From Classical Musician To Rap Icon: Inside Lizzo's Rise To Fame


| LAST UPDATE 10/20/2021

By Manny Ray

Through her unique lyrics and endless self-love, Lizzo won over the music industry. However, she wasn't always so confident; Keep reading to learn how Lizzo went from a classical music fanatic to an inspirational rapper.

Musical Icon

Lizzo's most definitely made her mark on the world with her incredible songs and messages about body positivity. Ever since she can remember, she's had a passion for music, but explored other genres before mastering rap.

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Getty Images via Steven Ferdman

Through her many different chapters in life, Lizzo grew to love various types of music. And in the end, she learned how to combine gospel, classical, and rap to create her very own sound. She may have accomplished quite a lot already, but Lizzo's just getting started!

Her Childhood

Before taking the music industry by storm, Melissa Viviane Jefferson was born on April 27th, 1988, in Detroit, Michigan. From a young age, Jefferson developed a very particular morning ritual. She stood in front of the mirror and blasted some of her favorite songs while singing and dancing.

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Instagram via @lizzobeeating

It was clear that she was destined to be a star. However, Melissa revealed that growing up in Detroit limited her musical knowledge, as she hadn't yet been exposed to many genres. "I lived there until I was 10-years-old in the church," revealed Lizzo. "I couldn't listen to secular music, so all I knew was gospel."

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A Whole New World

But eventually, everything changed when the Jefferson family left Detroit. "When I moved to Houston with my immediate family, I just had this whole world open up to me. I could listen to Freestyle Fridays on the radio, and Lil Flip was like one of my [idols]," Lizzo recalled. "The world of music opened up before my eyes."

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Instagram via @lizzobeeating

Her new school exposed her to a whole new universe of music, and the rapper was mesmerized by it. "There was a lot of freestyling on the [school] bus, there was a lot of freestyling in the cafeteria, and there was a lot of freestyling on the radio," she recalled.

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'Lizzo' Was Born

When she was 14-years-old, Melissa and two of her friends formed a rap group called the Cornrow Clique. She was meant to take on the stage name Lissa, a nickname for Melissa; But Jay-Z's song Izzo was incredibly popular at the time, so she went with Lizzo instead.

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Instagram via @lizzobeeating

And the name stuck; Lizzo was ready to pursue music in any way that she could. Aside from gospel and her new love for hip-hop, Jefferson had a love for classical music. "I loved classical flute. I had all these backgrounds, and I still struggle with sound. When you love everything, it's hard to choose," she explained.

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Music Is in Her Blood

From the very beginning, Lizzo looked to her family for support with her music. "My family always says, 'You were never not going to do music. We always knew that was something you were going to do,'" she shared. And she's not the only musical soul in the family.

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Getty Images via Theo Wargo

"I have a very musical family. Everyone can hold a note," said Lizzo. "Everybody can sing. Everybody can play an instrument. Nobody was a professional musician." She was especially inspired by her father, who she constantly looked up to; But in 2010, sadly, everything changed.

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She Dropped Out of College

When Lizzo's father became ill, she no longer had the motivation to finish college. "I didn't have a purpose, like I didn't feel like I had a purpose for being a musician or anything," she revealed. "I was sad and disappointed in myself because I'd always been so advanced in school, the golden child."

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Instagram via @lizzobeeating

"So when I wasn't successful, I was like, 'Who am I?'" Lizzo continued. She had dropped out of the University of Houston. And "when I gave up on flute, and when I stopped talking to my friends, I feel like, that life just vanished." And unfortunately, things weren't looking up just yet.

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She Almost Gave Up Music

When Lizzo's father passed away in 2010, she questioned everything - even the idea of pursuing music. "I was like, 'I have no reason to do this anymore because I was doing it for him,'" she revealed. "But then I realized I have to do this for myself because he was doing it for me."

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Getty Images via Jeremy Moeller

At the end of the day, Lizzo knew that giving up her dream would be a mistake. "Then, out of nowhere, this guy was like, 'Do you want to come to Minneapolis and be in my band?'" she revealed. So, she made the move, hoping to re-establish herself as a musician. "It was one of the best decisions I've made in my life."

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Learning To Blend

"I started playing the flute when I was 12, and I studied music theory all the way up until college. I fell in love with music," Lizzo explained. But for most of her life, she'd stuck to one genre at a time; Until she moved to Minnesota, that is. "When I moved to Minneapolis, I learned how to blend," she said.

