Hey there, guys! Time for something a little different. To get this out of the way–I’m not one of those black college girls who writes microaggressions against me on a poster and gets my angry, shame-on-you picture on Buzzfeed. Liberals would call me a “black conservative” even though I am in no way conservative whatsoever. But not agreeing that racism is the worst thing since unsliced bread and that it should be given our undivided attention gets you labeled as one of those by default. What are you gonna do? That being said, let’s talk about Iggy Azalea!
Iggy Azalea is a Mad Lib. She’s a white, female, Australian borderline criminal who moved to the American South without her parents when she was a teenager, got mentored by TI, and became a rapper. And now she’s popular. And the brains of social justice warriors are imploding more than they did when “Same Love” hit the charts–because having a song about how being gay is okay of course makes you just as bad as a homophobe.
So why has Ms. Azalea inspired so much vitriol from the social justice world? Well, she’s a white girl trying to make it in the rap world, so you tell me. People are calling her a culturally appropritive racist. I’ll leave my feelings about cultural appropriation to be written about another day, but I think that the criticism she’s gotten is needlessly harsh and full of specious claims used to get people riled up about how racism is still such an important issue.
I’ll address this right now. I don’t like Iggy Azalea. I don’t want to defend her or her music, but the comments that have been leveled at her are ridiculous upon even the smallest amount of scrutiny, and that’s not all that fair. If you’re not going to like an artist, make sure you have a legitimate reason.
Personally, I don’t like her music. I’ve heard “Fancy” the most, and I don’t get why everyone likes that song so much. It’s not that catchy. It’s actually fairly minimalistic, and the chorus is okay. But is it ironic? Like “ha, ha, I’m talking about how I’m fancy when I’m really just classless new money who wants everyone to know how rich I am now”? That’s the idea that the chorus gets across, but then the verses seem to take the “fancy” claim seriously, and I just don’t get it. It’s a confusing single, and the rest of her songs that I’ve heard have the same quality of just floating around in the ether not really knowing what they want to be.
So I’m not a fan of hers. A lot of people would assume that’s because I’m a Southern black woman who is ashamed of this little white girl stealing rap and acting like a caricature of black people. That’s nowhere near my reason, and I’m here to explain why I think that’s a bad reason to have.
Iggy is not “the realest” as she claims in her hit song. She probably shouldn’t have said that blatant non-truth first. She raps in a Southern drawl but gives interviews with her natural Australian accent, for instance. But it’s hard to find any rapper who lives up to the constant, bragging claims of being “real” that you find so often in the hip-hop genre, even the classic figures. Was Tupac being “real” when he talked about being gangsta and having it hard when he went to one of the most expensive performing arts schools in America and got big not too long afterwards? Was Drake being “real” when he claimed to start from the bottom but really grew up in a comfortable middle class household for most of his life? Is Nicki Minaj being “real” when she raps in a voice totally exaggerated and unlike how she speaks in her interviews (just as Iggy does)? Are any of the rappers who make it big and become rich and famous being “real” when they still talk about living on the streets gang banging like its their current life? Oddly, Kanye West is the only mainstream rapper who can really claim to be “real,” and that’s only because the man has no filter in his music or his personal life, which may or may not be a good thing.
Iggy has the same excuse as the rest of them. Rappers, like plenty of other artists, create stage personas. They create characters to perform in because it’s more interesting that way, or because that’s the kind of person their audience wants to hear music from. Ke$ha actually isn’t a drunken party skank, for instance. Iggy Azalea was mentored by TI and idolized Tupac, so it makes sense that the rap persona she created would take after ATL-style Southern hip-hop, complete with the slow, methodical beats and the Southern drawl. (For the record, Nelly’s Southern accent was nowhere near as thick as it was in his raps mainly because he was capitalizing on being one of the first St. Louis rappers and exaggerating what then made him stand out at the time.) She apparently really appreciates TI’s mentorship and wanted to incorporate his style it into her own because she liked it so much.
