Why White Rapper Iggy Azalea Is So Controversial
Critics reaction to Iggy Azalea's debut album The New Classic
There's been a lot of controversy surrounding the latest big name white rapper Iggy Azalea (real name Amethyst Amelia Kelly). It's often harder for white rappers to be accepted in the predominantly black hip hop genre but criticism of the Australian rapper goes much further. In 2013, when she was still largely unknown, she did an interview that came back to haunt her.
Iggy appeared on a morning show hosted by rapper Sway. One of the things he asks many of his guests to do is freestyle rap. When Iggy is asked she looks nervous and tries to avoid doing it by drinking her coffee. Rapper T.I. who signed Iggy to his label says "Uh oh" and then paces nervously in the background. Iggy says she can't rap to that "hood ass beat." Sway offers to let her do it acapella instead. A writer on the feminist blog Jezebel.com described her reaction this way:
Iggy takes a long sip from her coffee, looking like a suburban teenager driving after curfew on her learner's permit and the cop just pulled her over looking mean.
Instead of freestyling, she raps (badly according to many) one of her own songs. She probably wouldn't have been able to keep up with Sway's "hood ass" beat. One comment on Jezebel summed up what many see as the problem with Iggy:
This is what happens when your career isn't the result of years of passion and hard work in an art that you've immersed yourself in but instead, comes from some suit(s) sitting in an all-staff meeting and saying "Hey! You know what would REALLY sell? An attractive white girl rapper!"
So, Iggy isn't a great rapper but she still gets massive hits and Grammy nominations despite having a critically panned album and accusations that she uses ghostwriters. Still she isn't the only successful rapper who's rapping ability has been questioned. Pitbull has had a ten year long career with several big hits and he was voted the 9th worst rapper of all time. Yet he isn't controversial like Iggy. There are other reasons why she in particular has drawn so much ire.
Iggy Azalea has received heavy criticism for her "blaccent." She doesn't sound like an Australian when she raps. She puts on a fake "hood" Southern accent. And she sometimes fakes an accent when she talks as well. She comes off sounding like a caricature to many of her critics. A writer on ForcesofGeek.com says :
I hear a tall blonde white Australian woman contort her voice into a studiously assembled impression of a black American accent that feels more caricature than homage...I can appreciate a white singer who is inspired by a black one and engages in some emulation in order to find their own voice. All great artists steal, right?...Iggy Azalea fails DFTF (Don't fake the funk) for me because she's all blaccent, no soul...She didn't bend her Australian voice to incorporate some blaccent features.
-- IGGY AZALEA, Blaccents and Faking the Funk
The University of Michigan's Uloop dealt with this as well:
The now iconic drawl that Azalea uses is something she picked up while she was getting into rap. It’s not her natural voice, and it raises questions on authenticity and race in hip-hop.
Why Does Everyone Hate Iggy Azalea?
The article then addresses the issue of Azalea profiting from a black genre while showing no concern for issues facing the black community:
In a market dominated by African Americans, why is it that the white superstars garner breakout success? Just last year, Macklemore (another white act) swept the Grammys and released a multitude of hits. Both artists reap the benefits of being white, while profiting off a predominantly black genre...Iggy Azalea is marketed as an authentic hip-hop participant, but dismisses the community and insults them at the same time. Iggy is using her status advantage to exploit the consumers’ desire to engage in hip-hop, but leaves out the history and culture of the genre...While Macklemore released a track called “White Privilege,” acknowledging the gentrifying aspect from which he built a career, Iggy Azalea has completely disregarded the community that has allowed her type of music to prosper.
-- Iggy Azalea and Macklemore: White Rappers in a Black Genre
Iggy Azalea makes a whipping motion after calling herself a runaway slave master
Iggy's "Racist" Past
Iggy Azalea has been accused of being racist due to several racially insensitive tweets and a song where she refers to herself as a slave master while making a whipping motion in the video. She claimed the slave master line was misunderstood. She's also been accused of refusing to acknowledge that white privilege plays a role in her success. The music industry has been marketing black music using white artists for decades because they tend to be bigger money-makers.
Forbes experienced a backlash when they published an article titled "Hip Hop Is Run By A White, Blonde, Australian Woman." They quickly changed it to "Hip Hop's Unlikely New Star: A White, Blonde, Australian Woman."
Making a name for yourself as a woman and hip hop is laudable enough, forget the fact that she is a white, blonde, Australian woman. In a genre dominated almost exclusively by African American men she sticks out like a statuesque thumb.
