She believes in “people versus the system”…

“The fight still isn't people of colour versus white. It's the people versus the system built to keep us down. That's the first line of the Constitution. And the system is manmade, but is made of no man. Everyone, regardless of class, creed, culture and ethnicity can fight the system and help to break it down. And a new system must be realised, so that we can all coexist.

She says the shooting of Michael Brown was “inhuman”…

“I feel the same way about him as I do about Emmett Till; the same way I feel about Trayvon Martin; same way I feel about Ervin Jefferson and every black man killed by police and/or security guard every 28th hour. It's unjust. It's inhuman. It must stop.”

She’s not big on the US police force…

“The fact we need laws to protect us from the police is ridiculous, but we need to implement laws that ensure our safety when we are confronted by a policeman. Cameras, cameras, cameras. We need mental health care, there are people out there with weapons that can't emotionally handle them.”

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