Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Hip Hop vs. Iggy Azalea

Before I really knew who Iggy Azalea was, I distinctly remember hearing her song "Fancy" on the radio which starts off with an over exaggerated "urban" accent proclaiming that:

"First things first, I'm the realest"

Let's just pause here for a moment.  To be sure, claiming to be the "realest" in hip hop is nothing new.  Rappers have been doing that since the beginning of hip hop.  But the reason why hearing this particular verse on the radio triggered my Spidey-senses is become it immediately came off as inauthentic.  Kind of like the 2003 Hulk movie...there was something about it that just seemed "off" that you didn't quite understand until the 2008 Hulk movie came out, and then you were like "ah ha, now I get it."  But let us continue. The next few verses double down on this theme and provide a bit more context:  

"Drop this and let the whole world feel it
And I'm still in the murda bizness"

Now here, "murda bizness" is a double en tundra meant to be taken in the popular hip hop cultural sense of establishing one's street credibility while also serving as a reference to the single by Iggy and rapper T.I. titled "Murda Bizness" which was one of the first songs Iggy released on her 2012 E.P. "Glory."  Again, "realest", "murda bizness" are all modern hip hop buzz words intended to portray an overall sense of being "down" or "hip" as Dr. Evil would say:

To be clear, if you grew up in an environment where this theme was part of your day to day then that's one thing. But when you grew up in an Australian suburb, as did Iggy Azalea, it reveals an "art imitates life" type scenario where the listener is left wondering whose life this artist is trying to imitate because it certainly does not seem to be her own. And therein lies the problem.

From its beginning, Hip hop has been a conduit for the Black Community in the United States to give voice to the issues facing Black people.  Like many popular forms of art, however, it is no stranger to opportunists. Record labels have been falling over themselves for years in an effort to find the next "Bling Bling," "Crank That Soulja Boy," or "Hot Nigga" so that they can package it and deliver it to the masses.  To that end, the music industry has known since the days of Elvis and Chuck Berry that popular Black music can become even more profitable if it is packaged and delivered through a White artist.  Enter Iggy Azalea.   


When Forbes declared in May that "Hip-Hop Is Run by a White, Blonde, Australian Woman," they quickly realized their mistake. Yet in the months since, that mistake has come to seem like a sick prophesy: Iggy Azalea has, in fact, run the rap game from a numerical perspective. She has made history by shattering records. She released a platinum single. She snagged fistfuls of Grammy nominations.

And this weekend, she lit a fuse on the powder keg of race issues in hip-hop. The whole hip-hop community has finally taken Azalea to task for building her career by stealing black musical sounds and styles and using her whiteness to sell them to the masses. In the process, she has done little to actually give back to the hip-hop community except be flagrantly offensive. And black hip-hop artists aren't standing for it any longer.
At its essence, this problem stems from the fact that artists like Iggy want hip hop to be something that it's not: a mere commodity without any cultural awareness.  Even in today's bubble gum/mainstream hip hop world, that's simply not realistic.  Drake and Nicki Minaj may not be laying down conscious rap lyrics of the same caliber as Common, Talib Kwali or Mos Def, but the issues of race and cultural awareness are still very much a part of the message in their music as well as a part of their own personal lives.  Artists like Iggy, however, enjoy the benefits of the Black Community when it comes to assimilating hip hop music but then simultaneously abdicate the responsibility that comes along with being a part of Black Community when issues like Ferguson or Eric Garner arise.  You can't have it both ways.  That's not being the "realest."  That's being the "fakest."

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