Underground Update: From boom bap to pop rap, Lizea Harper does it all

Musician Lizea Harper’s music is the “dark remedy” perfect for any occasion.

Lizea Harper poses for a portrait outside of the Katherine E. Nash Gallery on Sunday, Oct. 27.

Parker Johnson

Lizea Harper poses for a portrait outside of the Katherine E. Nash Gallery on Sunday, Oct. 27.

by Alex Strangman

To label Lizea Harper as a singer or a rapper denies her versatility as an artist. Whether it’s singing melodic hooks or rapping over a boom bap beat, Harper refuses to be boxed in.

Hailing from St. Louis Park, a first-ring suburb west of Minneapolis, Harper is not your traditional artist.

Focusing on activism, it wasn’t until she met other local artists at a benefit show that she ever considered doing music professionally. What started out as freestyling eventually led to underground shows. Harper says spoken word poetry was the first art form she really picked up on her way to becoming a full-fledged musician.

“I don’t really have much background in singing, or instruments, or anything technical music-wise,” she said. “It really just stemmed from poetry.”

Harper began making music back in 2014, but she didn’t start taking her craft seriously until 2016, when she realized she couldn’t work a traditional desk job due to medical reasons. Harper says at that point things had been going well with her music and that she wanted to work on her own terms.

Since then, Harper has gone on to do just that — work. She dropped an EP in 2015 titled “Build New,” an album in 2017 called “Dive” and another album this past July named “Dark Remedy.”

Staying independent and without a manager, Harper’s “can’t stop, won’t stop” work ethic is ingrained in her, from coordinating shows to setting up video shoots and still finding the time to work a regular job, write and record. 

“It feels like I’m always doing like ten jobs at once,” she said.

The responsibility of carrying her career on her shoulders seems to have matured Harper, personally and musically. On her early works, Harper can be heard rapping lyrics like, “Few more stops to the top and I live to tell the story making my own plot. I’ve been paving this lane so I don’t see a reason to stop,“ over an East Coast, boom bap style beat, reminiscent of an early 2010s Joey Bada$$ or Kirk Knight. 

Her most recent album, “Dark Remedy,” shows a different, more emotion-provoking side of the St. Louis Park MC — a sound similar to that of one of her biggest influences.

Harper says she draws from a lot of influences, but Karen O., front woman for the 2000’s punk outfit the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, is someone she says especially inspires her.

“She was one of the first femme artists I heard that wasn’t afraid to be ugly and raw with her sound, and that was really eye opening for me,” Harper said.

While it would be a stretch to call Harper’s sound “ugly,” there is a raw vulnerability conveyed in her new music.

“When you control the vibe, you just walk into the room, telling me I’m gonna love you before we’re introduced,” she hypnotically sings on “U Feel,” the opening track of her 2019 album “Dark Remedy.”

Evident though the evolution of her sound, according to fellow Minnesota MC Exxe, Harper isn’t afraid to try something new in the booth.

“Even before I met her she kind of had her typical Lizea sound, but ever since then she’s decided to break out of the box and try new genres, or just interesting ways to approach her music and sound,” he said.

As her sound evolves, Harper says she feels confident that the music she releases in the near future will be some of the best music she’s ever made. 

“I have some new material I honestly feel is the best I’ve ever made, and I’ve never felt that way about anything I’ve put out in the past. My new stuff is what I feel like I’ve been building up to,” Harper said.

What: Lizea Harper, opening for Nick Jordan

When: 7 p.m., Nov. 10 

Where: Studio B at Skyway Theatre, 711 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, MN

Cost: $10

Ages: 15+