And that's the problem for many people. Iggy is having all this success precisely because she's white and attractive, not despite being white and attractive as the author seems to suggest. Her critics claim she's a mediocre white artist embraced by the music buying public and Grammy voters while talented black artists often go unnoticed.
Iggy believed white rapper Macklemore was the underdog when he swept the Grammy's rap categories. Macklemore himself claimed his wins were unfair and that the critically acclaimed Kendrick Lamar deserved to win the award for Best Rap Album. He contends that being white has been advantageous to his career. Iggy's detractors believe she's either deliberately obtuse or worse a moron because she seems oblivious to that.
"She still doesn't get it. Like, she is still making it about her being the victim and people who back her up are "nice" and people who don't are haters. She has zero self-awareness why people are even "angry" at her".
Iggy Azalea's Response to Rapper Q-Tip
Rapper Q-Tip attempted to politely explain to Iggy why many people in the hip hop community have issues with her. He tweeted:
@IGGYAZALEA HipHop is an artistic and socio-political movement/culture that sprang from the disparate ghettos of NY in the early 70's...It proved a way for us to exhault to scream to dance to laugh and find OUR VOICE. We weren't at the time skilled musicians as kids. We had records, turntables, ideas and INGENUITY...It was a neighborhood thing really. Black and Latino Kids were carving out their space and it became infectious
Now u are fulfilling your dreams ... BUT! you have to take into account the HISTORY as you move underneath the banner of hiphop...I say this in the spirit of a hopeful healthy dialogue that maybe one day we can continue. I've been on twitter a long time and this will probably be my last series of tweets pretty much but I'm Kool with it as long as I got to share this w u. Zzzzzzz's up! Peace!
Read Q-Tip's Complete Tweets to Iggy Azalea
This was Iggy's defensive and dismissive response.
most people learn every and anything they can about the subjects they are passionate about, I'm no different...i find it patronizing to assume i have no knowledge of something I'm influenced by, but I've also grown up with strangers assuming that...so its completely fine and I'm used to it by now. i don't lose any sleep over it...im also not going to sit on twitter & play hip hop squares with strangers to somehow prove i deserve to be a fan of or influenced by hiphop...i would have to be an idiot or incredibly bored to think that would change anyones already cemented opinion of me. I'm neither...how you feel about me blending musical genres together doesn't bother me, no one is making you support or buy pop rap albums...its entirely up to you what you support and are interested in, thanks if you are interested in me and enjoy my music. i love to hear that!...now, if you guys don't mind... I'm on my christmas break enjoying it with people i actually KNOW.... in REAL life. you should do the same....its the most magical time of year and be it a slow news week... it still seems a waste to spend it aimlessly trolling my account.
White Artists Often Do Get Respect In Black Genres
Iggy's defenders have claimed criticisms of her are racist. They say she's attacked solely because she's a white woman. Her critics, they claim, are just jealous of her huge success. Iggy also claimed the criticisms aimed at her are misogynistic:
"Well, they don't say that stuff about Macklemore. So, yes, I think it has 100,000 percent to do with the fact that I have a vagina."
These types of comment have been denounced on entertainment forums:
"Poor silly girl. Also, that misogyny comment I'm feminist myself and let me tell that the reason u are bashed is not ur *****, it's ur hecka racist self"
"Macklemore got dragged to the pits but at least he acknowledged what they were saying"
"I like Iggy sometimes but it's like talking to a brick wall. She just doesn't get it, it has nothing to do with her being white, female or any of the above, she gets flack because she's simply not a good rapper, her freestyle proved this."
"at this point she's really like a parody of a stereotype of a caricature. it feels like she's doing it on purpose because she can't really be that clueless about everything."
Plenty of white artists, including women, do get both praise and respect when they make black influenced music. British singer Adele is a white woman who's had huge success singing R&B and soul. Yet she isn't getting criticism for being inauthentic or faking it in a largely black genre. There's frustration that white R&B and soul singers like Adele, Amy Winehouse, Justin Timberlake and Sam Smith often enjoy more success and media attention than similar black artists but they aren't called caricatures or accused of "verbal blackface." They aren't accused of wholesale appropriating another culture like Iggy. They're taking influences and making them their own.
