Stick a fork in Iggy Azalea. She’s done.
Or is she?
It was just a year ago that Azalea’s “Fancy” was being heralded as the song of the summer, but the past few months have not been kind to Australia’s most famous rapper. She was forced to postpone, then altogether cancel her Great Escape tour when she couldn’t procure an opening act. After being nominated for four Grammys, she failed to win any, but inspired many, many inches of writing from those who hoped that she wouldn’t.
Her career has had some bright spots — she was, after all, the only artist besides the Beatles to have her first two singles occupy the top two spots on the Billboard 100 chart simultaneously. She’s released collaborations with Jennifer Lopez and Britney Spears, and newer acts such as Ariana Grande, Rita Ora and Charli XCX. She claims T.I. as a mentor.
And yet, an image problem that may have started as a dark spot on an otherwise promising career has now metastasized into a nasty network of tumors that could derail it entirely — some would say it already has. A highly palpable wave of schadenfreude made its way through the Internet when Azalea’s tour was canceled. It’s not just that people don’t like Azalea, or even that they want her to fail — they want her to disappear.
It would seem, on some level, that they’ve finally gotten their wish. What’s next for Azalea’s career after such forceful widespread and public rejection? Does she go away, get married, and live happily and silently ever after with fiance Nick Young? Does she mount a comeback? History would suggest she mounts a comeback attempt.
In the meantime, let’s assess how she arrived at this place.
Azalea found seemingly sudden ubiquity when her first single, “Fancy,” featuring Charli XCX, was ushered in to song of the summer status thanks to a big push from Clear Channel’s On The Verge Program. It was inescapable.
The backlash against Azalea came as swiftly as her ascendance.
Most recently, Azalea was forced to abandon a scheduled appearance at Pittsburgh Pride when LGBT groups started dropping out in protest over her inclusion, citing past racist and homophobic remarks Azalea made on social media. In 2012, someone created a Tumblr blog called Piggy Azalea which archived those now-deleted tweets.
Among them were gems like these:
“This Asian lady on the plane tried to act like she didn’t understand me. I told her a– b—- u gone know English today cause that’s my seat!”
“Asian women abuse false eyelashes.”
“B—-es in la be stick skinny. To the bone. White, black, mexican… Okay… So maybe not mexican :s they still got the box body on lock.”
“wondered why my butt felt like it was about to grow 2 legs, flip me off, & walk away. then i remembered i played soccer yesterday w 5 d–e b—-es.”
“Is it wrong that I feel happy to hear southern accents again & not mexican ones? F— it. Iam.”
In her 2011 song “D.R.U.G.S.,” she rapped, “When the relay starts I’m a runaway slave-master.” She later apologized for the lyric.
This wouldn’t have been a good look for anyone, but it was especially bad for Azalea, who has been criticized for misappropriating hip-hop culture and not understanding or really respecting it. At its core, rejection of Azalea wasn’t just about the fact that she was a white Australian woman who rapped like a black girl from Atlanta — it was that, to many, it was obvious that she’d jumped to the head of the line because of it. Azalea was the modern-day equivalent of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra.
In an emotional December interview with Hot 97’s Ebro Darden, Azealia Banks accused Azalea of what she called “cultural smudging.”
Here’s the thing with Iggy Azalea. I feel, just in this country, whenever it comes to our things, like black issues, or black politics, or black music or whatever there’s always this under current of a “F— you.” Like ‘F— y’all n—–. Y’all don’t really own s—. Y’all don’t have s—.” That Macklemore album wasn’t better than the Drake record. That Iggy Azalea s— is not better than any f—ing Black girl that’s rapping today. And when they give those awards out – ’cause the Grammys are supposed to be like accolades for artistic excellency. Iggy Azalea is not excellent. And the message I see when I see these Grammys being given out … I have a problem when you’re trying to say that it’s hip-hop and you’re trying to put it up against black culture.
