2012 is the year uniquely spelled azalias bloom: namely, Azealia Banks and Iggy Azalea, two young rappers soon to be riding an airwave near you.
But the two women don’t seem to have much in common beyond their names and occupations. In February, Banks criticized Azalea for writing a song that includes the line, “I’m a runaway slave master.” (Azalea has since apologized.) Banks went on to identify elements of appropriation in Azalea’s rise to fame, writing on Twitter:
“Sorry guys. But I’m pro black girl. I’m not anti white girl, but I’m also not here for any1 outside of my culture trying to trivialize very serious aspects of it. In any capacity. *kanye shrug*”
Azalea’s videos for “PU$$Y” and “My World” highlight some of the issues Banks raised. Azalea is the only white woman in those videos; both show her flanked by two black women dressed in matching or nearly-matching outfits. The women are silent while Iggy raps, signaling their support for Azalea by bobbing their heads or mouthing along with her lyrics. The purpose of their presence seems to be to lend Azalea–a white woman from Australia–credibility as a rapper. She appears both accepted by them (her outfits sometimes coordinate with theirs) and distinguished from them, not only by the differences in their appearances but also as the only woman who gets to speak. It’s easy to understand why Banks is doing some Kanye shrugging.
But the video for Azalea’s first single off her upcoming album The New Classic, “Murda Bizness,” seems to be trying to change the conversation. Accompanied by her mentor T.I. and fellow Hustle Gang artist Chip in a simple, pared-down video, Azalea keeps the focus on the music–and on collaboration.
This business of murder, it is infectious, no? But with Azalea’s history, it’s worth approaching “Murda Bizness” with a dose of wariness. With that in mind, a few members of Girls Like Giants got together to try decipher the puzzle that is Iggy A.
Sarah T: The first thing that hooked me about “Murda Bizness” was this line in the chorus: “I kill pride. I hurt feelings.” I want to put that on my business card, even though those claims are not really true of me at all. I super-hate hurting people’s feelings! Not that I never do it. But in terms of doing it on purpose it’s definitely an extreme, very rare nuclear option that when deployed creates mushroom clouds of guilt for forever. And I definitely don’t go about my everyday life killing other people’s pride. Waaaay too neurotic for that.
But that’s all part of what draws me to female rappers in the first place. Hip hop often gives voice to feelings and impulses that so-called nice women aren’t supposed to have. So when I hear a woman bragging and threatening and owning all the un-sweet parts of herself, pumping herself up, I get celebratory. “I kill pride. I hurt feelings” is the perfect this-is-who-I-am announcement, and ideal for rapping along with while practicing attitude.
Another thing I like about this video is how it keeps a light touch on the Iggy-eye candy button. She’s wearing a cropped shirt in some shots, but other than that the video’s not emphasizing her sex appeal — unlike her video for “PU$$Y,” say, with suggestive shots of her slowly licking a popsicle, or “My World,” which fragments her into her body parts. Instead the video focuses on the chill camaraderie between her, T.I., and Chip as they dance and posture together. I love the brush-the-shoulder move the three keep doing with each other, and the way Iggy puts her arms over T.I.’s shoulder blades and sways a little while he raps — their moves and body language read as completely supportive and affectionate.
But while the video doesn’t hyper-sexualize Iggy, I haven’t seen a video of hers yet where she’s not swinging her hair around in slow motion. It’s a symbol of her white femininity, long and platinum blonde. It also gives her kind of a punk Veronica Lake/Gwen Stefani vibe. I think her videos tend to pay a lot of attention to her hair because it’s such a striking visual reminder of her whiteness, which makes her relatively unusual in the hip-hop scene. (Though with the rise of Ke$ha and Kreayshawn, it’s not as uncommon as it used to be.)
Also, Iggy’s voice: how can we describe it? I really love it. In this song she’s adopted kind of a Dirty South drawl (as Melissa gets into more below), and she raps… poutily? Or like there’s extra air she’s keeping in her cheeks. I don’t know, it sounds real weird when I type about it but it sounds amazing when she does it.
