“First things first, I’m the realist.” -Iggy Azalea
I’d like to make the argument that no, Iggy, you are not the realist. Not even close.
Like a lot of people, the first time I heard of Iggy Azalea was on the radio. Fancy came on and I thought, who is this? I pictured what I thought she might look like, and I pictured an African American female. I heard her again on Ariana Grande’s song Problem and thought ok, this is the New Girl, I gotta Google. I did not expect her to look like she does, meaning quite bluntly, a white woman.
Amethyst Amelia Kelly (a cool enough name on its own) was born in 1990 in Sydney, Australia. She liked music and at age 14 she started a girl group with two other neighborhood girls. “I was like, I could be the rapper. This could be like TLC. I’ll be Left Eye.” When that didn’t work out, she dropped out of high school and went on vacation with a friend to the US at age 16. When her friend left, she stayed, pursuing her dream of becoming a rapper. She took the stage name Iggy Azalea (after her dog’s name and the name of the street she grew up on – not unlike how you come up with your Porn Star Name – for the record mine would be “Roxie Shelburne”), somehow got involved with the Dungeon Family in Atlanta, rapped about vagina and BOOM! now she’s got two mainstream songs out on the radio. And somewhere in there she signed a modeling contract with Wilhelmina Models.
I don’t know what it is, but after seeing her, I just couldn’t stand to hear her on the radio. I had to turn it off. Of all the crap on there, I am probably the most disturbed by Iggy Azalea. There is just something that feels so wrong about her.
The bigger picture cannot be ignored: Are these white hip hop stars the modern white actors performing in blackface? Today, their faces are still white, but what’s coming out of their mouths isn’t. I’m calling it blackthroat.
Well what’s the big deal, right? This happens a lot now. You hear someone and don’t expect them to look like they look. The first time I heard Amy Winehouse I thought she was black. Same went for Sam Smith. And Eminem and Macklemore are both white and rap. Aren’t we in post-racial America? Doesn’t music unite us all in the end? So what’s the difference between Iggy and the rest of them?
For me, it’s about authenticity. Eminem speaks the way he raps because he grew up in a black lower-middle-class Detroit neighborhood. He is who he is, on and off the mic. Macklemore has been more controversial (and I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole here), but at least to me, he also raps as he speaks. Growing up in Seattle, heavily influenced by hip hop pop culture (I once tried to also coin the term “Pop Hop” to classify this type of mainstream hip hop… alas, it never stuck), writing about themes that he’s familiar with. Yes, there are definitely elements of crafted images here. There is definitely some imitation (some may call it inspiration, some biting, some flat out stealing; I’m not going to go into that here either). But Iggy Azalea takes the cake when it comes to carefully practiced imitation of African-American linguistics when rapping. It’s embarrassing and cringe-worthy.
Azalea liked American hip hop (or whatever she thought that meant), hopped on a plane, overstayed her visa, ended up in Atlanta, landed a modeling gig and grabbed the attention of mainstream hip hop labels and eventually was taken under the wing of T.I. who has been known as an entrepreneur in his own right (a failed attempt at starting a social media website, endorsement deals with Chevrolet, liquor and Axe body spray). T.I. helped shape Azalea and produced her EP.
After learning of T.I.’s involvement, my first reaction was how hypocritical it is for anyone to criticism Azalea’s blackthroat when there was a black dude pulling the strings behind it the entire time. My second thought was that T.I. was just playing smart business. I could imagine him spritzing on more Axe and sipping his custom Rémy Martin, saying, “Hell, someone is going to make money off of this pretty white girl spitting like us, might as well BE us.”
Whatever the case, as cultural appropriation is the catch phrase and cardinal sin of the day, I’m surprised I’m not hearing more criticism of Iggy Azalea in the face of all of the criticism of Mackelmore, Avril Lavigne, Lily Allen and of course, Miley Cyrus. Line all those other ones up, and personally, I find Iggy Azalea the most offensive of all.
Update: As I was finishing writing this, Nikki Minaj had accepted her BET Award for Best Female Hip Hop Artist. Her acceptance speech has been making the rounds as an insult (even Time Magazine is using “throwing shade” like they came up saying it) at Iggy Azalea. I’ve read criticism of Iggy as inauthentic for not writing her own rhymes (it’s said T.I. probably ghost wrote most of them). However I think Minaj and a lot of other people are sick of Azalea’s “inauthenticity” in the sense of her massive cultural appropriation. Maybe we will start hearing that criticism after all – but of course it unfortunately takes a girl-on-girl maybe-beef to throw some light (in the form of shade) on it. I predict we may here more talk of the beef than of the content, but hey, the world loves a good girl fight, no?