Say what you will about our music scene, Houston has served as a platform for the emergence of successful commercial recording artists from ZZ Top and Kenny Rogers all the way to Destiny's Child and Slim Thug -- and that dynasty may yet survive today.
Case in point: rising hip-hop Amazon woman Lizzo (aka Melissa Jefferson), who is currently amassing an impressive recognition as opening act for indie-adored singer-songwriter Har Mar Superstar and now making the online rounds with the video for her new single "Batches & Cookies."
A recent transplant to Minneapolis, Lizzo cut her teeth in Houston's local scene as the front woman and signature flutist for retired prog-rock quintet Ellypseas. It was with that band -- which she still calls "the family" -- that she says she really experienced her baptism as an artist.
"That group taught me how to sing, how to perform, how to rock out," remembers Lizzo, who grew up singing gospel in church. "I'm forever grateful for my rock past."
It was after the band had parted ways in late 2010 and while eagerly seeking a new artistic outlet that Lizzo connected with Minneapolis-based DJ Johnny Lewis to form electro-pop duo Lizzo & The Larva Ink.
"After Ellypseas ended, I just went with the flow," Lizzo says. "I was so depressed and exhausted with everything that I just wanted to do things that made me feel good. I just started creating music with whoever wanted to make it with me."
After collaborating with her new creative partner remotely for several months, Lizzo decided to pack up and make the move to the "Mini-Apple." And from there, the opportunities came rolling in.
She eventually outgrew The Larva Ink and parted way with Lewis, then turning her full focus towards two different all-female projects, GRRRL PRTY and The Chalice. Both quickly garnered accolades from the local press and began building an impressive following around the Twin Cities.
Lizzo says the warm feelings her newfound home has afforded her to go both ways.
"I love the collaborative vibe of Minneapolis," she gushes. "Everyone wants to make art with each other -- everyone appreciates art. If you're an artist [here], you're just as important as a doctor."
Which is not to say that she's forgotten about good old H-town, which the Alief Elsik graduate and former U of H coed called home for more than a decade. Relocating from Detroit with her family, Lizzo came to Houston at the age of ten and became quickly enamored with its culture and drive.
"I miss H-town, baby," she exclaims. "I miss my friends, I miss Montrose, I don't miss the heat and humidity -- I'll be back."
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Currently Lizzo is promoting her first full-length solo album, released Tuesday. A collaborative effort with Minneapolis producer Lazerbeak entitled LIZZOBANGERS, it serves as a high-energy, musical melting pot that bears the diversity of Lizzo's musical and geographic backgrounds -- something she says defines her very soul as an artist.
"I'm just Lizzo," she says when asked to define her style. "I came up on gospel, classical, rock and trap -- and when I open my mouth, I think that's what comes out."
Signed to Minneapolis-based label Totally Gross National Product, Lizzo got her biggest break yet when fellow Minneapolite Sean Tillman -- better known as Har Mar Superstar -- invited her on tour with him as both an opener and accompanying band member. The tour's three-month stretch is taking the free-spirited wanderer across the U.S., as well as into Canada and the UK, signifying her first international touring experience and -- just maybe -- her first big break.
Already, the video for "Batches & Cookies" has been acknowledged by several respected online publications, including Death and Taxes, who called it "better than Gucci Mane's new mixtape."
While acknowledging that her recent successes are at least partially attributable to good fortune (and maybe the migration north), Lizzo also credits years of dedication for finally paying off.
"It all comes from working," she says. "I've been working my butt off, singing backup for people, playing flute, tracking additional vocals for bands and also being in my own bands. [My success] has all come from word-of-mouth that hard work exposed.
"Luck is all about that 'right place, right time' theory, though," adds Lizzo. "And I'd like to say that I have been [there]."
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