Then there’s the idea that she’s Australian and not “part of the culture.” But what is an Australian girl who moved to the Dirty South as a teenager, spent most of her time in hip-hop culture, loved Tupac’s music and style, and then got mentored by TI supposed to act like? She doesn’t have a very stereotypical circumstance. She’s mimicking hip-hop culture about as much as any other rapper who didn’t come directly “from the hood” yet still uses the slang and has the mannerisms. I don’t really know what she’s like as a person, but it seems like that would be her culture, given her background of living in the areas where that culture was prevalent since a young age. It doesn’t really seem like she couldn’t give a damn about hip-hop and is just using it to make money off of her own novelty–she seems genuinely immersed in it.
In the end of the day, the only novelty of Iggy Azalea is the fact that she’s a Mad Lib, like I said before. If she wasn’t a white, female, Australian, TI mentee I doubt anyone would be paying much attention to her. Because she’s no different from every other mainstream rapper. She wears expensive clothes, talks about having money, being awesome, going to clubs, says “bad bitch” a lot, and brags about how people should already know how great she is because it’s just so obvious. That’s the synopsis of almost every popular rap song that’s hit the charts since 2000. I was alive in America in the 2000s, I know how obsessed we were with carbon copy crunk songs back then, and even though rap as a genre isn’t all that mainstream anymore, just go and turn on BET for twenty minutes and tell me that the five music videos you watched were all different and unique and varied in their subject matter. You can’t do it.
She makes music that record companies say that people want to hear, i.e., vapid raps about how cool she is and how much money she has and how much people should love her if they don’t already. That’s the kind of rap that people listen to, so that’s the kind of rap she makes. She was intended to be a star–a popular act in the mainstream, not just the rap world. Her novelty was probably why she and her producers had that intention–she’d be easier to promote to the public if she initially seemed like something new and different–but that doesn’t change the fact that Iggy Azalea has no control over what music the public likes to hear. She is very much at the whim of what other people want. Her persona is that of a cookie cutter Southern rapper no different from every rapper that came before or after, and her popular songs have the stamp of uninspired bragging typical of cookie cutter rapping because those are safe to do.
She even acknowledges that she’s only here to make popular music. Yeah, her songs and style are manufactured to sell, but she’s fully aware of that. That doesn’t mean her music is good, by any means, but she knows what she’s trying to do, and I can commend that. It’s like Ke$ha going out and saying that she only makes the music people want to hear and therefore only makes vapid party skank club tunes. You don’t get many points as an artist for being aware of the poor quality and ulterior motivation behind your product, but you at least get points as a self-aware human being who just wants to have fun and make music that other people like without having to be “deep.”
For manufactured pop/rap music, I think you can do better than Iggy Azalea, and that’s why I don’t like her. It’s based purely upon the quality of the music, and, for the kind of music she makes–intended to entertain and do nothing more–there are better rappers out there. All I Do Is Win beats Fancy by a mile. In Da Club beats Murder Business.
It’s not like she isn’t talented. She has a good flow, which is the most important thing you can have as a rapper, but it’s definitely not the only thing you need to be considered objectively good, and with that, she comes out lacking. I think she has the potential to be genuinely good at what she does, but her social justice critics won’t let her.
To explain that: “Cookie cutter” doesn’t automatically mean “bad.” Pacific Rim is the most cookie cutter movie in existence, but I and many other people had a blast with it, unlike with a similar cookie cutter action robot movie, Transformers. Yeah by Usher could be renamed “Background Music In Every Club Scene of Every Cable TV Show,” but it’s still really fun.
If you make manufactured music with the intention of selling it to mass audiences first and foremost, that doesn’t mean that the music has to be bad, but it does mean that it has to be good in other ways in order to be anything worth talking about. With pop music, it’s all about personality. You can make the most generic songs ever, but if you as an artist have a distinct personality that shows in all of your songs, you’ve done something good–you’ve done something that helps your generic music stand out through sheer force of will. That’s why Katy Perry’s early songs are better; she had a personality back then that stamped her music as distinctly Katy Perry. That’s why her new songs are bad; you can’t tell any of her songs from anyone else’s now.