Kesha is also a white woman who hasn't been attacked and criticized for making urban influenced music. When she appeared on the cover of the hip hop and R&B magazine Vibe this was the ABC headline:
Ke$ha Covers VIBE Magazine, Makes History As First Solo White Living Female To Do So
Kesha's second single Blah Blah Blah mocked rap and club songs that treat women like disposable sex objects. Yet when she released her rap track Sleazy, she was praised by many in the urban community. Why did Kesha get praised while Iggy is censured? Maybe because she doesn't have a racist past, has good flow when she raps, and she doesn't put on a fake "black" accent. She's also mainly a singer of pop, rock and country songs who raps on only a small percentage of her tracks.
Janis Joplin was one of many white artists heavily influenced by black blues and soul artists
There are valid counter-arguments to these condemnations of Iggy. We live in a melting pot and people of all races are being exposed to the artistic and cultural creations of other groups. American culture is a mix of various European, African, Asian and Native American cultures. Whether it's art, cooking, slang, fashion, or music each group is incorporating ideas from others. Telling people certain aspects of American culture are off limits because they aren't the right kind of American to make use of them is problematic. Cultures can't, and never have existed in a vacuum. Different cultures have always exchanged ideas and always will.
Hip hop itself often borrowed from rock music through sampling. While rock had a history of mixed black and white influences, it was heavily white when sampling became popular in the 1980s. Many songs were sampled without permission and the creators of those songs were never paid royalties. By some estimates, white males are responsible for about 80% of hip hop purchases, yet they're told they aren't allowed to make it because they're the wrong color. People should be able to make whatever art they want regardless of it's origin.
Another valid criticism is that while hip hop may have started as a socio-political movement it largely stopped being seen as that when the genre became commercialized and mainstream. Even many black hip hop artists rap about partying, sex and drugs rather than addressing thought-provoking social topics. Rapper Azealia Banks, who is one of Iggy's biggest critics, has worked with some white producers, which appears hypocritical to some. Those white producers could also be accused of appropriating black culture and enriching themselves from it. Still many people think it's unfair that the originators of hip hop struggle to find mainstream success and win awards while those who imitate the originators do.
In his book How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll, Elijah Wald pointed out that in the 1930s white bandleaders like Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey became hugely successful playing music arranged by black composers. Black bandleaders couldn't get on the radio, so they played the role of the "wizard behind the curtain." The masses demanded black music but didn't want it from black musicians.
"...white artists and aggregations that sounded sufficiently black could almost always get better jobs and more money than their African American counterparts."
Addressing the Controversy
Eminem and Macklemore have received plenty of criticism for being successful white men in a black genre. But they've acknowledged that white rappers generally enjoy more success than black rappers. Eminem rapped in Without Me:
Eminem - Without Me
Macklemore - White Privilege
Iggy's attitude and reaction to criticism is discussed on the major hip hop station Hot 97
Comedian Paul Mooney explains why he doesn't want white people making hip hop
Though I'm not the first king of controversy
I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley,
to do Black Music so selfishly
and use it to get myself wealthy (Hey)
there's a concept that works
Macklemore has a song called White Privilege.
I see so many people lost who really try to pretend
But am I just another white boy who has caught on to the trend
When I take a step to the mic is hip hop closer to the end?
'Cause when I go to shows the majority have white skin
They marketed the windmill, the air flair and head spin
And white rappers albums really get the most spins
The face of hip hop has changed a lot since Eminem
And if he's taking away black artists' profits I look just like him
Claimed a culture that wasn't mine, the way of the american
He also acknowledged he didn't deserve to win multiple Grammy Awards in the rap category. Kesha has always been humble about her rapping ability calling it her "silly white girl rapping" despite all the compliments she's received from members of the urban music community.
Iggy Azalea hasn't shown that kind of humility. She hasn't dismissed claims that she "runs" hip hop or she's now the queen of hip hop having taken the throne away from Nicki Minaj. Her critics say she's black when it benefits her but white when it doesn't and she exploits black culture while showing no concern for issues facing black Americans.
It's a complex issue with both sides having valid points. We're in a melting pot and people should be able to borrow and imitate what they like artistically or what they believe will make them rich. Those who are frustrated by white artists getting rich off the cultural creations of others while members of those cultures often struggle to find mainstream success have a valid point as well.
Iggy Azalea is in a firestorm and she's only made things worse. She could have defused a lot of the tension by acknowledging and thoughtfully addressing the concerns of her critics. Instead she's taken on the role of a victim who's under attack due to her race and gender. As a result, she may remain a pariah in the urban music community.