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Minneapolis MC Lizzo heats up Boston Calling stage

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MC LizzoCourtesy of Atlantic Records

As the temperature heats up, so does chatter about contenders for "songs of the summer" — those tracks that sound even better when blaring over speakers on a hazy afternoon. As of this writing, one contender stands out from the rest: "Good As Hell," a boisterous, assertive jam about looking and feeling fine, from the Minneapolis-based MC Lizzo.

Hearing Lizzo, who plays Boston Calling on Saturday, talk about the song's genesis is a great insight into why her music is so instantly intriguing and exciting. Her combination of overwhelming enthusiasm, deep musical knowledge, and infectious confidence mesh together into songs that are simultaneously personal and universal — and incredibly catchy, to boot.


She recalls when producer Ricky Reed played the song's piano riff for her. "He was like, 'How does this make you feel?' And I was like, It makes me feel good, like everything is going to be OK! And then I hair-flipped and looked at my nails. And he was like, 'How are you feeling?' And I said, good as hell! It was this very natural moment. I wish we could have had that on film."

Since the 2013 release of her first solo album, "Lizzobangers," Lizzo has electrified crowds with her lady-centric, hook-heavy hip-hop. But she'd been making music for a long time before that, having begun to hone her talent during her school days in Houston.

"I didn't start singing until I was 19 — I was very shy — but I've been rapping since I was in middle school," she says. "We had a crew called Cornrow Clique. Everyone in Houston would freestyle on the bus and in the cafeteria — it was a rite of passage."

Each of the cities where Lizzo has spent large chunks of time — Detroit, Houston, and Minneapolis — is known for a particular approach to music. Lizzo's confident, brash blend of hip-hop and soul is very much a product of those environments.


"Houston had the most impact on the way I rap — everything kind of came out really easily," she says with a laugh. "When I got to Minneapolis, conscious rap was the thing I had to discover; I didn't know much about it, because I was listening to trill rap, or Southern rap. Detroit is my soul side — I grew up going to [church] and I would watch the choir sing. My mom sang. I remember not knowing how to sing, and not thinking I could sing, but knowing what a voice that spiritually charged could do for a congregation of people."

That last experience informs Lizzo's live performances. "I try to make my shows feel like church," she says. "I want the audience to feel like they're not just watching a show, but they're having a full experience."

Right now, Lizzo is working on the follow-up to her 2015 album, "Big Grrrl Small World," in Los Angeles. It's her third solo album, and she's excited about showing off the broad scope of her talent and musical knowledge.

" 'Lizzobangers' was [Minneapolis producer] Lazerbeak's mixtape, and I just put raps on top of that," she says. "With 'Big Grrrl Small World,' I had the opportunity to build stuff from the ground up, which is truly my passion because I am a music major, I studied theory, I'm a flute player, I love composition; I finally got to dip my toe in that, but a lot of times I was rapping on tracks that are already made. This time, I'm in the room with producers as we're making it live. The whole record is being made like we're conceiving the child and birthing it in the same room, and it's crazy. I love this process; I live for the freestyle, and the live elements of music."


Sadie Dupuis of Boston alt-rock quartet Speedy Ortiz, whose forthcoming EP "Foiled Again" contains a remix Lizzo worked on, describes listening to "Big Grrrl Small World" for the first time as an emotional experience. "Even though it's really fun, and the production's amazing, she's saying stuff that nobody else is saying," Dupuis says. "It makes me shocked that we didn't have a Lizzo before, and so happy that we do now." (Dupuis, under her solo alias Sad13, also worked with Lizzo on the effervescent track "Basement Queens," which came out earlier this year.)

Also on Lizzo's lengthy collaborative resume: Prince, whose 2014 album "Plectrumelectrum" includes a collaboration with Lizzo and her longtime DJ, Sophia Eris. In April, Lizzo performed the Prince ballad "The Beautiful Ones" at a Minneapolis memorial to the genre-defying pop legend.

"I pushed through the crowd and I didn't even know I was going to sing 'The Beautiful Ones' — they asked me last-minute," she says. "The perfectionist in me is like, Oh, I could have sang that better for him, but I was so overcome with emotion. But I did it. It was the very least I could do for someone who did the most for me. He gave us the rite of passage to go from being rappers and musicians to artists. I'm forever grateful; I feel very, very, very blessed to have done what we did."



At Boston Calling, City Hall Plaza, May 28 at 1:30 p.m.

Maura Johnston can be reached at