Before their set on the second night of a residency at Minneapolis music venue Icehouse rap trio GRRRL PRTY invited nearly a dozen female friends, each in matching GRRRL snapbacks, to dance and take over the stage. This was after a long night of sets from Chicago's Psalm One and Fluff Nasty, and Minneapolis rappers The Lioness and BdotCroc. The night was front-to-back female artists, a rarity for any show but a rarity for a hip-hop show especially.
"That was really special," says rapper Sophia Eris, one of the members of GRRRL PRTY (alongside MCs Lizzo and La Manchita). "I felt very special to be a part of that and to help curate something like that. I felt warm in my heart. It's important to know what women are doing here, and people do know, but to release it all together and have it be a full-fledged, all female show is like, whoa. Like, hi, you should've known this whole time!"
While rap in general has gravitated away from group mentality over the years, female rappers are especially prone to flying solo, and there’s an impression that there are few open spots for women in hip-hop. In media coverage of female rappers, we’re more likely to hear stories about beefs—Lil' Kim lambasting Nicki Minaj, or Azaelia Banks taking verbal shots at Kreayshawn or Angel Haze—than stories about support. Rap will forever be a competitive landscape, and women are certainly no more likely than men to engage in feuds. But given the limited amount of media attention women in hip-hop receive, the in-fighting can become an overly dominant conversation point.
In a welcome contrast, the Minneapolis rap scene has a history of artists supporting one another in a way not often seen elsewhere. All solo artists in their own right, the women of GRRRL PRTY have found tremendous forward momentum in working together.
"Honestly, GRRRL PRTY is inspired by N.W.A.," adds Lizzo. "We're inspired by all these cliques that are older, but I'm kind of excited to see groups like TDE, Odd Future, and the A$AP Mob pop off. But you don't see a female group like that. GRRRL PRTY, that is what we do. We are crewed up, we're individual solo artists, we make crew records, we perform together, we branch off, we come back together, we keep it super hip-hop."
Fresh off the heels of their first release TNGHT B4 XMAS, a five-song EP, GRRRL PRTY is a take-no-shit powerhouse group with one of the strongest live shows in rap. Their sound is gritty and focuses on the confident, rapid-fire lyricism each member possesses.
"My solo stuff is a lot darker, a lot more chill, a lot more simple almost. With GRRRL PRTY, I feel an athlete," says Sophia Eris. "We're all helping each other, we're all in our element. When we write together, it's like, pow pow pow pow. Really challenging each other to go to the next level. I feel very fortunate to be able to grow with them and become a better rapper myself. Rap is just a whole other drug. Expressing yourself in the crazy, musical, powerful pleasures for me."
GRRRL PRTY is an evolution from the preceding rap and R&B trio The Chalice, comprised again of Lizzo and Sophia Eris but with the addition of singer Claire de Lune. The Chalice's hybridized sung-raps and group energy evokes the work of Salt-N-Pepa or TLC, had a whirlwind year in 2012. When they grouped together to release their debut, they soon made the cover of Minneapolis' alternative paper City Pages as the first rap artists to place first in the reader poll of best up-and-coming musicians. Suddenly, the group was everywhere, playing shows, touring, and cultivating a strong fan base. The group’s strength is in combining the distinctive styles each performer has built in their solo careers to create something bigger than the sum of their parts. "I feel like The Chalice was filling a void that hadn't been filled yet in Minneapolis," says Sophia Eris. She cites the work done the trailblazing female rap artists who've paved the way for women musicians over the scene's history, but says the movement is still in progress. "The Dessas and the Desdamonas and the Maria Isas, all those women are amazingly gifted and awesome, but I had yet to see women come together to be in a group before like The Chalice did. I feel like we have been supported in carving a lane in Minneapolis, but I also feel like there's still paths to be made."
The Minneapolis hip-hop scene seems integral to that collaborative approach to their music.
"I think that when you make music here, it's really collaborative, versus [being] competitors, because there's no Big Daddy Labels to push up to. Everyone's just an artist," says Lizzo, whose solo career is beginning to take off on a national level. "You go to L.A. or New York, or even Atlanta or Nashville, you see these people at the top of the game who started as artists, but now they're like a mogul, they have a mogul mind, almost like you can't touch them. Here, everyone is down to earth. Even if P. Diddy is down to earth, you wouldn't be able to tell because he's in a private jet, unless you get on his level. [In] Minneapolis, there's such a humility that everybody shows in the way that they carry themselves. They wanna work with each other, there's really no beef here." Lizzo especially has bridged working as an independent artist and alongside collaborators, working not only with GRRRL PRTY and The Chalice, but also as a singer in Har Mar Superstar and Caroline Smith's respective bands, and a flautist with the instrumental group assembled by producer Big Cats. She also made the cover of City Pages as 2013's first place reader's pick as a solo artist. In a short period of time, she's risen in prominence and gotten a lot of attention. She's now in the middle of an international tour with Har Mar Superstar in support of her debut solo record Lizzobangers, with Doomtree producer Lazerbeak.
Detroit-born and Houston-bred, when Lizzo first appeared on the Minneapolis scene in 2011, it was clear her brash, all-over-the-map persona was bound for stardom. Her unique sound draws from a wide range of sources, having worked her way through prog-rock groups, electro-pop duos, and R&B girl groups early on. She was well-recieved in the Minneapolis underground rap scene, birthplace of labels like Rhymesayers and Doomtree, thanks to her undeniable skill. "As soon as I moved here, I felt like I earned the amount of respect I felt I deserved. I felt appreciated and well-liked," says Lizzo. "But keeping it real, I have heard from many females [that] ten years ago it was not like this. I respect the women that worked through that. Like Dessa [of Doomtree], I have so much respect for her because she was a lone wolf female dealing with being in a heavily male-dominated scene. I've felt a lot of equality in this scene, from my own experience, but the women in the past have seen it come from the ground up. That's with anything. We had the suffrage movement in America, women have had to come up at a certain point. I think right now that we are all on an even-playing field and everyone is killing it in their own right."
Lizzo, Sophia Eris, La Manchita, and Claire de Lune are creating some excellent music and it's starting to really get the attention it deserves. But in tandem with one another, their individual successes begin to feel like a movement and a big step forward for hip-hop. They've created a lane for themselves where they cannot be denied, and they hope to inspire women musicians to continue down the path they're paving.
Related Reading: Beat Makers with Boobs—Feminism, Race, and Hip-Hop.
Photos of GRRRL PRTY via the band's Instagram.