Lizzo – Big GRRRL Small World

John Preston

South London based music obsessive with strong opinions about most things. Doubts Madonna has another good record in her but would love more than anything to be proved wrong.
John Preston

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Lizzo’s sophomore album Big GRRRRL Small World, released in the final weeks of 2015, deceives somewhat with its opening trio of tracks. Whilst ‘Ride’ is a successful and bass-heavy dalliance with 80s-style electro-funk and a departure of sorts, all three songs are still very much in the same vein of the literally titled ‘Lizzobangers’ of her 2013 debut.

From track four onwards, however, the record changes gears and we find ourselves in a completely different and often mind-bending and exhilarating new world. We never realised we wanted it maybe, such was the perfection of Lizzobangers, but now that this nuanced and recklessly ambitious Lizzo has been experienced, you won’t want to look back.

Lizzo is a part-rapper, part-singer Minneapolis-based artist whose style is perhaps more aligned to an old school take – belonging to the Missy Elliott fit of hip hop and R&B performers who favour optimism, sweat and a degree of bawdy humour to their rhymes. She is not as ruthlessly chameleonic, either sonically or style-wise, as, say, Minaj and avoids the traumatically confessional and confrontational approach of Angel Haze. With Big GRRRRL Small World Lizzo instead establishes her position as a true one-off and a mass of talent with a wide reaching musical ambition which rides effortlessly alongside the album’s self-love manifesto.

The angelically harmonised and clipped vocals of ‘Humanize’ fade in like a 1960s radio ad for perfumed bath oil before the groove settles into a deeply sensual R&B mid-tempo with lyrics about skin which has spikes and scales and can’t be touched for fear of pain. Lizzo sings throughout and sounds magnificent – wounded, but open to resuscitation.

It’s on the next track, however, where she throws the rule book to the floor. Starting as a tight and side-eye swivelling electro hip-hop track, ‘Bother Me’ begins to unravel itself halfway through and eventually morphs into two minutes of Lizzo singing a capella via Auto-Tune yet managing to be both intimate and soulful, despite the electronic manipulation.

‘En Love’ begins with the suggestion of a slow jam love-fest before a spare trap beat trips in and Lizzo rhymes about the many virtues of her own, and other women’s, bodies and minds and ‘fros. The title track, abbreviated here to ‘B.G.S.W.’, pushes this message even harder.

‘I’ll let my big girls tell it…. we can take over the earth,’ Lizzo announces on a cloud of ambient and dreamy synths again forewarning the arrival of a harder relentless beat with spacious, deep house motives. Rapped verses, sung chorus and a message that is sincere and uncynically played – it’s mesmerising.

Family grievances are thrown out into the open on the darkly stark ‘1 Deep’ but resolutions come as issues are explored and motives understood.

‘Jang a Lang’ ends the album as it began, with a room-filling rap track that finds Lizzo upfront and outraged by patronising white girls on the kind of song that made Lizzobangers so essential – and banging. It’s natural in a way that on its first couple of listens this kind of raw and instant big beat energy that was all over her debut sadly seems to be missing in the main here and that this could be a misstep. Wrong.

Don’t act too hastily as you will come to regret it and miss out on a one of the more innovative and cohesive – but slow to take hold – R&B albums for a long time. Big GRRRRL Small World may wear its heart a little more transparently on its sleeve than before, but Lizzo never gives too much away and she will always leave you desperate for just a glimpse more.

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