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Getty Images via Jeff Kravitz

Part of what made her such a unique musician was her love for various genres and her desire to combine these different sounds, which was relatively uncommon for many artists at the time. She might not have had a college degree, but it was undeniable that Lizzo had the natural-talent to become a star.

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Minnesota Changed Her Life

"Within a year, I was playing First Avenue," she said about performing at Minneapolis' biggest venue. "Within two [years], Prince had asked me to come to Paisley Park to record." Lizzo couldn't believe what was happening. After briefly considering quitting music altogether, she was now working with an absolute legend.

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Getty Images via Gary Wolstenholme

"It was extremely surreal," Lizzo revealed of her experience working with Prince. "Mind you, I've been doing music my whole life, and I hadn't been very successful at a music career. Then as soon as I get to Minneapolis on a whim, I get to do something that a very small percentage of people have gotten to do."

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Prince Helped Her Gain Confidence

Prince saw something in Lizzo that gave her the confidence to keep going; He featured her in his 2014 album, Plectrumelectrum. "Prince was the first person to make me feel validated as an artist when I heard that track," she said. "It gave me confidence to be an artist, not just a rapper or a singer or a girl in a band."

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Getty Images via BERTRAND GUAY

Not only did Prince put Lizzo's name on the map, but he also helped her see the bigger picture; She was far more than just a member of a rap group. "When you're an artist, your career isn't defined by trends or age. That's the biggest lesson I learned from Prince: perpetuate positivity, and also, art is forever. Be eternal," she said.

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She Signed With Atlantic Records

In 2016, Lizzo met with Grammy-nominated music producer Ricky Reed, who'd previously worked with artists like Kesha, Meghan Trainor, and more. Immediately, Reed saw great potential in Lizzo. "I left that day and hit my manager, 'We need Lizzo. The world needs Lizzo,'" he revealed.

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Getty Images via FilmMagic

"She's an incredible person to be around, but when she sang for the first time on our first day, my jaw hit the floor," Reed continued. And once this deal was made? Reed did everything in his power to make Lizzo a star, starting with her debut song, Truth Hurts. However, things didn't exactly go as planned.

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Her Music Wasn't Being Noticed

You might remember hearing the song Truth Hurts for the first time in the film Someone Great, which came to Netflix in April of 2019. However, the song was initially released in September of 2017 - it just didn't quite get the recognition Lizzo and Ricky Reed had hoped for just yet.

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Getty Images via Shirlaine Forrest

"I thought it was a hit when we made it, and I thought it was going to connect," Reed revealed. "When it didn't, I was heartbroken." Reed practically begged the record label to promote the song, but they insisted on giving it some time. And as time went on, Lizzo began to worry that her music would never top the charts.

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She Worried That No One Would Listen To Her Music

And right after Truth Hurts was released, Lizzo suddenly questioned everything, wondering if her effort was even worth it. "I just felt like I was throwing music into the world and not even making a splash," Lizzo said. "A tree was falling in the forest and not making a sound, you know? I was crying in my room all day."

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Getty Images via Nicholas Hunt

She couldn't help but worry that she was putting her heart and soul into music that the world would never even hear. But Reed convinced Lizzo that she couldn't just give up now. "I just made the decision to keep going as an artist," Lizzo recalled. "And I'm so grateful I did, but it was by the skin of my teeth."

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A Slow and Steady Career

While Lizzo was quite frustrated, Reed continued to have her back and encourage her to keep creating incredible music. His first couple of years working with Lizzo might not have been successful just yet; But he'd helped other artists reach the top, so he knew that someday, Lizzo would accomplish the same.

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Getty Images via Frazer Harrison

Eventually, just as Reed had hoped, Lizzo mesmerized the world with her music. "I wish I could go back to Ricky and Lizzo in 2017, 2018, and be like, 'guys, just be patient,'" he shared. Reed described Lizzo's success as "slow and steady" because "when your career builds like that, nobody can take it away from you."

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'Truth Hurts' Was Inspired by a Meme

Once Truth Hurts won over millions of fans worldwide, Lizzo's future began looking incredibly bright. She could finally see that her hard work was paying off. So, what was the truth behind this very song? Well, Lizzo revealed that the lyrics were inspired by a meme that she'd once come across.

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Getty Images via Emma McIntyre

"I saw a meme that resonated with me, a meme that made me feel 100% that [chick]," Lizzo revealed. "I sang that line in a demo, and I later used the line in Truth Hurts." Years later, though, some people in the industry seemed to have a problem with the song's logistics.