Melissa S.: As followers of our Pretty Little Liars re-caps might know, I love to take notes on a post-it while I’m watching things, so when I have a spare moment, I can write up my thoughts – and Sarah, one of my oh-so-typical notes says SHOULDER BRUSH! That, for me, captures the chill, fun vibe that this video creates. I was intrigued by “PU$$Y” and I thought “My World” was very grooveable, but I just fell head-over-heels for “Murda Bizness,” and that chill vibe was part of the reason. As y’all noted about Azealia Banks’s video for “L8R,” this video moves away from the hyper-sexualized, overtly-performative nature of Nicki Minaj, giving us an Iggy that seems more at home as she raps. And yet…
Back to questions of authenticity. Listen to Iggy talk in, say, an interview for five minutes and you’ll hear her slide between accents and identities like a slo-mo Nicki Minaj. Her rap persona is just that – a persona. But her native accent and her skin color highlight this performativity. While I don’t want to reduce the issues of race that are at play and that Azealia was right to call Iggy out on, I also think some of the backlash against Iggy is that we can’t figure out how to fit all her identities together. Her rap-style is not pop-tastic; it doesn’t “white” itself out like, say, Ke$ha. She plays with Dirty South style rap and she sounds AWESOME in “Murda Bizness.” But in the comments on YouTube, I saw at least as much anger about her switching from her normal Aussie speaking accent to her rap accent as I did about her being white. “Rap how you really talk” was the message I took away from it, which made me think. Part of rap competition has always been about representing your neighborhood/city/region, and it seems part of what’s dizzying about Iggy is that she has fit in with the Atlanta rap set without being from there. I know, I’m weird, but I got a little teary hearing her and T.I. describe her move to the States and the development of their collaboration. For me, Iggy raises all over again questions about what distinguishes appropriation from play in the globalized age – when hip-hop has stopped being a purely local, loyal practice and has become international. While the line Azealia criticizes is truly troubling (and Iggy was right to apologize), I don’t think that Iggy is wrong to rap because she’s white. And just because two rappers are women – or two rappers are white women – doesn’t make them identical. Azealia Banks does not equal Nicki Minaj; Iggy Azalea does not equal Kreayshawn.
While we’re talking Iggy vs. Azealia, I have to talk about female rapper feuds. I stumbled into Iggy’s videos through this compilation of super-sexual, aggressive rap lyrics by women. I couldn’t help but notice what a high percentage of the women listed also had an arch-rival listed. Nicki Minaj vs. Lil Kim! Azealia Banks vs. Iggy Azalea! Trina vs. Khia! Lil Kim vs. Foxy Brown! And that got me thinking, not just about how female rappers have rivals (so do male rappers); not just about how rivalries feature prominently in their publicity; but specifically about how these women are defined by their rivalries. I can’t put my finger on why, but it seems as though female MCs are more thoroughly shaped by their rivalries than men. Why is it that female rappers are supposed to not just compete but actively hate each other, like middle school frenemies all over again? It’s exciting to see Azealia Banks and Iggy Azalia both making some serious noise right now – and maybe it’s the part of me that hates to kill feelings, but I get sad to see that they already have some epic beef going with each other. When, as the article I linked above asks, are we going to realize that rappers like Lil Kim and Nicki Minaj are making space in the music industry – that there really is room for more than one female MC in the game? When are we going to have the female Watch the Throne collaboration? Or, even smaller steps, when are we going to have two ladies rapping together, not as two features on a male rapper’s track, but featuring each other? I mean, can you imagine if Iggy, Azealia, and Nicki got together? I’d watch that video.
In the end, part of what’s appealing about the video for “Murda Bizness” is that it creates a utopian space free from gender and race, right? We at GLG think a lot about misogyny, female competition, and appropriations of race/ethnicity/culture. But T.I., Chip, and Iggy are just having a good time – white, black, male, female. All that matters is the swag, and they’re killing it! While she’s rapping about her sexual prowess in the clubs, he’s not treating her like a sexual object. She’s just one of the crew and he’ll back her up – “Outfit perfect!” he spits in response to her. And while she’s white, it doesn’t matter when they’re laying down beats and rhymes in the creative musical space. We all know that’s not how the rap game really works, but I think that’s some of the pleasure of the video for me – that it creates that fantasy space. And also, having nothing to do with anything, I love Chip just bouncing around waving that bandanna. They all are just having a great time and not taking themselves too seriously, which is something that I just love in hip-hop videos.
Sarah T: You’re so right about the rivalries between female rappers, Meliss. I think part of the reason beefs seem to dominate their public storylines–more so than rivalries do for male rappers–is because there are so few commercially successful female rappers today. There’s a sense that there’s only room for one or two women at the top. Whereas in the 1990s and even the early 2000s, it was much more common to see women in hip hop featuring one another on their tracks — Missy Elliot and Lil’ Kim; Queen Latifah and Monie Love; Missy Elliot and Ciara (Missy’s kind of a ringleader I think). So while the current rivalries are manufactured partly for mass entertainment and partly to give rappers a chance to show off their wordplay skills, they also stem from real competition as women in rap are squeezed off the main stage.
Also, I just wanted to add that I completely agree with you that Iggy isn’t wrong to rap because she’s white. But I think that it’s her artistic responsibility to consider her privilege as a white woman, and to be careful about appropriating experiences that aren’t her own. It’s tricky territory for her as a rapper, because there are so many hip hop conventions that are linked to black cultures and histories. She’s also spoken about how she’s still adjusting to cultural differences in the way Americans and Australians think about race, which may have contributed to some of the missteps she’s made thus far. (Not an excuse, just a factor.) But I think Iggy can navigate her position well if she tries, and she’s good enough that I want her to figure it out.