Even Nicki Minaj over the past two, three, four, years has done so much to kind of create this social presence and this hold like this social consciousness so she’s like “Re Up” and “Roman Reloaded” and here you got f—ing Iggy like “Reclassified.” Like you’re trying to smudge out … it’s like a cultural smudging is what I see. And when they give these Grammys out all it says to white kids is “You’re great, you’re amazing, you can do whatever you put your mind to.” And it says to black kids, “You don’t have s—, you don’t own s—, not even the s— you created for yourself.” And it makes me upset in that way.
So put her in the pop category. Put her with Katy Perry. Put her and Miley Cyrus is the same box together. Don’t put her in hip-hop. Just because she’s not singing does not mean it’s rap music.
Azalea’s response — hectoring Banks about her “attitude” — didn’t earn her many points, either.
Hip-hop may have originated in Boogie Down Bronx, but it’s since spread to the suburbs and throughout the world. The ownership that originated with black and Latino communities in New York is quickly evaporating, which led to Forbes declaring in a troll-y headline (that it’s since backpedaled on) that “Hip Hop Is Run By A White, Blonde, Australian Woman.” Never mind that this declaration came from a business magazine, and not say, The Source, Vibe or XXL, longtime chroniclers of hip-hop. It was enough.
A Tribe Called Quest founding member Q-Tip later jumped into the fray and tweeted Azalea a history of the genre.
Again, Azalea, rattled by what she saw as Q-Tip’s condescension, fired off a response.
J. Cole on rapped on “Fire Squad”:
History repeats itself and that’s just how it goes/ Same way that these rappers always bite each other’s flows/ Same thing that my n—- Elvis did with rock and roll/ Justin Timberlake, Eminem and then Macklemore
While silly n—-s argue over who gon’ snatch the crown/ Look around my n—- white people have snatched the sound/ This year I probably go to the awards dapper down/ Watch Iggy win a Grammy as I try to crack a smile/ I’m just playin/ But all good jokes contain true s—/ Same rope you climb up on they hang you with
Of course, the music industry has never been a meritocracy — for every Andra Day, there are five Cassies — and this also contributed to the backlash against Azalea. Not only did she leap to the top of the Billboard charts, but she didn’t deserve it. She couldn’t even rap. *Stick a pin in this. We’re coming back to it.
“The realest?” Not so much.
One of the chief arguments against Azalea was that she was a manufactured pop star masquerading as a rapper. Evidence began to mount that supported that.
There was Azalea’s infamous code-switching incident on “Dancing With the Stars” during a performance of “Fancy”:
And repeated assertions that Azalea didn’t write her own lyrics which culminated in Nicki Minaj calling out Azalea at the 2014 BET Awards.
Of course, plenty of artists (more than you think) benefit from the help of ghost writers, and there’s usually a gendered aspect to this attack. Most often, female rappers are accused of not writing their own lyrics in order to discredit them in the male-dominated world of hip-hop. Even Lil’ Kim has had to address the repeated assertion that Biggie wrote her rhymes. But this time, Iggy wasn’t the victim of a sexist attack. It was a female MC coming to snatch her wig.
“You guys this is always very, very emotional for me because this is my fifth year winning this award, and I don’t take it for granted,” Minaj said while accepting the award for Best Female Hip-Hop artist. “I really don’t. I thank God that I’ve been placed in a position to represent women in a culture that is so male driven. And I want you to know this. I’m working on an album called the ‘Pink Print,’ but that’s not a plug, but it’s a plug. But my point is, what I want the world to know about Nicki Minaj is when you hear Nicki Minaj spit, Nicki Minaj wrote it.”
How in the world was Azalea supposedly “running hip-hop” if she wasn’t even writing her own songs? Her mentor T.I., who signed Iggy to his Grand Hustle label, denied he was ghostwriting for Iggy in a July interview with Bijou Star of Detroit’s Hot 107.5.
But just because T.I. denied writing for her, Azalea wasn’t in the clear. In March, Skeme told Sway in an interview at SXSW that he included the “who dat, who dat” line on Iggy’s biggest hit, “Fancy,” because he’s an enormous New Orleans Saints fan.
“We had something to do with it,” Skeme said. He also was unabashed with his props for Charli XCX, who wrote the hook.