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Legal Troubles

When Truth Hurts became incredibly popular, Lizzo was accused of not giving other songwriters the proper credit. She had claimed that she'd written the song on her own, with some inspiration from a meme. "That song is my life, and its words are my truth," she later tweeted.

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Getty Images via Kevin Mazur

However, producers Justin and Jeremiah Raisen said they'd been involved in writing Truth Hurts and helped decide to use one particular line in the song. "We were never contacted about being credited for the use of the parts of Healthy (melody, lyrics, and chords) that appear in Truth Hurts," Justin wrote on Instagram.

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Lizzo Claimed She Wrote the Song on Her Own

But Lizzo continued to deny the accusations. "The men who now claim a piece of Truth Hurts did not help me write any part of the song," she claimed. "They had nothing to do with the line or how I chose to sing it. There was no one in the room when I wrote Truth Hurts, except me, Ricky Reed, and my tears."

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Getty Images via Dave Simpson

But when she learned that the meme was inspired by a tweet written by Mina Lioness? Lizzo gave songwriting credit to Lioness, who appeared very appreciative of this acknowledgment, as she shared on social media. However, Lizzo's team later announced they filed a lawsuit against the Raisen brothers for harassment.

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Big Grrrls

When Lizzo takes the stage, she's typically surrounded by her supportive group of dancers, called the Big Grrrls. As a leader in the body positivity movement, Lizzo, and her choreographer, Jemel Williams, specifically, put together a group of talented women - all from different backgrounds, varying sizes, and heights.

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Getty Images via Vivien Killilea

"This is the first time I can enjoy my curves, enjoy being who I am and what I look like," shared Big Grrrls member Shirlene Quigley. "With the message that Lizzo is spreading to the world, it wouldn't be right if the girls behind her didn't have that type of love for one another," said another dancer, Dominique Loude.

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She Worked With J.Lo and Cardi B on a Movie

In 2019, Lizzo made her acting debut when she appeared in Hustlers, alongside Jennifer Lopez and Cardi B. The artist revealed that part of what made this experience so memorable was working with Lopez, and she said she truly admired her as an actress. "She's such a professional," said Lizzo.

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Getty Images via Steve Granitz

"This was my first time on camera for a feature film. So I was definitely looking at her like, 'Wow, you're the leader right now.'" Lizzo also said she loved working with fellow rapper Cardi B: "She had me rolling... We got to improv and Cardi really took artistic liberties, and just went off, and it was really cool to watch."

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Proving Everyone Wrong

It's no secret that Lizzo is a fantastic performer, but people were shocked at what she could do on stage for many years. "Since the moment I started performing, people - mostly men - would look at me after the shows and be like, 'How do you do that? I'm tired just looking at you!'" Lizzo revealed.

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Getty Images via Theo Wargo

"And I'm just so sick of hearing those comments after my shows," she continued. "My entire life, I've dealt with that. I'm a very stubborn person, so I've spent my whole life trying to make those people feel more dumb for assuming that I should be tired because I'm this size," said Lizzo.

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Inspirational VMAs Performance

Ever since she made her musical debut a few years ago, Lizzo has inspired people worldwide with the meaningful messages she sends through her lyrics. And her performance at the 2019 VMAs was no exception. Right in the middle of the show, Lizzo stopped singing to give the audience a genuine speech.

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Getty Images via John Shearer

"It's so hard trying to love yourself in a world that doesn't love you back," Lizzo said on stage. But, she's proof that self-love is crucial, and she's managed to find that. Lizzo also said that she wanted to make everyone watching feel "good as [heck]," and based on viewers' reactions? She did just that.

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Her 2020 Grammys Win

In the fall of 2019, Lizzo made headlines, as she was nominated for eight different Grammy awards. This made her the most nominated artist of the 2020 Grammys; She couldn't believe it, as she'd previously contemplated giving up on music altogether. And when the award show finally came in January of 2020, she truly stole the show.

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Getty Images via Rachel Luna

After receiving the Best Solo Performance award for her hit song Truth Hurts, Lizzo gave another endearing speech full of gratitude. "This is the beginning of making music that moves people again, making music that feels good, that liberates people," she said. 

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Fans Were Disappointed About Her Smoothie Detox

Lizzo has a history of inspiring fans, but in December of 2020, she essentially did the opposite. She opened up about her 10-day smoothie detox on TikTok, which evidently upset some of her fans since she's all about promoting body positivity and self-love.

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Getty Images via Erik Voake

"Seeing you promote diet culture is breaking my heart," one fan wrote. As someone who continually makes an effort to share all of her ups and downs with her fans, Lizzo was taken aback by the negative responses. Plus, she'd specifically stated that she was doing this cleanse to "reset" her digestion, not to change her image.

