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So Phony: Iggy Azalea is Rap’s Jim Crow

So Phony: Iggy Azalea is Rap’s Jim Crow

Last week, Langston Wilkins published an article on Iggy Azalea in the Washington Post stating that “hip-hop is no longer a culture owned by black Americans.” And he might be right. White people now account for up to 75% of hip-hop album sales in the United States, so it should come as no surprise that as the influence of hip-hop has diversified, so too have its key players. This is likely the reason that Lupe Fiasco defended Iggy Azalea this past December by asserting that she “has a place in hip-hop.” He sees the changing demographic landscape of the genre’s influence and he doesn’t believe that Iggy should be excluded because of her race.

However, to quote Ebony’s Jamilah Lemieux, the constant controversy surrounding Iggy Azalea “isn’t about keeping white artists out of Black music, it’s about acknowledging how a mediocre one can dominate unfairly.”

And dominate she has. During her meteoric rise this past summer, Azalea matched the Beatles as the only acts to ever occupy the top two spots on the Billboard Hot 100 charts with their first two hits, and she passed Lil’ Kim for most consecutive weeks at number one by a female rapper – a list that is only four acts long and does not include Nicki Minaj or even Missy Elliot. Azalea’s tracks may be catchy, but come on! Her popularity clearly exceeds her talent, and given the demographics of her listenership, it’s not hard to tell why.

Make no mistake, Iggy is hardly the first musician to benefit from white privilege. Just peep this infographic created by the Huffington Post on white rappers at the Grammys. Kanye West is the only black rapper to ever win a Grammy for Best Rap Album against a white nominee (and even he couldn’t take down Macklemore), and it seems as though fellow Caucasian Eminem – the highest selling and most awarded rapper of all time – was the only thing standing in the way of Azalea winning the award this year. Soul music, too, is currently being dominated by Adele and Sam Smith. And it has happened time and time again throughout history, from Benny Goodman to Elvis Presley to Justin Timberlake.

Why? Because America loves black culture, but not black people. Like hip-hop today, jazz and rock and roll were denounced by white culture as scandalous and degenerate before white artists broadened their appeal. And now twerking, big butts, cornrows, and Timberlands – shit black people have been doing and appreciating for years – are in vogue now that a critical mass of white celebrities have begun adopting them.

Obviously, you can’t necessarily blame white artists for this. But at least folks like Eminem and Macklemore have acknowledged their privileged position in the industry, and have used their platform to speak up about it. Azalea only gets defensive and refuses to acknowledge the important role that race still plays in America when she is criticized. While Macklemore was demonstrating in solidarity with Ferguson protesters in Seattle, Iggy Azalea was nowhere to be seen or heard from until Azealia Banks called her out on Twitter. In case you couldn’t already guess, her response did little more than prove Banks’ point. Clearly she has no problem using black culture for her own benefit, yet she remains silent on issues like racism and inequality that are ailing the black community. Like Banks said when she paraphrased Paul Mooney, “everybody wanna be black, but don’t nobody wanna be black.”

And that brings us to the single most problematic thing about Iggy Azalea, and it is something you absolutely can blame her for. Other white rap acts may have also garnered a lot of success – and some of that success may have been unfair – but they largely did it while being themselves and rapping in their own voice. Azalea’s rap persona, on the other hand, is anything but. The native Australian’s entire get-up is nothing more than a white caricature of blackness, and her “blaccent” is pure imitation. It is the modern-day equivalent of a minstrel show. Azalea and acts like her (lookin’ at you, Riff Raff!) play off of harmful stereotypes from the white imagination about what black people are supposed to be like. But naturally, what is viewed as pathological in the black community is celebrated and reveled in when undertaken by whites.

The bottom line is this: Iggy Azalea has unapologetically plundered black culture for her own personal gain. But what makes this fact so important to point out is that it is so much bigger than just music. It’s about the erasure of blackness in American society and the symbolic violence of that act; it’s about the knowledge that nothing black people do has value until white people take it from them; and it’s about the continuing persistence of white supremacy in a supposedly post-racial society.