Iggy Azalea doesn’t write all of her own songs (like some other rappers) and she puts on a “hip-hop” voice that she doesn’t use when she talks. These are points used as evidence of Azalea’s lack of authenticity. Even in its myriad worldwide permutations, authenticity is still pretty paramount to hip-hop, right?
Well, it’s worth checking out this essay by NPR’s Gene Demby, where he addresses that very idea:
Cecelia Cutler, a linguist at New York’s Lehman College, says that when kids who aren’t black traffic in hip-hop slang or African American Vernacular English — even if they aren’t themselves hip-hop fans — they’re not trying to mimic blackness, per se. They’re calling upon this language to signal (or “index,” as linguists like to say) some of the postures that people associate with hip-hop — coolness, toughness, hipness, swagger, separateness. The black part is being referenced, but it’s not quite the point. In some circles, Cutler said, hip-hop-inflected black speech has become a kind of prestige English.
Okay, so maybe Iggy gets a pass on the manufactured voice and lyrics that she didn’t craft as long as she can do the part that really matters — you know: rap.
Remember that pin we mentioned earlier? Let’s take it out now. There’s a certain meritocratic structure within hip-hop culture that informs endless debates about the genre’s greatest. Who your “top five” are can say a lot about where you’re from and how much you value wordplay over flow. Tupac or Biggie? Nas or Jay Z? Underground or commercial? The greatest example of this ethos is the rap battle: artists duking it out via freestyle (improvised wordplay), complete with challengers and bragging rights.
During a 2013 visit to “Sway in the Morning,” Iggy responded to Sway’s request for a freestyle by … not freestyling. Instead, she spit a few bars from a track that was yet-to-be released.
Boom. There it was on video. The empress has no clothes, and the Internet lit her up for it. A second attempt during a concert netted an unintelligible mess. An enterprising YouTuber attempted to translate.
After video of Azalea “freestyling” resurfaced in December, Twitter had a field day with it.
Months later, the joke was still going strong.
She didn’t win any of the four Grammys for which she was nominated this year, including best rap album, which went to Eminem for “The Marshall Mathers LP 2.”
Then she lost a Twitter battle (which she started right before the Grammys) with Papa John’s after criticizing the company when one of its delivery drivers kept her phone number and gave it to a relative, who began texting her. Despite bad protocol on Papa John’s part, Crissle West, co-host of the popular podcast “The Read” tore Azalea a new one for not using a Google Voice number or having someone else answer the door for her.
“Iggy Azalea is the type of person who, it’s like even when she’s right, you still have to be mad at her, or pissed off at her, because why is she so god—- stupid,” West said.
West continued: “When I signed up for Duane Reade,
West’s read starts at 1:19:50. The whole thing is worth a listen.
When Iggy announced that she was postponing her Great Escape tour, it was a prime moment for her detractors to say “I told you so.” And then she was forced to cancel it completely due to less-than-stellar ticket sales. Azalea, it seemed, was no longer capable of selling out the massive arenas for which she’d been booked. Billboard reports that multiple sources confirmed some dates had only sold 20 percent of their available tickets.
In a Billboard exclusive, an executive with Azalea’s promoter, AEG, told the magazine that the company didn’t market the tour when Azalea failed to procure replacements for Nick Jonas and Tinashe, who were scheduled to open for her before the tour was pushed from spring to fall.
“As we were not able to fill the support slots on the tour in the fall, due to so many artists already having commitments and working this summer, we had not advertised or promoted the new shows since last winter,” AEG vice president Debra Rathwell told the magazine. She insisted that “the dates were selling well and were going to do fine.”
The only thing more embarrassing than yanking the tour might have been the pictures of empty seats that would have circulated with lightning speed had Azalea proceeded.
Iggy announced her engagement to Nick Young just days after news hit that her tour was canceled. It was difficult not to interpret the move as a calculated effort to redirect heat away from her torpedoing career, which was beginning to resemble the burning carcass of Bernadine’s cheating ex-husband’s Beemer in “Waiting to Exhale.”
What happens next? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Your move, Iggy.