Roundtable: Big GRRRL Small World

Easy J: One night I was listening to The Local Current MPR station in Nicole’s basement in Moorhead (not euphemism) and an aggressive hip-hop song with unique sound caught my attention. The song was “GRRRL Anthem” by GRRRL PRTY. The track has a swagger I had not heard from a female hip-hop act since Missy Elliott, and to be honest this felt a lot more genuine to me. I later learned that Lizzo was the front (wo)man of the group. Since then I have really appreciated her solo work which culminated in me purchasing Big GRRRL Small world without having really listened to it, something I NEVER do. (I also won a pair of tickets to Bluesfest from Mother’s that day.) The stoner who was working seemed excited when I set it on the counter. He told me that their vinyl dealer in Minneapolis sold them a ton of copies of BGSW telling them it would sell really well. I had purchased the first one a week after they got them in. More on that Later.

Image result for Lizzo Big Grrrl small world vinyl

I love the album. It has quickly become one of my go to records to put on in almost any situation. It’s best quality is how easy it is to listen to. It sounds great in the background when I have people over playing games, but BGSW is also a rewarding headphone listen. Lizzo’s vocal work is varied and generally high quality, she can sing soulful hooks or burn you down with her quick clear lyrics. Speaking of Lyrics, I don’t think the text is outstanding but each track comes across as honest to me.

The beats are good on some tracks great on others. To me “En Love and “My Skin” are the best tracks. My favorite moment on the album is in the hook of “En Love.” The unsustainable build after a bunch of airy beautiful singing straight into a simple, unique, and particularly filthy section is so rewarding in a house music sort of way. It doesn’t feel cheap like a base drop in hip-hop can. I feel like I earned it. She varies the way that moment it used making it feel earned each time it comes around. “My skin” feels like the mission statement of the album. As a skinny (if a bit flabby) white male it could be hard to appreciate message, and I can’t help but feel like I’m not the target audience. It is such an empowering song. Lizzo just wants us to love ourselves.

She doesn’t curse. I didn’t even notice until she told me so. This is a wholesome album. I didn’t think it was, but exluding a masterbation reference, it is really clean. That is admirable. I don’t know if I would have that kind of self control if I was a rapper. I would just want to talk about titties on my lap and that sort of thing. Is it weird that I want kids to listen to this? Like, they should play this in middle school lunchrooms or something.

So in the record store I was surprised that I had bought the first copy. I knew Lizzo was kind of a big deal in the Twin Cites music scene so I thought a lot of people in Moorhead/Fargo would have wanted her new album. When BGSM was released Lizzo appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and performed “Ain’t I.” I though this would be her big break. It wasn’t. While the album achieved relative success it did not make Lizzo a household name. None of my coworkers are familiar with Lizzo or her work. These are people who listen to some pretty hip shit. They ain’t top 40 slaves, these folks are woke. What does this album need to be great? Is it the music’s fault? Is it Lizzo’s fault? Is it our fault? I don’t know.

Anti-Label: I like the middle school reference J. Lizzo is someone I feel like people should latch onto. In a society that is clamoring for more strong female figures than ever before, Lizzo seems like an ideal fit. Sexy voice, solid lyrical prowess, good repertoire, etc. Plus for me, she has the “Prince” effect. Anyone from Minnesota to me is instantly special because they are “one of us”. I picked this up from Dan Cole, The Common Man, a few years ago and it is so true. We Minnesotans love our fellow kin.

Anyways, Lizzo bangs on this album. She has social awareness and relevance, good beats, and some absolute bangers. In the kindest way possible, I wonder if she gets passed over for vain reasons? Cause she is one of the most talented female rappers in the scene today.

One final comment on the profanity note you made, that is crazy. I never even noticed. I don’t even react to profanity in Hip Hop anymore and I guess I just assumed there was. If I was a rapper, I’d be dropping more profanity than a drunken Chipz n’ Queso song.

Connor: I really love this album, and I’ve listened to it over a dozen times since it came out. It really hits me in all the right spots. But more than anything, I love how good the album is. Not in the “wow, this is a well-made album” way, though it is. I mean good in the dungeons and dragons cosmic alignment sort of way.

I’ve told Alex before that if I was asked by a student, especially a girl, what music I would recommend to them, it would be Big GRRRL Small World. Lizzo isn’t singing about partying and drugs; no hedonism really at all. She isn’t a raging narcissist, and she isn’t singing about how she’s desperate for sex (though she’s open about sexuality). Instead, she’s singing about what race means to her, she’s rapping about loving her own large, brown body. She’s also way more erudite than most rappers I know of. “Ain’t I” not only pitches reparations, but is a direct reference to Sojourner Truth’s famous speech “Ain’t I a Woman”.

