If there’s a case study in how to mismanage your presence on social media in the 2010’s, Iggy Azalea would be cited as an ideal example. Despite getting off to a rough start in 2012, the Australian rapper blew up in 2014 off the chart topping strength of the single “Fancy” featuring Charli XCX and a video which mimicked the comedy blockbuster “Clueless”. She should have been made for life at that point, but there was an almost immediate backlash calling her a cultural appropriator who stole from black people shamelessly right down to her accent and slang. At first it seemed like she’d weather the storm but a history of racist and homophobic tweets caught up with her and the discourse about it burned her image down to the ground.
It’s telling that I twice offered “Wicked Lips” as a Patreon exclusive poll option and each time she was shot down in the voting by a wide margin. Her career is far from over. She moved from Australia to the United States, got permanent resident status in 2018 (there’s a whole debate there about preferential treatment we don’t have time for here), and dropped two releases in 2019. Despite that her tainted status has made it hard for serious rap heads to take her rapping seriously. It’s fair to say I’m more interested in Iggy Azalea than our audience is but that’s just because she became such a hot mess. It’s the same reason so many people watch “Love & Hip-Hop” on VH1 — the total car wreck drama as people behind the camera egg the people on in front of it and then capture the carnage that ensues. Iggy’s career is that without needing a director OR producer. It’s her real life according to “Lola” and she loves the drama more than anyone else.
“I love drama and rumors
I like talking my shit
Can’t stop cutting people off
Get my scissors, lil’ bitch
I just keep laughing at your pain, no Novocaine
Need a padded room and chains, I’m out my brain
Might need a straight jacket
Cause all my thoughts are doing backflips”
Is redemption through rap a possibility for Iggy? “I can be a bitch and a beast/I can be a witch, nothing sweet/I can be your blue jean dream, or I can be your rude guillotine” raps Azalea on “The Girls”. The Falk produced track seems to be an attempt to re-contextualize Iggy not as a cultural jack artist but as an empowered feminist. In the process a little bit of bitterness at how she was treated in the court of public opinion bleeds through. “You must not want to hear my opinion/Twist my words when I say how I’m feeling”.
Being defensive at this point won’t do Amethyst Amelia Kelly any favors. The fans she still has don’t care about the criticism, and the critics don’t want to hear how her own sordid history was somehow taken out of context. “Don’t like me I’m not surprised/live your life don’t watch mine” is a real line from “Personal Problems”, but it’s an obvious contradiction on its face. There’s no chance she doesn’t want you to watch. If she didn’t she wouldn’t be making songs, making videos, doing interviews and going on tour. She’s not shying away from the limelight — she’s meeting it head on.
The one thing nobody seems to get around to talking about is the fact that she is in every sense a classical emcee, by which I mean she’s spitting straight bars with clear purpose. There’s nothing “mumble mouth” about Iggy Azalea, there’s no assist from AutoTune, and she’s either writing her rhymes or has a damn good ghost writer channeling her personal thoughts and feelings. She can and should be criticized for her mistakes in the past, but as far as her rapping goes, she’s not the best nor the worst but she definitely gets her point across (with a curse or two).
It probably helps that “Wicked Lips” is a short and concise release. It doesn’t give Iggy Azalea any time to waste time. With no skits and no filler, this EP is 13 minutes of rapping from a woman who even her haters would admit can flow pretty well. Her deep voice and accent may be an affectation or even imitation of the American rap artists she grew up listening to, but it comes across as a sincere form of flattery. She’s channeling everyone from Foxy Brown to Mia X in her presentation and pulls off being a “bad bitch” better than most. The scandals that have come to define her for the masses won’t ever go away but there are easily far worse rappers you could be listening to compared to Iggy.