Melissa Jefferson, AKA Lizzo, is an alternative hip-hop delight hailing from America’s south. Her new album ‘Big GRRRL, Small World’ transcends genre. Half its name is even a sly nod to the riot grrrl movement (a smash of feminism and punk rock that Lizzo will now likely be associated with forevermore, after her killer opening slot for legends Sleater-Kinney early this year). You can download ‘Big GRRRL, Small World’ for free on Lizzo’s website, and you should, because it’s awesome.
Lizzo has released a cracker of an album here. In an interview I recently watched of hers for NME, she mentions skipping school as a teen to go to a Destiny’s Child concert, feeling mesmerized by the raw emotional power of their gospel medley, and thinking to herself, ‘I wanted to make people feel what they made me feel’. Well, Lizzo has definitely achieved her goal, because I cried and punched the air several times during this record. It is powerful stuff – personal, political, and polished. And she sure can spit.
Opening track ‘Ain’t I’ sets the tone for the album, with clever wordplay, and references to Sojourner Truth’s legendary speech, ‘Ain’t I A Woman?’ (If you haven’t read that speech before, GO AND READ IT RIGHT NOW. I’ll wait here).
Next track ‘Betcha’ brings raw anger layered with a cool, collected, in-control attitude and a swingy, irresistable cadence to her rhyme; her Southern past showcased well.
Musically, hardly any songs on this album ‘stay the same’ the whole way through, and every song tries something new – from vocoder to saxophone to slap bass. Credit must go to producer BJ Burton, who has created a soundscape that evolves constantly, mirroring Lizzo’s call-to-action lyrics.
‘Humanize’ is all about busting labels – it’s so telling that the line ‘Who is gonna open the door?’ comes right before an explosive moment of change for the song. We should all ‘try to see the love through human eyes’ rather than being bound by traditional gender roles, racial dividing lines, -isms and stereotypes.
The title track ‘B.G.S.W’ is a catchy-as-f*ck call to ‘Let the big girls tell it’, and tell it Lizzo does. The song’s dramatic synth opening unexpectedly gives way to some of the most rapid-fire spitting of the album so far. Lines like ‘Welcome to Earth, we like to kill each other, turn each other to dirt’ drop wry observations with effortless aplomb.
The most confessional and personal song on the album is ‘1 Deep’, its bald opening line getting straight into it: ‘I stopped talking to my mama for three months’. Family and roots are traditional topics in hip-hop, and this dark, explosive song combines big emotion with soft moments. It winds up being about self-strength: ‘Somebody put me on a soapbox, I got the voice of my kinfolk’. Incoherent whisperings and breathing abound at the end, making the song feel like a page from Lizzo’s diary.
If you’re someone who’s ever struggled with body acceptance, you NEED to hear the song ‘My Skin’ (and watch the video). This was the track that made me weep. Just listen to it and watch it. It’s beautiful! ‘En Love’ is this track’s more upbeat cousin – loving the lines, ‘All these years, been searching for something to complete me, who knew that it would be me?’ Preach.
‘Big GRRRL, Small World’ is a joyous celebration of not only honesty and self-acceptance, but active self-love. It’s about feeling the power of being a woman, of being black, of being different, and ultimately, of being part of the human family itself.
At the end of the day, what does Lizzo mean when she calls herself a “Big Grrrl’? Obviously she’s referencing her body, but I also get the sense she’s talking about her spirit. In Lizzo’s own words from her raw video interview with StyleLikeU, “I feel like I’m bigger than everybody. I learned to love my bigness so much that it turned into this awesome thing, where I feel like I’m bigger than every person I know…we’ll stand up, and he’ll be 6”1 and I’m 5”10, but I feel bigger and taller. And it’s a good thing. I’m not like, Oh, I’m bigger than all the boys. I’m big. And you’ve gotta be real big to handle me”.
Album: Big GRRRL, Small World
Genre: Alternative Hip Hop
Released: 11 December, 2015
Highlights: Betcha, Humanize, BGSW, 1 Deep, En Love, My Skin.
Lowlights: None really, this album is pretty awesome.
- This review was written by Bec Wolfers.