But I think, to go back to Jason’s question about why Lizzo hasn’t blown up yet, I recommend Lizzo for the same reason she probably hasn’t gotten big yet. A few months back I was listening to the song “Batches and Cookies” from the album before Big GRRRL… and I was trying to use a website to read the lyrics to help me understand an unclear line. On the first website I tried using, a usually high quality website, the lyrics were listed:

“Look at me, I listen to Lizzo. I think I’m better than everyone else. Hey, why don’t you go fuck yourself” (I paraphrased).

And I think that’s really indicative of what people think about Lizzo. I think there’s a real barrier to entry, between the lyrical content and the sound of some of her songs especially the slower and more reflective ones, that can be hard to overcome. Is that a problem with the listener, or with Lizzo?

In any case, I can groove hard to Big GRRRL Small World, in particular “Ride” which has a super funky bass line and a cool, “I just need to chill” message.

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Top 10 Favorite Songs from 2016!

I was so excited to write this blog that I started on it as soon as I got home from work. I was trying to brainstorm and remember my favorite jams from this 2016 year, which is harder than I thought it would be. We’ve had some great albums this year, including Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book, Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, Beyonce’s Lemonade, etc. I found this list to be a good way for me to reflect on why I love each one of these songs, whether it be the beats, lyrics, or just the fun the song brings. These are not the “best” songs of the year, but they have definitely been some of my favorites. I also tried to stick to one song per album, in order to give a little diversity to this list.

Feel free to disagree with me! This is music, the most subjective art there is. Everyone gets an opinion.

One last thing, as you read this, you may be thinking: Where’s Views? Why didn’t he include any Drake?

Because Fuck Drake.
Views sucked. Call me when Take Care gets re-released.

Enjoy!

10. That’s What I Like – Bruno Mars – 24K Magic

Date: November 18, 2016

Since this song was released with the 24K Magic album, it has been vibing with me on all the fun levels. This is a catchy song, with a fat beat behind it, as Austin would call a “slapper”. I love the sexually-charged lyrics Bruno is laying down and the mix between funk & pop this song has. Bruno has that silky smooth voice, and trust me, it’s what I like.

Favorite Lyric: “I’ll rent a beach house in Miami, Wake up with no jammies.”

9. Caroline – Aminé single

Date: March 9, 2016

I loved this song from the first listen. It’s funky and original, with Aminé dropping Gambino-esque references and flow switches that keep the listener on their toes. This is the first single from this Portland rapper and if it is any sign of the future, we are all in for a real treat. I love dual threat rappers, those that can spit bars and sing, something we see less and less of these days. Aminé doesn’t have the strongest voice, but it works perfectly in this song. All in all, this track is dope.

Favorite Lyric: “If ya want safe-sex, baby use the knee pads, Freaky with the sticky icky, Baby give me kitty kitty.”

8. Whisky to Wine – Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood – Gunslinger

Date: September 8, 2016

The first time I heard this song, I was listening to Garth perform at the Ryman Auditorium and he was doing a bit about the greatest duets in country music history. After singing some old classics, he brought out his wife, Trisha Yearwood, and they cut loose on this song from his new album. Loving classic Garth, I was unsure of what to think of the new stuff, but this song blew me away. So simple and delicate, yet powerful and moving. The chorus is the powerhouse of this song, with Garth and Trisha meshing as perfectly as chips n’ queso. Garth proved he still had it and Trisha proved she never lost it, making this song one of the easiest choices to make the top 10.

Favorite Lyric: “Whiskey to wine, It’s just not the same high, I miss the fire, The burning desire.”

7. Solo – Frank Ocean – Blonde

Date: August 20, 2016

I may get some flack for this, but I did not like Blonde that much. I felt it was too boring and for how long we waited for some new Ocean, I guess I expected more. Except for “Solo”. This track feels like Channel Orange Frank Ocean, with the same emotion and pure vocals that I came to love on his previous work. This song stood out, for me, among all the other songs on this album and it clearly deserved a spot on my list.

Favorite Lyric: “It’s hell on Earth and the city’s on fire, Inhale, inhale there’s heaven, There’s a bull and a matador dueling in the sky, Inhale, in hell there’s heaven.”

6. Redbone – Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!

Date: November 17, 2016

Gambino’s departure from corny rap into funk may have disappointed some fans, but I welcome it. I love the cleverness of Gambino’s raps and how he seems to not give a fuck about what people think. I loved the adventurous nature of Awaken, My Love! and look to see how far he will go on his next album. I was instantly drawn to “Redbone”, what I consider the mantel piece of this album, due to its filthy base line and chilling vocals. Childish creeps up into that head voice and spits some raw, emotional lines that keep me coming back for more. I may have only been listening to this track for a few weeks, but it is already one of my favorite songs, not just in 2016 either. Stay woke!

