Marching Flute And Fantasy Fiction: The Education Of Lizzo The Minneapolis singer and rapper spent her early life deep in the Pentecostal church — and shut away from secular music. When she moved to Houston, Texas, everything changed.
NPR logo

Marching Flute And Fantasy Fiction: The Education Of Lizzo

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/504175578/504322145" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Marching Flute And Fantasy Fiction: The Education Of Lizzo

Marching Flute And Fantasy Fiction: The Education Of Lizzo

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/504175578/504322145" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WORSHIP")

LIZZO: (Singing) Oh, here it go.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Minneapolis vocalist Lizzo grew up deep in the Pentecostal church, so it seemed natural to title one of her songs "Worship."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WORSHIP")

LIZZO: (Singing) I feel like fire. I feel like rain.

CHANG: But this song, like most of what the rapper and singer writes, would never have played in her childhood home. Secular music was - well, I'll let Lizzo say it.

LIZZO: It was the devil. I listened to a lot of gospel, and I remember when Tupac died, my cousin was sad. And I was like, who's Tupac (laughter)?

CHANG: Wow.

LIZZO: But, you know, I got - when I got older, I got to - I found hip-hop when I moved down to Houston.

CHANG: Did I also read that when you were growing up you were in the marching band?

LIZZO: Yes, I was. I was in marching band from eighth grade all the way up until college. I was in the Cougar Marching Band at University of Houston. I was a piccolo player.

CHANG: You were a piccolo.

LIZZO: Yeah, I was the baddest piccolo in the land...

CHANG: (Laughter).

LIZZO: ...'Cause I got big lungs, so I was (laughter)...

CHANG: Oh, my God. I played flute in junior high school and high school. I was so bad at it. I couldn't get the right embouchure - whatever that word is.

LIZZO: It's embouchure, yeah.

CHANG: Oh, I had very bad embouchure, very bad.

LIZZO: You know, I just got - some people got the lips for it, man.

CHANG: I didn't.

(LAUGHTER)

CHANG: And I guess you did. You had good tone.

LIZZO: Yeah, and I had good tone. I was, like, really determined. They gave me the flute. I rented the flute or whatever, and I just started listening to, like, James Galway, and I started listening to, like, songs on the radio and just, like, really trying to sound good and be the best.

CHANG: So the title track on your most recent EP actually opens with some pretty heavy flute. It's called "Coconut Oil." Let's give it a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF LIZZO SONG, "COCONUT OIL")

CHANG: Is that you playing?

LIZZO: That's me.

CHANG: Wow. You do have good embouchure.

LIZZO: Yeah, thank you.

CHANG: Do you sneak flute into your music a lot?

LIZZO: I have snuck her into all of my records, but this is the first time my flute was front and center. And there's no going back now. I've been telling people - I've been warning them. Like, you just wait till this nerd gets into...

(LAUGHTER)

LIZZO: ...Gets into hip-hop. I will make everybody love the flute again.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COCONUT OIL")

LIZZO: (Singing) If I knew then what I know now, I'd give myself a souvenir for old times sake.

CHANG: So I'm picturing you as this young girl playing the flute in the marching band in a Pentecostal home. And then you start making music like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AIN'T I")

LIZZO: (Rapping) My grandparents worked at Ford factory, so Henry is nothing without my family tree. And his slave-owning family needed black blood still, so I think we need a spot up on Henry's wheel. That will never be the case, in case you ain't keeping up. I'm dishing out cases of that heavy bass. And them bassheads straight from the oppressor's loins are giving us our free us in hella coin.

CHANG: So this is a song called "Ain't I" off your last full-length album, "Big Grrrl Small World." What I'm curious about is how does a girl growing up the way you did eventually find hip-hop?

