On her 2016 EP, Coconut Oil, Lizzo elevates feeling good about yourself to an art form, all while proclaiming that self-care is not a luxury but a necessity—especially for the strong black women to whom the album is dedicated.
"A lot of my fans are backpackers and white kids, but as much as I love that, when I got to tour with SZA, I saw black women in the audience, and the way they connected with my music was different than I had experienced," she told Rolling Stone, explaining the origin story behind Coconut Oil's title track.
It's a glittery and unabashed major-label debut, with six raucous tracks giddily mingling gospel, house, R&B, and soul with clever, sexy, wily rhymes. Coconut Oil isn't asking you, it's telling you: Love me for who I am, or I'm out the door.
Lizzo, born Melissa Jefferson, struggled with her own body-acceptance issues, but experienced a moment of clarity at age 21. The rapper, who performs at the Neptune on November 11, told NPR in 2016: "It's like, you're not gonna wake up and be bigger or smaller or lighter or darker; your hair's not gonna suddenly grow down past your knees. You're going to look this way for the rest of your life. And you have to be okay with that." Soon after, she found the confidence to rap about it.
Lizzo's sumptuous voice, creative genre twists, and prowess for sick bass lines didn't come out of nowhere. Her musical résumé includes studying classical flute in high school and stints playing in both an electro-pop duo and a prog-rock band. If self-care is the sweetness of life for Lizzo, variety is the spice of it.
After all, no other young hiphop star can claim the assorted humble-brags of touring with Sleater-Kinney, recording with Prince, and inspiring the name of an art exhibit by Outkast's André 3000—all in the span of a four-year rise to fame after her debut album, Lizzobangers, was released in 2013 (and rereleased by Virgin Records the following year).
Once Coconut Oil dropped, Lizzo's distinctive brand of celebrating the "big grrrl" body was cemented, leading Newsday to dub her the "poster girl for the body-positive movement." From her Instagram feed saturated with hyper-stylized selfies, to her crew of Big Girls dancers of all shapes and sizes, it's clear that positive self-image is part of the plan. And while it's empowering to many, and fantastic that this plan, along with her prodigious musical talents, has launched Lizzo into the pop/hiphop mainstream, it's a shame that there's still not more like her breaking through.
It's also reductive to just declare her the queen of self-love and call it a day. Because more than being a poster girl of positivity, Lizzo also tackles complicated and deeply personal issues like racism and defining her own feminism—a feminism not centered on white privilege. And translating these complexities into a tight flow and delicious, booty-shaking dance tracks, which also seems part of the plan.
"I do make my music consciously for the people," she told Vibe magazine in an interview last year. "I have dedicated myself to positive music because I feel like there's a lack of it. But at the same time, the creation of it is so personal that I just have to be real with myself. Somehow, through the grace of God, it's digestible."