03.03.12

Azealia Banks, Iggy Azalea, and the Feuding Femcees

Chris Lee examines how some of hip-hop’s best and brightest female rappers–Azealia Banks, Kreayshawn, Nicki Minaj, Lil’ Kim and Iggy Azalea–have been waging war on each other.

Iggy Azalea had shattered the glass ceiling.

On Tuesday, the Australian rapper–a bottle blond glamazon who’s been lighting up the ‘Net for the past few months with her sexually charged music videos, barely-there outfits and provocative songs such as “Pu$$y”—broke through a long-standing barrier within hip-hop. She became the first female MC named to XXL Magazine’s “Freshmen Class” list of rap’s fastest-rising young stars.

But before you could say “hip-hop cat fight,” a war of words between Azalea and another sex-rhyme-spewing female MC (similarly named after a certain flowering shrub), Azealia Banks, had broken out. “Iggy Azalea on the XXL freshman list is all wrong,” Banks tweeted Tuesday. “How can you endorse a white woman who called herself a ‘runaway slave master’?”

While precisely no one can claim to be surprised when a bonfire of hip-hop vanities boils over into outright “beef” between artists, a recent spate of feuds between female MCs–femcees, if you will–has been playing out across social media and over the airwaves, throwing the cutthroat stakes of rap stardom for women into stark relief. Even at a time when hip-hoppers with XX chromosomes are arguably gaining more mainstream traction than at any other point in the genre’s history, the rap game has changed into a kind of Hunger Games for the fairer sex where only One can be victorious.

And within this hostile pop-cultural environment, hipsterdom, notions of authenticity, questions of race, and even old age butt up against one another while the co-sign of a male rap superstar can still help define a femcee’s commercial viability. “Music is a competition,” remarked Kreayshawn, another female MC who was recently embroiled in a beef with Azealia Banks. “And girls are more competitive than guys are.”

Female rappers
Top left: Kreayshawn; Iggy Azalea, bottom left; Azealia Banks (Getty Images (3))
Camaraderie among female rappers falls somewhere short of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

With her “runaway slave master” tweet, Banks–a 20-year-old African-American rising star from Harlem—was referring to the Iggy Azalea track “D.R.U.G.S.” in which the Australian raps: “Tire marks, tire marks/Finish line with the fire marks/When the relay starts/I’m a runaway slave…master.”

“Sorry guys. But I’m pro black girl,” Banks continued on Twitter. “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.” (Banks declined to be interviewed for this article.)

Azalea has yet to publicly qualify the queasy racial implications of being a white woman who refers to herself as a “slave master.” Nonetheless, she has the institutional backing of two towering figures in hip-hop, both of whom are black; Azalea has been working on her debut album The New Classic with multi-platinum-selling Atlanta rapper T.I. and she has been romantically linked with A$AP Rocky, who’s being heralded as one of the hottest new MCs to burst on the scene in years.

And the saucy Aussie brushed away questions of skin color and street credibility in a recent interview with Dazed and Confused magazine. “Race to me is a low blow that people just use when they have nothing real to hate on,” she told the magazine. “There are a million and one stereotypes people try to put on me every day. How a woman should act, how an Australian should act, how a white person should act, what ‘real rap’ is, what we consider to be beautiful. I’m blind to them all in my creative process. A stereotype should never hinder art if you’re brave about it, and I try to be.”

Meanwhile, hailing from the city that gave the world hip-hop, possessed of natural ‘round-the-way-girl swagger and showing a willingness to put other MCs “on blast” in a way that recalls a young 50 Cent, Banks boasts the endorsement of no less than Kanye West, who proclaimed her “the future of music” earlier this year. Moreover, she seems to relish her reputation as hip-hop’s reigning Mean Girl. And unlike the other Azalea, Banks (whose debut album Broke With Expensive Taste is slated to drop in September) is considered the genuine article by rap purists, thanks in part to her gloriously bawdy underground hit “212” which repeats the line “I guess that cunt gettin’ eaten” during its bridge.

Seizing on Banks’ below-the-belt wordplay in January, the trash-talking Oakland femcee Kreayshawn–a self-professed fan of Banks at that point—tweeted a link to the song adding, “Have you guys heard @AzealiaBank’s ‘212’? I guess that cunt gettin’ eaten.” And without apparently intending to, the white, pixie-ish 21-year old rhyme-spitter opened the floodgates of Banks’s anger.

Somehow misconstruing her tweet as a battle diss, Banks fired withering scorn back at Kreayshawn on Twitter: “you’re a dumb bitch. And you can’t rap. I’ll sit on your face…Fall back slut.”

“Huh? What did I do to you?” Kreayshawn replied. “I’ve been listening to your music all month...Strange!”

From there, the Oakland MC–whose viral hit “Gucci Gucci” racked up a staggering 16 million views on YouTube last year—posed an open-ended question on her Twitter feed: “Did  I just get smashed on twitter because I was supporting a fellow female? I sure did…*confused*” Kreayshawn said.

Uncowed, Banks chose to brush Kreayshawn back rather than apologize. “Pick you fights more wisely,” Banks wrote. “And when u do pick one don’t switch it up once someone’s at your neck. You’re always tryna be cute and funny but your [sic] not built for it. Really you’re not.”

Hip-hop’s current lady fighting has by no means been limited to the current crop of erstwhile Feminems making waves in the underground. Rap’s current female heavyweight champion Nicki Minaj has been exchanging verbal barbs with one of the ‘90s top femcees, Lil Kim for nearly two years.

In June 2010, Lil Kim–a one-time acolyte of Sean Combs and the Notorious B.I.G., also known as “the Queen Bee”—began publicly intimating that ascendant star Minaj had ripped off her style. But in October of that year, Minaj fired back with the song “Roman’s Revenge” in which she called out Lil Kim without directly mentioning her name:

Look at my show footage, how these girls be spazzin’/So fuck I look like getting’ back to a has-been?/Yeah, I said it, has-been/Hang it up, flat screen.”

The she-said/she-said continued in earnest with Kim threatening to “erase this bitch’s social security number” and Minaj going on New York DJ Angie Martinez’s Hot 97 FM radio show to call Kim a “sore loser.” “Because nobody was even playing your music and you damn sure couldn’t get an interview to save your life,” Minaj said on the program. “But now you getting interviews and every time you do an interview, they askin’ you about Nicki Minaj.”

The Queen Bee responded in kind last year with the hip-hop mixtape Black Friday in which she dubs Minaj a “Lil’ Kim wannabe” and a “clone.”

Although Minaj and Azealia Banks both went to the same school, LaGuardia Arts (the performing arts school made famous by Fame), the “212” rapper has publicly blanched at being called the “next” Nicki Minaj. And she was unguarded in her criticism of Minaj’s distinctive style, physique, and efforts at brand building. “The butt, the hair, the this, the that, all the other shit,” Banks told The Hundreds magazine. “As much respect that I have for her, we’ve seen you do this already, what else can you do?

For her part, Kreayshawn–who receives a crucial co-sign from members of the influential Los Angeles hip-hop collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All in her “Gucci Gucci” video, and rolls with a crew called the White Girl Mob–laments that camaraderie among female rappers falls somewhere short of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

“I was kind of sad, like, damn,” Kreayshawn recalled of being attacked by Banks in an interview with Vlad TV. “I want to be friends with someone who I like their music. We should all get along.”