LIZZO: It was almost something that I had to learn how to do growing up in Houston. I think that I was just at the right age at the right time where socially I wanted to fit in, and there was a lot of freestyling on a bus. There was a lot of freestyling in the cafeteria, and there was a lot of freestyling on the radio. And I would call into this morning show and I would try to get through so I could do the freestyle. And every morning, it was like (rapping) what's up child? What you got to say? Who's on the mic with Hedda's (ph) crew today?

And I'll be like (rapping) well, my name is Lizzo and I'm real cool, and I'm doing this to get out of school.

CHANG: (Laughter).

LIZZO: And they'd be like (rapping) oh, that's cool. And that may be, but what you calling for, and what's your set, G?

I'm like (rapping) my set is southwest Abilene (ph) Texas, yeah.

You know (laughter) and I would call in because you could win tickets.

CHANG: Yeah.

LIZZO: But it was really just exhilarating having to freestyle on the spot like that and knowing that thousands of people can hear you.

CHANG: And you could do it. This was just coming out of you.

LIZZO: Yeah. So when I discovered that at a young age that I could put bars together, I kind of became addicted to it and I fell in love with hip-hop. And like the flute, I practiced and wanted to be the best at it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AIN'T I")

LIZZO: (Rapping) Bob your head craze, bob your head crazy, hip-hop about to give oratories in stadiums and laboratories. And ain't I woman? Ain't I woman? Ain't I a woman?

CHANG: A lot of your music deals with body image and what is beautiful. Let's listen to another song of yours. It's called "My Skin." It's also from your album "Big Grrrl Small World."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY SKIN")

LIZZO: (Rapping) I wear my flaws on my sleeve and my skin like a peacoat. I see someone like me ashamed to be and honestly I'm really, really, I'm fed up with it, try to send it up like a FedEx. I'm wondering what they saying next. Can't pretent to not hear it. It's your beauty. They can't have it. It's yours. They can't have it.

CHANG: Did you struggle with feeling beautiful growing up?

LIZZO: Yeah. But I think unfortunately because of mainstream media a lot of people, specifically women, grow up questioning their beauty. For a long time, I felt like there were things about myself I would change and I wish that I was somebody else. Like, because of my mind and how fantastical it can be, I fantasized a lot and I would write a lot of fantasy novels and I was like (laughter) a weirdo. I would always wish that I was like the characters that I would write. And so they would be completely different people. It was never like, oh, man, my thighs are so fat. It's like my whole me. What if I could just escape and be somebody else, you know?

CHANG: Well, when did you start learning to love your body?

LIZZO: I remember I had this epiphany that this was it. And I think I was in my - I think I was, like, 21 'cause that was, like, the worst year of my life thus far.

CHANG: Why?

LIZZO: Well, my father passed away, and I was homeless, and I didn't have any money. And my band was doing really badly and I was by myself and I hadn't been eating because I didn't have money. And I was honestly the smallest physically I've ever been, and I still - and that was, like, the worst I've ever felt about myself. And I remember one day being like this is it. Twenty-some odd years of me believing that one day I could wake up and be some other girl - it's like you're not going to wake up and be bigger or smaller or lighter or darker. Your hair's not going to suddenly grow down past her knees. You're going to look this way for the rest of your life, and you have to be OK with that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOOD AS HELL")

LIZZO: (Rapping) Come now. Come dry your eyes. You know you a star. You can touch the sky. I know that it's hard, but you have to try. If you need advice, let me simplify. If he don't love...

And I use my music as therapy to get there. I'm not perfect. I fall back sometimes. But this is my life, and I have to do the best I can with it. And if other people are following it, then I need to make an - I need to make it the best life possible.

CHANG: Lizzo - she is on tour now. Thank you so much for joining us.

LIZZO: Thank you.

CHANG: It was so wonderful to talk to you.

LIZZO: Yay.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOOD AS HELL")

LIZZO: (Rapping) Girl, need to kick off your shoes. Got to take a deep breath. Time to focus on you. All the big fights, long nights that you been through, I got a bottle of tequila I've been saving for you. Boss up and change your life. You can have it all, no sacrifice.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.