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iggy azalea: the worst thing since elvis presley

Image: Laura Murray via Wikimedia Commons

Image: Laura Murray via Wikimedia Commons

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.

6 thoughts on “iggy azalea: the worst thing since elvis presley

  1. I am actually incredibly disappointed in the way the author choose to approach how and why Iggy Azalea has garnered so much criticism for her music and antics in general. It doesn’t matter if someone is “talented;” she simultaneously appropriates and casually brushes off her unearthed racist tweets and comments. You can’t build one oppressed group up by shitting on and oppressing other marginalized people.

    • Agreed. I also find the terms ‘blunders’ and ‘insensitive’ pretty off the mark. The comments she made were RACIST.

      Well written but overall the article has a dismissive and arrogant tone to it.

    • I tried to leave this comment yesterday but looks like the internet ate it! Was just wanting to say I have to agree with Monica and some of what Ellen and Lou say also.

      I don’t think the core problem people have with Azalea is her success or ability as a white rapper, but it is more to do with the litany of homophobic, racist and whorephobic things she has said in the past, and the way that she has dealt with the criticisms about these comments. She has said some really horrible things about race (particularly as the author noted, in regard to black Australians) and has then been extremely unapologetic or unwilling to demonstrate a willingness to learn and educate herself about why those kind of statements are hurtful, ignorant and insulting.

      You can enjoy Azalea’s music while also being critical of her, and to be honest, this reminds me of the Lip piece that was written defending Katy Perry’s performance where she appropriated Japanese culture – earnest defence of ignorant white women who refuse to take on board valid criticisms regarding the way they approach racial issues.

      Ruby Hamad writes amazingly (as always) on race here:

  2. I think I get you’re saying, Ally – that too much of the criticism surrounding Iggy Azalea is about her being a white woman in a typically African American world.
    But I would like to hear more about what makes Iggy so awesome? About what makes her talented, and why she’s garnered so much success. That would be a good addition to an article which, as the comments above suggest, was quite blase about her racist statements.

  3. I think that having number one singles is only one measure of success, especially in the field of hip hop. If you put Azalea up against someone like Jean Grae you will see a great disparity in MCing skills. To me she is a pop singer with hip hop trappings. Give me Missy Elliot anytime.

  4. It doesn’t matter if Iggy has talent in music.. She’s not even rapper. I know real rappers. Eminem, tech n9ne, hopsin, tupac, 50cent, biggy smalls, and not iggy! She doesn’t deserve the title rapper.

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