Tag Archives: Iggy Azalea

Iggy and Azealia: Good and Evil In Black and White

The coin has two sides.

The coin has two sides. (Left: Revolve Clothing; Right: Jason Nocito/Spin Magazine)

I’ve spilled virtual ink on Iggy Azalea, Azealia Banks, and their complicated relationship to each other and to music before. Twice in fact. But that was back in 2012, during this particular play’s first act. It looked like both were poised for big success and that we were destined to witness even more episodes of The Flora Wars because of it. But that was only half right.

Thus far, commercial competitiveness hasn’t been a defining element of the relationship between these two at all; it’s been the overwhelming unevenness of it. A month after Iggy’s debut album “The New Classic” dropped in April 2014, she was already standing toe-to-toe with the Beatles as the second artist in history to simultaneously occupy the #1 and #2 spots on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. The album itself wasn’t exactly a blockbuster, but it debuted at #3 and has gone on to sell over 420K units in the U.S. alone as of early December 2014 (and that’s before counting the “Reclassified” reissue). Meanwhile, Azealia’s first official album finally made a surprise landing on November 6, 2014 and lo, the critical acclaim rained down in buckets…but sales have not. It entered the Billboard 200 at #30, selling 11K or so albums in the U.S., and if its second week sales of about 4K were any clue, it won’t be setting any records unless Black Jesus decides to grant Ms. Banks a holiday miracle.

“Black Twitter” (whatever that means) would like you to believe that Azealia is a 21st century lovechild of Nina Simone and Moms Mabley, while Iggy is just a cultural appropriator, an interloper looking to make several million fast-twerking bucks off of hip-hop culture. On the other hand, there are those who cast Iggy as a beautifully enchanted, fat-bottomed elf (the Tolkien variety, not the Christmas variety) from the Outback, who made her mark in a highly competitive genre despite being the wrong race and sex, and despite torrents of venom spewed her way by a rabidly envious, tragically wasted talent in the form of the Great Serpent, Azealia Banks.

The truth is that they’re both wrong.

We all know that Vanilla Ice was a pretender who hid behind a papier-mâché street resume and hi-top fade, but can we really say the same thing about Iggy? I’ve never heard of her misrepresenting who she is or where she’s from, in any sense of the words, as an attempt to gain acceptance or recognition. If you want to argue that because Iggy raps in an accent that is uncharacteristic of her race or where she’s from that she’s faking the funk, I’ll kindly ask you to pop in a Dana Dane tape or stream some French Montana and have a sofa’s worth of seats. Iggy grew up listening to black American rappers, so she raps like a black American rapper. Simple mathematics.

Then there’s the unspoken implication that talent is the deciding factor for whether someone gets an unrestricted pass into the Halls of Blackness. J. Cole’s recent words aside, very few black folks have anything to say about Eminem or Justin Timberlake. Of course, Eminem and J.T. happen to be top-class artists, and I’m not suggesting that Iggy is in their league. With that said, let’s be real: as a professional rapper, the woman is at least average.

I enjoy the hell out of “Work” and even as far back as “Pu$$y,” her talent was obvious. If her tracks were movies, maybe they wouldn’t be “Mad Max” yet, but cats are trying desperately to throw her in the discount bin with “Crocodile Dundee II,” and dude, that’s just wrong. I can think of multiple currently hot rappers who I’d rank like 13.7 levels below Iggy. (Cough. Migos. Cough. Young Thug.) The fact that there are constant rumors swirling that her mentor T.I. writes most/all of her lyrics, despite any real proof, should be a strong testament to her skill. Yet the hate persists.

And Iggy’s biggest hater is her nemesis, Azealia. She certainly not lonely though, ‘cause over the years Ms. Banks has gotten into more beef than a top-class Wagyu stud. I mean, the woman is firece, fiery, and flamboyant, and woe to he who trips her wire. She’s bickered with what seems to be a never-ending cavalcade of other artists and industry insiders, most importantly Interscope—which had been her major label home since 2012—before they dropped her in the summer of 2014, prior to even releasing her album. The woman has burned more bridges than the Luftwaffe, and as I’ve said before, she just seems so damned mean.

