Melissa Viviane Jefferson was born in Detroit, Michigan. When she was ten, her family relocated to Houston, Texas. She was classically trained as a flutist by renowned music teacher Claudia Momen from the age of 10 until she graduated Alief Elsik High School in Alief, Houston, where she also started rapping. At the age of 14, she formed a musical group called Cornrow Clique with her friends.
At this time she acquired the nickname “Lizzo”, a variant of “Lissa” inspired by Jay-Z’s “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)”. After graduating from Alief Elsik High School in 2006, she studied classical music focusing on flute at the University of Houston. At the age of 21, after the death of her father, she lived out of her car for a year as she tried to break into the music industry. She moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2011.
2011-2015: Career beginnings and Lizzobangers
While living in Minneapolis, Lizzo performed with groups including the electro soul-pop duo, Lizzo & the Larva Ink. During this time she helped form a three-piece all-female rap/R&B group: the Chalice. In 2012, the Chalice released their first album, We Are the Chalice, which was locally successful.
Lizzo’s hip-hop-focused debut album, Lizzobangers, produced by Lazerbeak and Ryan Olson, was released on October 15, 2013. Killian Fox of The Guardian gave the album 4 stars out of 5, saying: “At times joyfully nonsensical, Lizzo’s stream-of-consciousness rhymes can also be lethally pointed.” The album topped Star Tribune’s “Twin Cities Critics Tally 2013” list. Music videos were created for the songs “Batches & Cookies”, “Faded”, “Bus Passes and Happy Meals”, and “Paris”.
2016-2018: Coconut Oil
Lizzo was one of the hosts of MTV’s short-lived 2016 live music performance series Wonderland. After signing with Atlantic Records that same year, Lizzo released her first major-label extended play, Coconut Oil, on October 7, 2016. “Good as Hell” was released as the lead single from the Coconut Oil on March 8, 2016 as part of the soundtrack for the 2016 film Barbershop: The Next Cut.
Lizzo co-wrote each song on the album, while enlisting Ricky Reed, Christian Rich, Dubbel Dutch, and Jesse Shatkin for the album’s production. The result was a departure from Lizzo’s previous alternative hip hop releases. Lyrically, the extended play explores themes of body positivity, self-love, and the journey to those ideals.