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Lizzo Was 'Afraid and Ashamed' to Share Her Diet

As soon as she saw the negative feedback on her videos, Lizzo opened up about how this made her feel. "Because I feel like as a big girl, people expect if you are doing something for health, you're doing it for a dramatic weight loss, and that is not the case," Lizzo revealed.

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Getty Images via BET2020

"I'm a big girl who did a smoothie detox, and I wanted to share it with you guys. And every big girl should do whatever they want with their bodies," she continued. Lizzo explained that she'd had a stressful month, and "I wanted to reverse it and get back to where I was. I'm so proud of myself. I'm proud of my results."

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Jillian Michaels Accused of Body-Shaming Lizzo

Celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels, from The Biggest Loser, was accused of body-shaming Lizzo during an appearance on BuzzFeed News' "AM to DM" in January of 2020. Host Alex Berg brought up Lizzo's body-positivity movement, and Michaels didn't seem very supportive.

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Getty Images via Daniel Zuchnik

"Why are we celebrating her body? Why does it matter," she said. "Why aren't we celebrating her music? 'Cause it isn't gonna be awesome if she gets diabetes." Michaels said that she and her children love Lizzo's music, "But there's never a moment where I'm like, 'And I'm so glad she's overweight.'"

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Fans Were Outraged

Many of Lizzo's supporters were infuriated by Jillian's commentary, including actress Jameela Jamil. "Just saying... MY WHOLE DAMN THIN FAMILY HAS DIABETES AND HIGH CHOLESTEROL AND PROBLEMS WITH OUR JOINTS," she shared. "Stop controlling fat people and get in the bin."

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Getty Images via ANGELA WEISS

"We celebrate Lizzo because Lizzo unapologetically celebrates Lizzo and encourages everyone to celebrate themselves, so Jillian can [go] all the way off to whatever washboard ab mountain of misery she sits atop," said another fan. And what did Lizzo herself have to say about this situation?

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Lizzo Responded by Saying She 'Deserves To Be Happy'

Some of her fans couldn't believe the words that came out of the fitness guru's mouth, but Lizzo addressed the situation in a very composed manner. She uploaded a video to Instagram showing off the magical view from her balcony, highlighting the fact that she deserves to be happy in her own skin.

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Getty Images via Emma McIntyre

"This is my life," she captioned the video. "I have done nothing wrong. I forgive myself for thinking I was wrong in the first place. I deserve to be happy." Earlier in her career, Lizzo had shared, "So now I'm in this industry, I'm a big girl with a cute face and some cute music." And she has no shame in any part of that!

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Empowers Fans Through Body Positivity

Aside from being a musical icon, Lizzo's learned to embrace and love every part of herself. "I've come to terms with body dysmorphia and evolved," said Lizzo. "The body-positive movement is doing the same thing. We're growing together, and it's growing pains. But I'm just glad that I'm attached to something so organic and alive."

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Getty Images via Jim Dyson

"We should look at our bodies as vehicles for success," she continued. This movement has also helped Lizzo connect with her fans and empower others as many feel they can relate to the artist. "Thank you, @Lizzo, for being an inspiration. Thank you for your music and flawless talent. You do, you Queen!" wrote one fan.

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Late to the Lizzo Train

As Ricky Reed put it, Lizzo's career had a "slow and steady" start. But the most important thing was that she did indeed make her mark on the world. "[People] will be like, 'Lizzo's my favorite new artist... why am I late for the Lizzo train?'" Lizzo shared. "You're late, honey, but it's not your fault."

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Getty Images via Theo Wargo

"You're late because I'm at the back of the shelf. But I'm glad you're here because you worked to find this." But not everyone loved her music right away. "I've always had to turn haters into congratulates," she revealed. "That's the thing with my songs and live shows: I've never lost that mentality of 'I have to win you over.'"

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Lizzo Loves Herself

At the end of the day, despite the ups and downs throughout her career, Lizzo's made one thing clear; She absolutely loves herself. "I practice self-love. I look in the mirror and say, 'I love you. You're beautiful. You can do anything,'" she shared. And, Lizzo encourages her fans to adopt the same mentality.

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Getty Images via Kevin Winter

"Tell yourself that on your happy days so that you have the strength to tell yourself that on your darker days," she continued. "This body-shaming in the mass media is holding us back, but it ain't holding me back." And in the wise words of Lizzo herself: "I don't need a crown to know that I'm a queen."

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