To get back to Iggy Azalea, that lack of a personal touch is what makes her music hit below the mark for me. If she didn’t have a girl’s voice I wouldn’t be able to distinguish her songs from Wiz Kalifah’s. Her novelty is all she has, and her critics are making sure that it’s all she’s ever going to have because that’s all they’re ever going to talk about. Why try to have a personality when no one cares and no one will notice? Any and all attempts she’s made at being her own person with her own style, the social justice warriors have come out of the woodwork to criticize her for being a racist or for appropriating hip-hop culture–basically for being an evil white woman trying to steal stuff from the black folk and make fun of it. Iggy Azalea isn’t going to grow into her skin until people just leave her the hell alone for two seconds and start treating her like a rapper instead of just some racist white girl who wants to “act black.”
Because she is, indeed, a rapper. Everything the social justice peeps criticize her of doing is nothing wildly out of the ordinary for other rappers. Rappers have been doing the same thing as Iggy for years without significant comment from them–making politically incorrect comments on social messaging sites, having distinct rap personas, using a different voice while recording, talking about a culture that isn’t immediately theirs and, if it was, isn’t a culture they can honestly claim anymore as someone with money in their wallet. It seems to me that people are using her as a catalyst for what they don’t like about rap culture in general but were afraid to give voice to before because “that would be racist.” Thank god a little white girl came along and gave us someone to throw all of our pre-existing criticisms at in a way that’s socially acceptable.
I’m not saying that you can’t criticize her for doing those things, but it’s incredibly hypocritical to criticize her while simultaneously acting like none of the “real” rappers do the exact same thing. If the action is okay when they do it, it should be okay when she does it–the color of her skin and her place of origin doesn’t matter. If middle class Canadian Drake can “act street,” so can she. If 50 Cent can intentionally mumble in order to replicate how he sounded when his jaw was wired shut even though he’s perfectly capable of enunciating words, she should be able to rap like Tupac.
There are plenty of things wrong with hip-hop culture. Even the female rappers refer to themselves as “bad bitch,” it’s really materialistic, and it makes being a violent thug seem like something to be aspired to because it makes you “real.” Even Jay Z makes claims about how he did terrible things in his past “for the love of drug dealing” in a song all about how he’s so rich now that all he does is sit around wanting to own famous pieces of classical art just to brag about owning them, not for any actual appreciation of the works. I like hip-hop and I can acknowledge those things.
But the vitriol that Iggy Azalea gets seems like her critics are looking at her with blinders on. If they were more consistent in their critiques–if they treated her like a rapper and acknowledged that all of her questionable behaviors are common in that scene for everyone–I wouldn’t care. But they act like she’s some racist white girl stealing the style just to make money and appropriating something beautiful and wonderful and faultless. Rap culture is not faultless, guys. It’s, to use a word that we liberals love, very problematic. And it’s not just her, so you can stop acting like rap is perfect and it’s just Iggy Azalea fucking it up with her white-girlness. People say that she’s racist because she’s acting like a caricature of hip-hop culture when, in reality, all she’s doing is indulging in genuine hip-hop culture with all of its good points and flaws while also being white. Which, of course, makes her horrible. When you do it, Iggy, it’s a caricature. We when act the exact same way, that’s just us being “real.”
I actually find it rather insulting when people say that Iggy Azalea is appropriating black culture. Because broken ebonics, terrible slang words (“Retarded” means “good” now? Really? No wonder rappers do nothing but brag, the slang of the genre makes negative connotation impossible.), materialistic egotism, and nouveau riche idiocy is black culture now. It’s the thing that we should be proud of and shelter as a part of our racial identity to keep the white man from enforcing his culture on us. Glad we could draw the line and lay claim to that, brothers and sisters. It’s a damn shame that the white gurl took it away from us. . . .
That’s an element of social justice that’s always confused me. Proper, standardized English shouldn’t be attributed to white people and black people shouldn’t be called less “authentically black” if they talk that way. But ebonics is most definitely something that should only be associated with being black, and you can definitely judge a white person as racist and disingenuine for using it. Because that’s not hypocritical and double standard-y in the slightest.
I don’t like Iggy Azalea because I don’t like her music, which is how a musician should be judged. Maybe if she isn’t supported by the public, we’ll get something new (that’s not just Nicki Minaj wearing crazy wigs and failing at creating alter-egos). But calling her racist against black people makes no sense, especially when she really seems to love the culture that she’s “appropriating” so much, and has loved it since she was a teenager and probably before. If anything, Iggy Azalea proved that white girls can be just as factory-mill average as black guys when it comes to the rap game. And that’s true equality.