“Be eternal.” That’s the advice Lizzo got from one of her first high-profile fans, Prince. And she lives up to the Purple One’s words on her legend-making Cuz I Love You, the breakthrough album where she finally claims her baby-I’m-a-star crown as a mega-pop queen. Melissa Jefferson can do it all: she sings, she raps, she plays the flute, she speaks her mind, always ready to dedicate an R.I.P to the memory of her last fuck. Lizzo’s the perfect star for right now — but she also aims for the timeless. Like the lady says: “Ho and flute are life.”
Born in Houston, nurtured in Minneapolis, Lizzo drops Cuz I Love You on the edge of turning 31. (She was born just a few days after Prince dropped “Alphabet Street,” which may help explain her superhuman levels of Paisley Park-dom.) It’s a flawless major-label debut, after she grabbed ears with her indie gems Lizzobangers and Big Grrrl Small World. No filler here—just 33 minutes of twerk-core, hip-hop self-love anthems, torchy soul ballads, plus the occasional moment where she busts out her inner Tull to play flute hero. Lizzo’s woodwind muse, Sasha Flute, has its own Instagram, becoming the most iconic axe to rock the hit parade since guitars like B.B. King’s Lucille or Neil Young’s Old Black.
Cuz I Love You is all about Lizzo’s quest to embrace her inner strength, learning to be her own “Soulmate” (“Bad bitch in the mirror like ‘Yeah, I’m in love’”) and flex feminist body positivity (“If you feel like a girl, then you real like a girl”). She isn’t hung up on her past anymore — as she declares, “Only exes that I care about are in my fucking chromosomes.” In “Lingerie,” she makes lounging around in her underwear sound like a revolutionary act.
Cuz I Love You follows through on the legend she’s been steadily building over the past few years. She’s a punk rocker at heart, like her mentors Sleater-Kinney — many Lizzo fans first heard her as the opening act on the riot-grrrl legends’ 2015 reunion tour. If you watched Someone Great on Netflix this weekend (like most of us), you got blown away by the pivotal scene when Rolling Stone music critic Gina Rodriguez has a self-care moment listening to Lizzo declare, “I just took a DNA test / Turns out I’m 100 per cent that bitch.”
She’s got a sly sense of music history, which is how she can reach so far on Cuz I Love You, mixing it up with producers Ricky Reed, Oak and X Ambassadors. The single “Juice” has the classic Eighties R&B glide of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. (Any basic can imitate Janet Jackson — but it takes nerve to nail the precise vibe of Cherrelle circa High Priority.) “Cry Baby” dips into Prince slow-love mode, though her attitude is more like if Apollonia took over the Morris Day role in Purple Rain. As Lizzo sneers, “A lot of girls have time for this shit.
Honestly, I don’t.”
Lizzo sure does love the hell out of a nice juicy old-school soul weeper, the kind that Etta James, Ruth Brown or Ann Peebles liked to rip apart with their bare hands. Lizzo can do that while simultaneously serving a flute lewk. Case in point: the title track, which begins with a startling soul holler, or “Jerome,” where she tells a lovesick boy-child, “Two a.m. photos with smileys and hearts / Ain’t the way to my juicy parts.”
“Tempo” begins with a snippet of “When Doves Cry”-style guitar, then takes off into a club blast with a manifesto for a chorus: “Slow songs, they for skinny hoes / Can’t move all this here to one of those / I’m a thick bitch, I need tempo.” Guest goddess Missy Elliott sends it through the roof. “Heaven Help Me” is her Aretha tribute, full of gospel piano. And just when you think the song can’t get any bigger? Lizzo moves over and lets Sasha Flute take over.
Lizzo turned heads with the pithy question she once asked in “Truth Hurts”: “Why are men great until they gotta be great?” But it’s not a question she wastes much time on here. When she belts “Cuz I Love You,” it’s obvious her “you” is the star she sees in the mirror. As she testifies all over the album, it was difficult work for Lizzo to learn that she’s her own hero. But it just takes listening to Cuz I Love You to make her yours.