Then, last week, Azealia did an interview on Hot 97 where she articulated the frustrations that led to her most recent attack against Iggy. During the conversation, she talked about the latter’s silence in the wake of recent police violence and her view that it reflects a general lack of true concern for black people on Iggy’s part, despite an avowed love for their cultural artifacts. Overall, she lent a powerful voice to the sense that despite a general consensus that she and other black women like her are tremendously talented, many seem happy to ignore their contributions to culture.

“When they give these Grammys out, all it says to white kids is: ‘Oh yeah, 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 shit. You don’t own shit, not even the shit you created for yourself.’ And it makes me upset.”

Her teary emotional breakdown inadvertently exposed the depth of the wounds that she’s been nursing these last few years as a black woman in her early 20s, trying to navigate the landscape of an industry built on the immolation of your kind and the appropriation of its gifts. Despite being a thirtysomething black American man, I understood her plight in a deeply personal way, without ever having walked specifically in those mesh, platform wedge boots. There’s an undeniable truth to her recognition that there’s been a consistent effort to mine black cultural talent, refine and repackage it for white audiences, then enjoy the fruits of that appropriation.

Still, I wasn’t ready to lay the blame for that at Iggy’s feet…and Iggy wasn’t ready to accept it. Instead, she pointed at Azealia’s “piss poor attitude” as the cause for her inability to capitalize on critical success. With uncharacteristic bellicose gusto, she went on taunting Azealia: “Make it racial! make it political! Make it whatever but I guarantee it won’t make you likable & THATS why ur crying on the radio.”

The truth is that they’re both right.

It’s easy to look at the two artists’ mismatched outcomes and see a classic good vs. evil struggle in progress. The simplicity of a story with a well-defined hero and villain can be seductive—it’s worked nicely as the foundation for mountains of myths, fairy tales, and movies, and it makes for effortless moralizing—but the best modern storytellers understand that real life isn’t always so simple. They know that the boundary separating hero and villain is often blurred, if it exists at all. And it’s actually there, in that moral no man’s land, that we find Iggy Azalea, Azealia Banks, their allies, and their armies, engaged in a pop cultural proxy war for control of black identity in general and black female expression in particular. The ones funding the war on both sides are the millions of white fans who prop up an exploitative system, most of whom are just young, dumb teenagers, woefully and sometimes willfully ignorant of the real cost of the album that they just downloaded, even if they jacked it for free.

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Bitches Still Ain’t Shit

Bad bitch or not, somebody tell me when they start making lifesize Nicki dolls.

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This just in.  Though bitches have been around since before the days of Delilah and Salome, they’ve recently evolved into a higher, more refined form.  These creatures are reverentially known as bad bitches (canis femina superior).

Whether geneticists recognize this phenomenon or not, we’ve got Nicki Minaj self-describing as a “bad bitch…a cunt” down to “kick that ho, punt,” newcomer Azealia Banks serving notice that she’s a “bad bitch…that supply what your girlfriend can’t supply,” and Iggy Azalea proclaiming that she’s a “white girl [with] a team full of bad bitches.”  Hell, Rick Ross has a bad bitch that resembles a tote filled with currency.  (She’s a shapeshifter, too!)  In short, there’s a lot of bad bitches runnin’ around.  I wonder if all the hoes are scared that they’re gonna get crowded outta the market.

Enter Lupe Fiasco’s “Bitch Bad.”  If you haven’t seen the video yet, check it out below.

Lupe Fiasco – Bitch Bad from Gil Green on Vimeo.

The thrust of the song is that when “bitch” is used as a compliment, especially when combined with the contronym “bad,” it undermines emotional understanding between men and women.  Seems pretty uncontroversial to me, but after reading a couple of articles where cats took Lupe to task on his position, especially this one, I had to speak on this a little bit.