 

Photo credit: Owen Sweeney / Associated Press

5 Comments Leave a reply

  1. Chris
    Permalink to comment#

    Why does her popularity clearly exceed her talent? She has a unique sound and cadence I’m not hearing from anyone else in hip-hop today. Why do you say she has a “blaccent”? Every rapper has their own sound and usually many different accents. From Eminem to Kendrick Lamar, they change accents to create their desired sound. Iggy’s style comes from her practice and training since she came to the states 6 years ago. You say Iggy Izalea is privileged, but she left home at 16-years old to pursue her dreams totally on her own. And how can you criticize her for not speaking out about black culture? Jay Z has also remained silent about Ferguson. I don’t think anyone would say Jay Z ignores the role race plays in society. I don’t like Iggy’s music personally, but she is indeed popular, talented, and deserves more credit for success.

    Reply
    • Bradley Cox
      Permalink to comment#

      Chris, if you listen to Eminem and Kendrick Lamar speak in person, they sound very much the same as they do when they rap. Iggy does not. Her “talent” is being able to imitate a southern black cadence. There’s nothing original about that, and in this context it isn’t much different than blackface. (She’s not even the first white girl to try this; see Chanel West Coast, for example.) And if you’re going to use the black community for your own personal gain, then you damn sure be ready to defend it when it comes under attack, Jay Z be damned. Not doing so says a great deal about your true allegiances.

      More to the main point, though, having “privilege” doesn’t mean you aren’t talented or didn’t work hard. It means that you are able to reap the benefits of that hard work unequally in a world where not everyone has the same opportunities. If you don’t think her popularity exceeds her talent, then you must think she’s the most talented female MC of all time – a statement I think few would agree with. All other things being equal, Iggy wouldn’t have anywhere near the same level of success if she wasn’t white. That may be simply due to the demographics of this country, but that doesn’t make it any less true. And that is privilege. Eminem knows it. Macklemore knows it. Iggy denies it. And therein lies the difference.

  2. Trey Davis

    The title of your article is offensive. I am a black man that has family members that lived though Jim Crows laws in the south. If you know anything about Jim Crow laws in the United States they were used by the American government to do whatever they wanted to people of color . The laws existed from after slavery in the United States all the way to 1960’s. Black were beating , lynched, hung, and murder at extremely high rates during this time in south. Blacks at this time decides to migrate to the north for a better life for their families.

    It is nothing new that whites have 75 percent of the buying power in rap and hip hop industry. I sure that has been the case of past 20 years or so.

    Iggy continues to be attacked because she is an easy target. She is a white woman in industry that is dominated by black men. Iggy is not hip hop at all. Iggy is a pop star that uses rap music to display her talent. I think it sort of lame to attack her no reason because she makes rap music. She is not the first white female rapper and she will not be last.

    Her 2 songs that were number one and two at the same time are hit singles because teenage girls are her fans more than anything. She is talented and could grow into becoming a better artist She is pop star that is signed by T.I.’s Grand Hustle label. There are many artist that I have liked and disliked have grew into more complete artist after their first album.

    So lets get back to the title, if you want to talk about Iggy as the poster child of modern day Jim Crow as she lynches hip hop culture , lets just say I respectfully disagree. Iggy’s popularity is based on her looks and catchy pop songs. Iggy is cool, but she not going to take over the industry with 2 songs.

    Azealia Banks is a bitter rapper that wants to be a pop star. No one really understands her music. Its funny how she always critical of artist for not being black enough but her music is something that would not be played on traditional black music stations. Azealia Banks is more famous for her twitter beefs than her actual music talent.

    Music is very subjective, so it is what is is.

    Reply
    • Bradley Cox

      Thanks for reading. As a quick clarification, however, the article’s title refers to Jim Crow the minstrel show character, which Wikipedia describes as “a key initial step in a tradition of popular music in the United States that was based on the ‘imitation’ of Blacks” (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jump_Jim_Crow), not the post-reconstruction system of legalized segregation and racial terror. If you are interested in discussing some modern-day examples of systematic racial oppression, that is actually the subject of my next post, so be sure to check back in on Tuesday!

  3. sabrina ramsey

    Go Bradley!

    Reply

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