Iggy Azalea, the white Australian rapper who hit it big with “Fancy” over the summer, had a rough December. Music critics have never liked her, but when Americans were riveted and torn over events in Ferguson, Mo., Azalea made some heinous missteps that revealed she’s got more problems than a lack of talent. For the last few weeks, rappers and critics have been tearing into her like raw meat, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to end well for her.
Nor should it. Iggy Azalea’s recent screw-ups only highlight what an embarrassment her success as a rapper in America was in the first place. Sending her back to Oz with her tail between her legs would be a little bit of redemptive justice at a time when we really need it.
But let’s back up. Things first really started to unravel for Iggy thanks to Azaelia Banks, a similarly named but much more interesting rapper who, on Twitter in early December, called Iggy out for her lack of engagement with events in Ferguson. At the time, pretty much the entire hip-hop community was calling for justice for Michael Brown, so Iggy’s silence was noticeable. As a white person whose huge success has depended greatly on black traditions, it might seem Iggy had even greater responsibility to engage and educate her fanbase.
She didn’t seem to agree, replying with a string of tweets that deflected responsibility and shot back at Banks. Here’s a screencap of a few of the worst:
The culmination was this gem of self-absorption, first highlighted by Sonia Saraiya at Salon:
In other news that actually relates to me: my arena tour is looking nice! Cant wait to release the dates this month <3 ^.^
— IGGY AZALEA (@IGGYAZALEA) December 4, 2014
The ins and outs of what happened next are somewhat predictable. Let’s just say the dogpile was massive. A Google search for “Iggy Azalea Twitter” now returns links to the tumblr blog “Piggy Azalea,” and its tagline “Iggy Azalea is racist. For real.” That blog catalogs a series of Iggy’s past tweets, as well as lyrics, that can be at best described as insensitive.
Of course, the really interesting question here isn’t whether Iggy Azalea is "racist" in any conventional sense. Certainly, as a 23-year-old Australian, she’s probably not tuned into a lot of the subtleties of America’s racial landscape.
But the content of Iggy Azalea’s Twitter feed is way less revealing than its style — and the same goes for her whole career. The phrasing of tweets like “Bitches in la be stick skinny” is a cringeworthy bit of appropriation when you compare it to how she really talks — like the middle-class white Australian that she is.
Her Twitter persona is a continuation of her rap style, a comically exaggerated Southern black twang. It’s egregiously awful, not just because she’s rapping (white people can and do make great hip-hop), and not even because she’s piss-poor at it (she is — just Google "Iggy Azalea freestyle fail" or check out her heinous attempt on Sway's satellite radio show).
This is a familiar story, with a few twists. In America, white artists have been co-opting black sounds since the late 19th century at least, and turning those stolen innovations into gold that should have gone into darker hands. For nearly 25 years, hip-hop has done a pretty good job of policing that phenomenon, with the twitching corpse of Vanilla Ice’s career scaring off plenty of would-be white appropriators. Heightened consciousness has led to lucrative careers for more black artists than ever before in American history, and kept the race conversation on the table when white rappers do earn their way in.
But Iggy Azalea’s choice to adopt Southern black patois threatens to take us back to square one. Though her appropriation is audio instead of visual, she’s effectively little different than the earliest white banjo pickers and jazz singers, who donned blackface in a bid to appear ‘authentic’ while sanitizing the complexities of race by keeping actual black people out of the picture.
The hip-hop community wouldn’t have been nearly as quick to rip Iggy Azalea apart for her missteps on Ferguson if this wasn’t so blatantly obvious. She set herself up for a fall from the very start, and she’s about to fall hard and, more than likely, stay down.
It’s hard to say when all of this will reach an inflection point — when the discussion will spread from Salon to Good Morning America, when she’ll start getting dropped from gigs, when her cosigner T.I. will start slowly backing away. But it’s going to happen, and it’s going to happen soon.
Grab some popcorn, relax and enjoy the show. It's sure to be both entertaining, and educational.
(Oh, and parenthetically: if Iggy is looking for pointers on how to be white and non-American and make amazing rap, she could look to Die Antwoord, a South African group who have built an international career by actually engaging authentically with their own culture. Of course, they’re about a million times more talented and adventurous than Iggy Azalea, so that might be tough.)