Is Iggy Azalea's Career a Hip-Hop Conundrum or An Inspiration?
Iggy Azalea at the Observatory
It's hard to sum up exactly what Iggy Azalea means to music just months after releasing her debut album, The New Classic, which to date has sold over 100,000 copies. Her single "Fancy" is now double Platinum. Most critics, rap journalists especially, have had nothing but negative things to say about the 23 year-old's commercially successful effort for reasons that are quite obvious. The white Miami transplant from Australia sounds and looks different than other emerging emcees before her, still she is lumped into categories with other fair-skinned, "Thrift Shop" rappers who catch flack for having a ghetto pass that's invalid everywhere but the Hot 100 charts.
Let us not forget about the 2012 track "Murda Bizness" featuring her then label head T.I., where she proclaims "If you was on fire, wouldn't piss on y'all hoes." Even T.I.'s verses on that song didn't get anywhere near as gutter and grimy as Azalea's. It was a song that quickly showed she could write lyrics that could at least keep up with the status quo of hip-hop's biggest mainstream artists. In the time before "Fancy" commandeered radio waves, Iggy also collaborated with rap contemporaries YG, Problem, and Wale while Miley's "hood" antics continued to be the laughingstock of TMZ.
Wind your Rolex watch a year forward though, and see that the rising star has ditched the down south imprint Grand Hustle Records for Island Def Jam, where a shot at the show was astronomically more plausible. With the album that would become "The New Classic" in the works, Iggy was picking up steam and even performed "Blurred Lines" alongside Robin during the MTV Europe Music Awards. Sound familiar? Perhaps the Aussie was now on a mission to win over the mainstream by displaying her rap skills or the red flags a traditional rapper with a pop song might raise. Her public persona became pop flavored, yet urban-tinged; something labels and mainstream media outlets loved and the exact thing rap traditionalists hated. And the visuals for "Fancy" inspired by the movie Clueless would get Azalea invited through corporate America's front door, while more commonplace rappers and their crime-filled story arcs remain on the porch.
Now, 2014 has become the year of Iggy and talking hip-hop heads are screaming "andale" hoping her flame cools as if her product isn't "real" hip-hop would like for it to come to a close though the undeniably dope "Fancy" was mistaken for a DJ Mustard beat when it first released, and his music's been deemed the requiem for '90s rap on plenty of occasions. After all, Iggy's almost completely backed off of the tough talking since the explicit bar in "Murda Bizness" and spends a lot of her time discussing issues more pertinent to a former vagrant looking for a big break in a Black metropolis in hip-hip, still largely considered a "Black" industry who the press to adhere to stereotypes is always present.
Gary Suarez, writer for the entertainment blog Flavorwire, raised a good question in an article he wrote on Azalea back in April by asking just "how many Swiss-cheese narratives have we been fed from rappers alluding to their mastery and prominence in the drug trade, the pimp game or some other criminal enterprise?" In Iggy's case, the only reason to dismiss the autobiographical ode to pulling up your bootstraps, "Work", is unfounded hate.
Exonerate Iggy, though? Not so fast. Some say that her half-Aussie, half-Southern accent (which often sounds extremely affected) turns the occasionally credible emcee into just anther cultural appropriator. In this light, a white artist like Azalea seems to lack respect and knowledge of the culture responsible for her rising fame. At the very least her style can feel inauthentic, and at the most it can sound disrespectful. And this maybe a problem steeped mostly in the use of that laughable accent, but one that extends into lyrics, specifically when she says "hustle and the struggle is the only thing I'm trusting" or "I remember being exactly like you too, young girl" -that just gives off a bad vibe to those well acquainted with the struggle of street life. We then ask who might her intended audience be?
In the event it ever comes out that Iggy's target audience are White people, can the Rap community really get mad? The pop appeal she's garnered is likely due to her skin color. Label execs love this! On the other hand, her shapely Southern ass has culled all kinds of love from the brothas and any other guys with real taste in women. And the beats are pretty easy on the ears to anyone listening to Top 40 these days. It's seeming more and more like a win-win for consumers, execs across the board and of course a capital "W" for the young Aussie whose dreams are coming true. It's also unlikely that T.I. is complaining.
So why not let her play both sides of the fence? She could very well be a hybrid who goes par for par with Nicki Minaj in the coming years. She's more than capable of winning MTV Moonmen and BET Awards, thoroughly entertaining both audiences. Like Nicki, we have someone in Iggy who makes good pop music with a flow that is simply more polished than most. Though, lyrically, her story might be told a different way. By putting guys like Mavado and Tip on her records, hip-hop stands to gain more notoriety and further infiltrate households around the world. Iggy offers them another chance to entice the youth with stories that attracted a teenage Amethyst Kelly to rap years ago.
Regardless of her origins, Iggy Azalea is a product of the ghetto even if she, nor the pundits who can't keep her name out of their mouths' don't fully realize it yet. Her fault in not being aware of her situation is she is now a representative of a lifestyle she hardly knows about. As for her haters, they're ignorant to the idea of rap being so pervasive that people outside of the genre's immediate reach can't escape the allure of the captivating culture. Let's not act like she's doing nothing another person, of any race, might do. So what, she's adapted the black culture as a way for her to get famous. If folk singers were on TV all day, hangin' out with ball players, and essentially being the rock stars of today, she'd be singing that shit!
Time will only tell whether Iggy Azalea will fizz out and be forgotten about, grow into a respectable figure who understands the context responsible for her, or emerge as a racist, White, cultural appropriator who could care less for the people who struggle the way she will never understand. But what she needs is a chance to grow into that before we come to a sound verdict on the girl.
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