iggy azalea: the worst thing since elvis presley
In his 2002 hit ‘Without Me’ Eminem famously rapped: ‘I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley to do black music so selfishly, and use it to get myself wealthy.’ Rap music often gets unfairly stereotyped (and often these stereotypes can be very true, but equally often they’re not) as being offensive, misogynist, homophobic and, perhaps most importantly for what we’re considering here today, strictly the domain of African American men. So when Eminem launched onto the scene in the late 1990s, and was hugely successful, more was made of his Caucasian skin colour than of his talented rhymes and amazing songs. However, although there was a little bit of ruckus caused over Eminem ten to fifteen years ago, in retrospect, there was very little criticism levelled towards him, due to the obviously outstanding talent that he had (and still does have) and his musical ability.
Fast forward to 2014, and we’re having the same debate about the authenticity of rap music when considering its source, but this time the source is not only white, but an Australian female. Of course I’m referring to Iggy Azalea here, who after her recent twenty-fourth birthday, has officially become the biggest music sensation in the world, occupying both spots one and two on the Billboard Top 100 with her undeniably catchy singles ‘Fancy’ and ‘Problem’, along with fellow songstress Ariana Grande. That kind of success cannot be denied or refuted, no matter what kind of criticism is levelled towards the artist – which, in this case, is a lot.
Iggy, whose birth name is Amethyst Amelia Kelly, is a conventionally attractive, young, white Australian woman who is a rapper. She has chosen her own career and musical style at which she obviously excels, despite not fitting the traditional ‘mould’ of what a rapper should look like. Furthermore, she raps with an American accent, despite originating from humble Mullumbimby in New South Wales. This is where a lot of criticism starts getting levelled at Iggy – a simple perusal of YouTube comments on her videos show this. They accuse her of being a ‘whigger’ (a desperate African American wannabe), demean her dress sense, demean her body type, debate over whether or not her backside has been surgically enhanced or not (it hasn’t, FYI), and some even incite that she is likely to be shot because of her ‘wrongly’ entering into the rap scene.
Yes, she raps with an American accent. But she spent many of her formative years living in the United States (listen to her autobiographical lyrics in the song ‘Work’ – ‘no money, no family, sixteen in the middle of Miami’), and has stated on record that she has been deeply influenced by the works of other American rap artists. The likelihood is that she began to create her own music from a basis of imitation of these others, as do 99 per cent of other musicians, not just rappers, and from this formed her own style. On top of this, it’s almost certain that she would not have had the success that she has had if she rapped with her natural accent, so it’s a powerful and intelligent move to make from Iggy. It has also invited a lot of conversation and drawn a lot of attention to her songs, which leads to more and more exposure – she’s certainly no ‘dumb blonde.’
Comments on her videos also tend to often compare her to Nicki Minaj, a high profile female rapper, whose music bears little resemblance to Iggy’s. I tend to think that this comparison is quite unfair to both women, because it does imply that all female rappers sound the same, and that they’re cut from the same mould purely based on the fact that they are both female. I think that there is plenty of room in the rap world and on the charts for both women, as well as many other female rappers.
Of course, Iggy isn’t totally exempt from all criticism. She, like many other public figures, has made some shocking blunders in what she has stated on the record. These include racial blunders (read about it here), insensitive comments about Indigenous Australians which have incited incredible responses, as well as making uneducated comments via her Twitter on a range of wide and culturally sensitive issues, which have led to many labelling her as homophobic and racist. To her credit, though, she has redeemed herself by slamming homophobia.
I am choosing to defend Iggy Azalea against her critics in this interview because it’s undeniable that she’s talented (I defy you to listen to either of her two current singles and not have them stuck in your head), she boundary pushing and she has unfairly copped a lot of criticism over things that she is defenceless against. God forbid that she’s an attractive white woman who can rap really well! This doesn’t denigrate African American rappers, nor male rappers, nor any other musicians. So I am all for Iggy to get bigger and better, and more Fancy with less Problems.