In the aforementioned critique, Brandon Soderberg of SPIN goes the extra mile to tell us that this song and video are “moronic” attempts at preaching to the choir.  According to him, we don’t need Lupe to inform us that bitch is bad and that lady is better, because hip-hop has sufficiently addressed that question and is already yawning. We’re on to “cunt” now, thanks to Azealia Banks.  And besides, he writes, “does any female want to be called ‘a lady’?”

Bitch, please.

Soderberg’s argument that this song is evidence of Lupe’s severed connection with the heart of current rap music is patently laughable.  I’ve already given multiple examples of the exact term “bad bitch” being (over)used by some of the most influential names in the genre, and if I’d had the chance to hit the strip club before writing this I would’ve been able to come back with like, a hot 97 more.  No lie.  I ain’t never told no lie, I ain’t never told no lie.

So, it’s Soderberg that seems out of touch. He points to Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” as an example of a track that “sensitively deconstructed” the use of the word “bitch,” but unless a sensitive deconstruction consists of using the word umpteen times, I don’t have a muthaeffin’ clue what he means.  But, in the spirit of generosity, I’ll assume that he meant to reference Jay’s “Bitches & Sisters” off The Blueprint 2.  “Unless you fucked a dude on his own merit and not the way he dribble a ball or draw lyrics you’re a BITCH!”  Preach.

Anyway, Hova in fact does a great job of contrasting sisters and bitches there. And yes, others have broached the topic over the years, too.  But what makes Lupe’s take interesting is the fact that he doesn’t explicitly tell us why being a bitch is bad, he shows us, via a nicely packaged fairy tale, that being a bitch must necessarily be a negative thing.  No matter how much attractiveness, independence and self-determination being a “bad bitch” might imply on a good day, it’s still associated with vampiric women possessed by a thirst for cash and attention.  That inherent dissonance is why the cats hollerin’ about bad bitches are the same ones screamin’ that they don’t love them.

When you tell a woman that a bad bitch essentially does all that a “basic” bitch does except maybe have sex with your homeys (unless you want her to do so, in which case she might be extra “bad”), you’re begging for a problem.  So, y’all keep sending and accepting those mixed signals.  Meanwhile, a generation of women are growing up believing that bad bitches are the shit…when they’re really just shitty.

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You Say Azealia, I Say Azalea: Part II

You missed a spot…

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OK, so I’m assuming that you read my last post, which served to introduce you to the actors in the drama known as the Azealia-Azalea War.  If you didn’t, catch up here.  I’ll wait.  (Next time, read that shit when I post it and stop playin’ so damn much.)

We all up to speed now?  Brilliant.

Now there are those who would say that this disagreement is all about Iggy being some kind of hipster racist.  They say that because, well, young Amethyst (her government name) had the gall to refer to herself as a “runaway slave…master” in a reshaping of a Kendrick Lamar lyric.  OK.  Shit, I’ll admit that was foul.  Foul like, you might get invited to speak at the Republican National Convention foul — but Iggs later admitted as much.  As she said in her apology, she was trying to walk the line, but ended up linecrossing like a muphucka.

Well, our friend Ms. Azealia Banks wasn’t trying to hear Iggy apologin’ though, and she let it be known via Twitter…but only AFTER Iggy made the 2012 XXL Freshman Class cover.  That brings us to the second theory about the origin of this here catfight: envy.  Here’s an in-depth look at Azealia Banks’ opening salvos:

“Iggy Azalea on the XXL freshman list is all wrong…How can you endorse a white woman who called herself a ‘runaway slave master’?
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*”

— @AZEALIABANKS

Look, I can’t say what the truth actually is.  I don’t know these women personally, and Banks is totally right about the slavemaster lyric.  No doubt about that.  But why did it take an industry tip of the hat to your fellow newcomer for you to open your exquisitely fashioned mouth and say something, love?  When you couple this with the fact that Banks has also been vocal about her issues with Nicki Minaj, and most recently Lil’ Kim, her credibility starts to falter.

