Raising the Chalice

The Twin Cities' hot new all-female hip-hop trio spills the wine on its debut EP.

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The Chalice (band): Claire de Lune, Sophia Eris and Lizzo.

They all come from other cities, ones where the idea of female rappers is still a novelty. So you can imagine how surprised the members of the Twin Cities' buzzing new all-female hip-hop trio the Chalice were to find a scene full of empowered women rapping to their hearts' content.

"It's still entirely the boys' club where I came from," said Lizzo, who arrived in town two summers ago via the rapper-rich Texas metropolis of Houston.

Added her bandmate Sophia Eris, who hails from Dayton, Ohio, "When I got here and heard Dessa, it was unlike anything I'd heard before."

Before you go thinking the Chalice is another poetic, hear-them-roar hip-hop act out to raise the consciousness of other young ladies, you should know that Lizzo and Sophia first bonded over singing "Booty- licious" by Destiny's Child at karaoke one night. Their third partner, Claire de Lune, counts Aaliyah and Beyoncé as favorites. One of the songs they like to cover together is the vaguely sexist hit "Feels So Good" by Bad Boy rapper Ma$e.

Most important, the original songs on the Chalice's eponymous debut EP -- which drops with a release party Friday at 7th Street Entry -- are mostly built around dancing and partying.

After less than a year of working together, the Chalice's three partners (all in their early 20s) have made their name by standing out from the crowd. They're less Dessa and Desdamona, and more TLC and Salt-n-Pepa. Which is not to say they have anything against more mindful, empowered, poetic hip-hop. A lot of the music they make on the side could even be described that way.

"There's nothing wrong with conscientious rap, that's totally great," said Claire de Lune (real name: Claire Taubenhaus). "There's just a lot of it being made in this town. We wanted to do something different."

The members themselves are quite different from one another. Lizzo (real name: Melissa Jefferson) is a hard-edged rapper who wasn't even aware of Doomtree or Rhymesayers two years ago. "I learned my rap skills more from people like the Crime Mob," she said, referring to the Atlanta rap crew.

Sophia (real name: Lauren Alford) comes from a spoken-word background and has an Erykah Badu-like soulful rap style. And Claire -- who grew up in two distinct worlds, New York City and St. Peter, Minn. -- is a Rihanna-style R&B singer/songwriter who issued a debut EP, "New Lion," in June.

The trio got together around Thanksgiving last year, when Sophia and Lizzo asked Claire to sing a hook in a song they were working on, "Push It," now the last track on their six-song EP. Initially, the tune was planned for an all-girl mixtape loosely dubbed "Raise the Chalice for Female Hip-Hop." When it got posted online via Soundcloud, though, "Push It" caught on fast, including airplay on 89.3 the Current. And thus the Chalice was born.

Claire said it's fitting that they decided to work together while hanging out at a party: "Every time we get together to write or work there's usually a lot of wine involved," she said. Added Lizzo, "We have fun together. A lot of fun."

It shows. Their EP opens with "Ladies Night," with lyrics about touching up the nails before hitting the bars. ("With my girls, we pop / And the boys can't help but stop," Lizzo brags.) The party continues in dizzying, bouncy tracks such as "Double Dutch" and "Crown on the Rocks." Lizzo's song "Mama" -- for which the band just released a lively new video -- steals a line from her favorite rock group, Queen, and recasts it for the Chalice's purposes ("Mama, I just killed a man").

A rotating cast of local hip-hop producers provide the big beats, including Big Cats!, 2% Muck, Sophia's confidant Prophis and Lizzo's fellow Houston transplant Larva Ink.

Despite their songs' rather light (and lightheaded) subject matter, the Chalice's members believe they're still making a strong statement.

"It's fun music to play while you're driving around in your car or getting dressed to go out," Claire said, "but there's still a lot of pride involved in it."

Said Sophia, "So much Minnesota music is about trying to make you think. This is more about just having fun, but there are still powerful female voices involved. Just by having fun, I think we're expressing our independence from men."

Dark stars

While its members have been moving around from New Orleans to New York residencies in recent years, Dark Dark Dark will show it's still a Minneapolis band with two release parties next week at the Cedar Cultural Center that kick off a lengthy fall tour. The baroque-style piano/accordion/strings ensemble went through what sounds like a truly dark stretch (with a romantic breakup and a possible band split) before the making of "Who Needs Who," which is reflected in the new album's breath-catching tone.

"If I said I never thought of you, that'd be a lie," the group's frontwoman, Nona Marie, sings in the opening to the album's brighter highlights, "Patsy Cline" (about wanting to slow-dance to the late country crooner with a certain someone). You can hear a stream of the album at Stereogum.com before the band's shows Wednesday and next Friday, with Mountain Man opening (7:30 p.m., $13).

chrisr@startribune.com • 612-673-4658 Twitter: @ChrisRstrib

Random mix

Paul Westerberg made his existence known again last week when a new song wound up on a couple of fan/blogger sites. "My Road Now," a solo-with-piano track, is another raw production that still packs a powerful, heartbroken punch. His manager, Darren Hill, quelled talk that the song might lead to something more: "It's just a song he wanted to get out there. No agenda." ...

This weekend's performances by New York ensemble S Percussion at Walker Art Center's McGuire Theater will feature input from several Twin Cities scenesters, including ex-Low bassist Zak Sally on Saturday and Katelyn Farstad (Mouthful of Bees) on Friday, while choreographer Emily Johnson had a hand in the production, titled "Where (we) Live" (8 p.m., Fri.-Sat., $16-$20). ... If you missed Brute Heart's stirring original score to the 1920 German silent film "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" at the Walker last month, the band will perform it again at the Cedar on Oct. 19. Zoo Animal also has its own silent-movie score to 1928's "The Passion of Joan of Arc," which it will perform at the Cedar Nov. 7-8. ...

Mason Jennings will be "Back Home" for the holidays. He is co-hosting a new show by that name with Minnesota Public Radio vet Kevin Kling at the Fitzgerald Theater the weekend after Thanksgiving, and then he will return to First Avenue for his usual Christmastime gig on Dec. 22. ... The Current taped last week's mesmerizing Conor Oberst show at the Fitz and will broadcast it Oct. 21 at 9 p.m. ...

Twin Cities-based Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Larry Graham makes a special appearance this week on Bobby Z's weekly radio show "The Sound," which airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on KTWIN (96.3 FM). The former Prince & the Revolution drummer asked the former Sly & the Family Stone bassist about playing Woodstock, making his new album, "Rise Up," and being an uncle to Drake. That latter talking point is news to me. ... Speaking of Prince, the reviews from his "Welcome 2 Chicago" gigs this week made it sound like St. Paul got the long end of their short-lived, no-go deal last month.

CHRIS RIEMENSCHNEIDER

  • related content

  • Audio: "Push It" by The Chalice

    Tuesday September 25, 2012

  • Audio: "Mama" by The Chalice

    Tuesday September 25, 2012

  • THE CHALICE

    With: Aby Wolf & Her Claws, La Manchita.

    When: 9 p.m. Fri.

    Where: 7th Street Entry, 701 1st Av. N., Mpls.

    Tickets: $8-$10. First-Avenue.com.

    HEAR SAMPLES FROM THE CHALICE'S EP AT startribune.com/music

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