Favorite Lyric: “But stay woke, Niggas creepin’, They gon’ find you, Gon’ catch you sleepin’ (Oooh).”

5. Good as Hell – Lizzo –  Coconut Oil

Date: May 11, 2016

The former GRRRL PRTY standout drops her follow up EP to her fantastic album,  Big Grrrl Small World, with “Good as Hell” being the lead single. This song has everything I have come to appreciate about Lizzo: Sass, Soul, & Realness. Lizzo never fails to keep her feet firmly planted on the ground, allowing her music to connect with people like me. I appreciate an artist who can keep it real (RIP Kanye). While she sounds like she could use a few more GRRRL’s behind her, Lizzo still brings the fire with this one.

Favorite Lyric: “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.”

4. Ultralight Beam (feat. Chance the Rapper, Kelly Price, & Kirk Franklin) – Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

Date: February 14, 2016

Kanye has had an interesting year, even for him. I was one of the fortunate ones who saw him before he cancelled the remainder of his Saint Pablo tour, and boy was it worth every penny. The Life of Pablo may not be Kanye’s greatest work, but it still was one of the best albums of the year. It had everything: gospel vibes, Chance, bleached assholes, controversy, etc. And “Ultralight Beam” was the crowning jewel of this album. “Real Friends” was probably a better song, but Ultralight Beam found a way to connect with people on a level that is lacking in hip-hop, spiritually. Kelly Price slays with the vocals, and Chance proved he was ready for the national spotlight with the best verse on the whole album. Kanye stepped aside, showed some humility, and gave the “chance” to the future of hip-hop. And it worked out better than we could have ever imagined.
The message is clear.
We on an Ultralight Beam. This IS a God dream.

Favorite Lyric: “I made Sunday Candy, I’m never going to hell, I met Kanye West, I’m never going to fail.”

3. Work (feat. Drake) – Rihanna – ANTI

Date: January 27, 2016

“Work” is not a groundbreaking song. It is not deep. It is not powerful. But what it is is pure fun. Not every song needs to be a game changer. Not every song needs to rival Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright”. I love this song because it is so simple and catchy. Though being ridiculously overplayed, I have never felt like I could be sick of this song. Even Drake is good on this song; it’s probably the only good thing he’s done since Take Care. Every year I hope to find a song like this; one that is just fun and catchy. This year was Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work.

Favorite Lyric: “Work, work, work, work, work, work.”

2. Friends (feat. Bon Iver and Kanye West) – Francis and the Lights – Farewell, Starlite!

Date: July 17, 2016

I happened to stumble across this song on Pitchfork the day it came out and thought I would give it a listen because Kanye was in it. My initial impressions were that this song seemed eerily familiar and that I really liked it. Turns out Chance sampled this song for his “Summer Friends” track on Coloring Book. I delved more and more into the catalog of Francis and the Lights and found myself loving the style of music he was making. I have never been huge on electronic music, but his music really vibed well with me and the Farewell, Starlite! album has become one of my 2016 favorites. But it all started with this song. Bon Iver shreds, as always, and the combination of Francis Starlite and Justin Vernon makes for a killer pair, something I hope to see again in the future.

Favorite Lyric: “There’s a station playin’ rock and roll, So stay tuned in mi amor, Stay tuned in.”

1. No Problem (feat. Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz) – Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book

Date: May 13, 2016

This is my pick for album of the year, hands down. I went from being lukewarm on Chance after Acid Rap to a total Chance the Rapper stan. I had the great pleasure of seeing him at Magnificent Coloring Day with Jason, and the show was pure magic. If I was to do an unstructured list of songs that were my favorites in 2016, including ones from the same album, Coloring Book would have six of the top ten (Tracks 1, 2, 5, 6, 8, 12 on the album if you are curious). This mixtape connected with me on a level very few pieces of music ever have before. Spiritually, I feel enlightened by the words Chance lays down, finding some inner peace in how much faith plays a roll in his music (“with the faith of a pumpkin seed-sized mustard seed”). I can look at this track list and point out my favorite parts on every song. Chance makes this album so much fun, and I have fun every time I make my way through it.
I am not saying this should be everyone’s favorite album or everyone will even like it. But this album means a lot to me and I felt like sharing that.

So why “No Problem”? Honestly, the video was dope. #FreeWeezy. And it is the most fun song on the album. And “Angels” was released in 2015.

Favorite Lyric: “And if that label try to stop me, There gon’ be some crazy Weezy fans waitin’ in the lobby, Mula, baby.”

 

Thank you for checking out my Top 10 Favorite Songs of 2016! Feel free to comment with any thoughts you have!