Then throw in the fact that her most publicized fracas before the one with Iggy was with white, female rapper Kreayshawn, John the Baptist to Iggy’s Jesus.  From where I sit, Banks was just itchin’ for an excuse to throw some verbal bullets Kreay’s way — homegirl did absolutely nothing to deserve the Twitter poison that Banks poured all over her mentions.  After all of that, Azealia Banks starts to look an awful lot like a highly talented, beautiful, potentially groundbreaking woman with some serious bitch tendencies.

It’s hard being blonde and famous.

Meanwhile, almost everything Iggy says off-stage seems level-headed and wise.  For example:

“People expect me to drag [Kreayshawn] through the mud.  I don’t need to and I don’t want to do that.  I think there aren’t enough girls in hip-hop…I want to be the number-one person, but I don’t want to drag people through the mud when I know how hard it is to be a female rapper.  I want there to be other people out there.  I don’t want to win by default because there is no one else.”

— Iggy Azalea

On the real, it makes my ass itch to see a white woman reach that higher plane while the sister seems to still be stuck at the gate.  (I know that’s a different kinda plane, but I like the metaphor.  Sue me.)

I mean, black women have it hard, y’all.  Blah, blah, overblown stat about proportionately more young American sisters being single.  Blah, blah, stat about filling in the shoes of black men who are overly incarcerated, gay or no damned good.  And finally, blah, blah, blah, stat about the overall detrimental psychological, economic, and social implications of being a double minority.  Seriously, even if some of the above has been exaggerated to the extent of borderline stereotyping, they deal with a lot.  And I don’t think that possessing some of the world’s greatest asses assets makes up for the shortfall.

In a strange twist though, the rap world itself is like a parallel universe of our own.  It’s a grotesque distortion, with white women occupying the place usually reserved for black women, i.e. the bottom rung.  In that world, it is THEY who are the double minority, trying to find a voice, then yell loud enough so that they can be heard over the din of the doubts and suspicions pumpin’ out their neighbors’ ovaries speakers.

Don’t get me wrong, I ain’t worried about Iggy.  Regardless of whether she’s better than her contemporaries or not — and for the record I have to say that although Iggy’s certainly got some skills, Azealia Banks simply has a tighter flow — Iggy is gon’ be more than aight.  Why?  Because she’s got something that pop culture has been dying to see: the looks of a hyper-European runway model (I’ve seen glass doors darker than her), street cred courtesy of Grand Hustle and (her man?) A$AP Rocky, plus some undeniable talent thrown in for good measure.

So, while she’s endured the trials of double minority status thus far, I predict that she’ll break through rap’s obsidian ceiling very, very soon.  Finally, the man from 8 Mile will have a queen with whom to share the Throne of the Great White Hope.

And where does that leave Ms. Banks?  She’ll be fine, too.  Even if she stays on her Euro shit and drops an album with hella EDM tendencies, she’ll blow up in Europe and make some noise with cosmopolitan white folks in the States.  If she scales it back just a little, she’ll be massive here, too.  Hey, Nicki could use some company, and Banks has way too much potential to be ignored.

But don’t take my word for it. Read what one of Banks’ fans had to say in a comment they left about her “212” video on YouTube:

“this may sound stupid but you heard it from me first – she’s like a black, female, Eminem, what a GREAT track…”

— 79effo

Parallel universes, indeed.

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You Say Azealia, I Say Azalea: Part I

Said the Hip-Hop Florist: “Which one do you want?”  “Yes, please,” I replied.

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Beyond the weird similarity of their names,  Iggy Azalea and Azealia Banks seem like versions of the same person, but from parallel universes.  This is a cool concept off top, ’cause it suggests that somewhere out there, there’s a white Scissorhands who makes indie pop tunes with old school hip-hop influences, writes about how utterly comprehensible women are…and is famous.

But, I digress.  These two have had a very public war of words going on for the last couple of months, and as as symbol of hip-hop’s race and gender conflicts I found the whole thing fascinating.  But, before I give you a war report, you need to be briefed on the combatants.

