I’ve had some messages this week from readers claiming “RapReviews has lost its touch”, “RapReviews is selling out”. This seems to have been brought on by fellow writers’ thoughts regarding a certain Australian artist: Adam Bernard’s attack on Hip Hop’s gatekeepers, and Jesal Padania’s decision to place Iggy Azalea’s “Reclassified” at #2 on his Year End list last week. I’m aware that Iggy Azalea is an incredibly divisive figure in Hip Hop, and this is my counter-argument to Adam’s piece last week.
I’m fascinated by Iggy Azalea, both the artist and the woman. Australia is so frequently overlooked, particularly in Hip Hop, and it’s great that they have a recognisable emcee that isn’t in Hilltop Hoods. Countless hours have been spent watching Iggy interviews throughout 2014 as she found herself explaining to Sway, Ebro and Charlamagne why she puts on that damn accent. Other than the unconvincing argument that she lived there in her late teens, which conveniently hasn’t affected the way she talks, there’s a tendency to laugh off the fact that she has haters because she’s successful, failing to address the reason why so many people have issues with Iggy’s music. We’re living in the Simon Cowell and Piers Morgan era, where success is based on how many haters you have.
To be disliked is now considered an attractive trait, yet, as harmless as she comes across in interviews, Iggy always feels like TI’s puppet. It all feels calculated and the formula to sell records appears to tick all of the boxes. If Iggy was a male Australian, posing as a trap artist from the southern states of the USA (heavy accent and all), he would be the laughing stock of Hip Hop. Credibility is such a vital characteristic of an emcee that it’s no surprise so many highly-credible emcees are suspicious of her intentions. Somewhere, someone in the industry has missed The Great Hip Hop Hoax, Jeanie Finlay’s brilliant documentary showing how two students from Scotland put on American accents and fake identities to break in to the American Hip Hop market, ending up on MTV and supporting D12. I’m still waiting for TI to break the news that Iggy has been a joke that went too far.
I suppose my own grievance with Iggy Azalea is that she falls under the Hip Hop moniker, simply because she raps. As Jesal pointed out in his review of her recent release “Reclassified”, Iggy’s music is just as much Pop as it is Hip Hop. Hip Hop has expanded and reached out to every area of the planet, and in doing so encompasses various local styles and dialects. The genre is different to others – because lyrics are delivered more directly and often more aggressively.
You also can’t compare a singer altering their vocal tone to an emcee outright impersonating an accent – nobody talks how they sing, otherwise Adele would be limited to the soccer terraces and Pavarotti would have spent 2 hours ordering a pizza. Q-Tip, Lord Jamar, Immortal Technique, Logic, Snoop Dogg, Rah Digga; all have had something to say on Iggy, mostly negative and yet, people are surprised they are pissed off at an impersonator from abroad taking over Hip Hop? The fact that she is white just stirs the pot further. I’m white myself and find her act offensive, as a Hip Hop fan.
This is a genre built around fact. Growing up in the UK, it’s practically forbidden to rap with an American accent for fear of ruining one’s credibility. Sure, rap over a beat that may sound American, but do you. Be yourself. We acknowledge that Hip Hop is an American thing, but we put our own twist on it. I’m sure Australian Hip Hop fans are as proud of Iggy Azalea as we Brits are of Cher Lloyd, another foreign rapper that has connected with the lucrative US teeny-bopper audience. In the UK, Cher has next to no credibility thanks to her cocky demeanour and trashy (read: chav) image. Unfortunately, this is a generation that has grown up with Hip Hop as a blurred facet of their Pop music – do we know whether Cher Lloyd recognises the name Rakim, or if Iggy ever bumped any Tribe? No, but Iggy Azalea (in particular) has too many holes in her persona for me to ever embrace her act. The refusal to spit bars in interviews, TI’s “cooning” as a so-called mentor like he’s on The X-Factor, the infamous blank verse on stage alongside Jennifer Lopez, the whole “does she write her own shit?” argument… I could go on. As soon as I heard the first line of “Fancy” (“First things first, I’m the realest”), I knew it was going to be a hard sell.
Hearing Iggy talk about her relationship (presumably with A$AP Rocky) on the song “Rolex” in a southern American accent is one of the reasons Iggy as an artist fails – knowing that she doesn’t talk anything like this when the mics not recording. It’s the equivalent of a British rapper (let’s say Tinie Tempah) sharing his life experiences but with a Compton accent. It doesn’t happen. Yet, the TI co-sign seems to gloss over these characteristics – people are willing to overlook credibility flaws because TI likes her. Of course, Iggy Azalea isn’t supposed to be dropping hot 16s over the “5 Fingas of Death” instrumental – her albums are nothing like that. The problem many, including myself have, is that Iggy Azalea is representing Hip Hop for many casual listeners, but doing it in a false, exploitative manner. Numerous timid, uncomfortable appearances highlight how Iggy is a square-shaped pawn being forced in to a round hole. Over time, she’ll gradually fit but it will never feel natural.
Hip hop is facing a pivotal few years, particularly if artists influenced by Iggy start appearing. Given the genre is now over thirty years old, is it time for recognised, alternative pseudonyms? It happened with R&B, whereby Mary J Blige’s “Right Now” and Tinashe’s “2 On” are the first R&B tracks I’ve heard in YEARS on BBC Radio 1, but are just as likely to be referred to as Urban Contemporary, or Neo-Soul, or anything other than R&B. It would be easier to do as Azaelia Banks says – lump Miley Cyrus and Iggy Azalea together in the Pop category. Just because you rap, does not mean your music is Hip Hop. If Iggy Azalea wins the Grammy for Best Rap Album, it not only kicks dirt in the faces of those that could use a Grammy to garner exposure, but leaves a hefty dent in the already damaged perception of rappers and Hip Hop overall.
DJ Premier once questioned why there are Classic Rock and Classic Pop stations for us to tune in to, yet nothing for Classic Hip Hop. It’s a good question that, in 2015, feels like a valid argument to help listeners differentiate between the broad spectrum of artists falling under the Hip Hop umbrella. At the least, it would help clear up this Iggy Azalea argument that has split many, including us here at RapReviews.