Banks is a 20 year-old native Harlemite who got the industry buzzing in 2011 when she released her single “212” (the area code for Manhattan).  The music for the track itself is a sample of a bouncy, playful, electro house song by producer Lazy Jay and sounds nothing like anything anyone might associate with Harlem…except for the ratchet-ass talk about “cunts gettin’ eaten.”  And when I say that, I don’t mean it the way I’d mean it if I were talking about the music of Houston-festishizing fellow Harlemite A$AP Rocky.  I’m talking ’bout the fact that this sounds like some straight-up fist-pumping, ecstasy-enhanced, White Folks ClubTM shit.  One listen tells you that this woman is a smart, artful rhymesayer in possession of an open mind that she’s filled with a buncha DIFFERENT shit.

When you think about it, that probably isn’t so surprising since she’s a product of New York City’s famed arts high school LaGuardia, alma mater of Isaac Mizrahi, Slick Rick, Liza Minnelli…and Nicki Minaj.  From an early age, she was prepped to draw inspiration from an outside world that was inaccessible to most black girls in NYC.  I mean, she spent time listening both to Interpol AND Lil’ Kim as a teenager…which was like, three fucking years ago, in case you forgot.

After a failed deal with label XL Recordings left her depressed and detached, she picked up and moved to Montreal to regain focus.  Since “212” went planetary in 2011, she’s been storming Europe, working with Adele producer Paul Epworth in London and performing for cultural bigwigs like the King of the Vampires Karl Lagerfeld in Paris.  C’est la vie, and her new life really began once she catapulted herself out of the hood and, importantly, out of America.

Iggy, on the other hand,  spent the better part of a decade trying to land her amazingly melanin-deficient, yet seemingly ample ass in pretty much the exact muthaeffin’ spot that Banks vacated.  Growing up in Mullumbimby, Austrailia, she was a lonely, shunned elementary schooler who was introduced to 2Pac at age 13 and never looked back.  A year later, she was getting booed off stage at rap battles and…

Wait a minute. I want to pause right here and take a moment to have y’all reflect on how bad you must be to get the Sandman treatment in Arsefucking, Austrailia.  Think about that, seriously.  That’s like showing a newly sighted, formerly blind woman a painting you did and having her be so unimpressed by it that she pulls up her dress, summons the requisite muscle control, and takes a piss on that bitch standing up.  Horrible.

But now imagine how big Iggy’s femballs must be, ’cause she didn’t give up.

No, she kept at it, and using money that she saved from her commercial cleaning business (hustle), she moved to Miami in 2006 at the age of six-fucking-teen.  She made ends meet by both working illegally and doing illegal work, the latter consisting of credit card scams (hustle hard). All the while she kept at the music thing though she knew no one in the industry, that is until she bounced to Houston, got mentored, and finally started sharpening her darts, as the Wu might say.  Moves to Atlanta and L.A. followed, and at the start of 2011 she uploaded the homemade and fragrantly titled “Pussy Two Times” video to YouTube.  By August of that same year it was easy to see that our favorite Aussie was on the come-up, as she released the still vaginally themed but MUCH more polished “PU$$Y” promo video to fuel interest in her first mixtape “Ignorant Art.”

Listening to Iggy would provide most people with no clue that she’s from the twangy-ass Land Down Under.  I mean, babygirl straight sounds like a New York chick who spent a few years visiting her peoples down south or some shit…which she halfway is.  And that’s interesting, because Azealia Banks often sounds like a Harlem chick who spent years raving with white girls in Brooklyn…which she absolutely is.  It’s scary how much these two seem to have in common, which makes it all the more sad that they’ve got enough beef between ’em to host a barbecue.  With shrimp, of course…so Iggy can skew it.  ‘Cause she’s Australian.

Now there are a couple thoughts as to why this beef popped off.  You know I got my opinion, but since I’m past my 800 word limit for you ignorant bastiches, you’ll have to read the rest in a couple days.  That’s right, I’m DOUBLE POSTING within a week.  Yay, for you!  And for anybody making cracks about me not having written the conclusion of “Beauty and the Beast” yet, close your mouth ’cause nobody cares about you or your life.  Beautiful art takes time to produce, and so does this shit.  So just wait.

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