Iggy Azalea may have quit social media, but social media is far from done with her.
The rapper from Down Under is still the subject of much debate—and things got heated this week after yet another high-profile Iggy diss. On this Sunday’s SportsCenter, ESPN anchor Robert Flores took a verbal shot at the “Fancy” rapper during a broadcast. “We learned that according to the Lakers’ Nick Young, a dolphin recently tried to kill him. So Nick, while dolphins are trying to kill you, your girlfriend is trying to kill hip-hop. Let’s call it even, OK?”
Swaggy P was not amused. He hopped on Twitter to let Flores know to leave his lady alone (the tweets have since been deleted).
“@RoFloESPN so off the fact you that was cool to say, don’t sit right with me so we got a problem,” Young tweeted. “@RoFloESPN you job is to talk about sports not what me and my chick got going on. @RoFloESPN I’m pretty sure we going to run into each other soon.”
At least Nick Young’s defense of Iggy makes sense on a personal level—she is his girlfriend, after all. But it just adds to the laundry list of black men who have decided to form a human shield around this hip-hop unicorn. Lupe Fiasco, will.i.am, Nelly, and her mentor T.I. have all been vocally supportive of the Australian rapper. Or at least, they’ve been vocal in their criticism of her critics. There have been attempts by others in hip-hop, like Q-Tip, to try to help her understand why the criticism has merit and what she can do to engage in a healthier dialogue—as opposed to behaving like an entitled child and dismissing any backlash as just her “haters” wanting to tear her down.
But with people like T.I. making sure Iggy continues to believe that she’s just a victim of mean black folks who are jealous and bigoted, it seems like this conversation will always be stuck in first gear.
“It’s just ignorant to me,” T.I. told Complex this past fall. “In this day and age, to be a race of people who are demanding equality and speaking out on injustices and wanting to be treating fairly, to stand up and do the exact same thing in opposite to someone unwarranted for no reason, it’s hypocritical.”
Reducing the issue to simply “black people don’t like her because she’s white” is insulting. There are several white artists who have forged remarkable careers recording black music—and who are loved and respected among black audiences. From Teena Marie to Paul Wall to Hall & Oates, being white and “sounding black” doesn’t automatically turn black folks against you. Iggy Azalea and her defenders are willfully missing that point.
Iggy performs as a caricature of American blackness. She’s much closer to post-fame Vanilla Ice than she is to Eminem at any point in his career. As an artist, she’s never represented who she truly is (her own cultural experiences are close to nonexistent in her music) and as a rapper, she hasn’t got much in the way of an original voice or fresh perspective. And in terms of visibility, she’s leapfrogged every female rapper not named “Nicki Minaj” solely because she’s a leggy blond girl with “attitude.” It’s not “hating” to recognize how white privilege has garnered her a certain amount of attention, nor is it off-base to acknowledge how being a white girl who models can help a rapper land major mag covers. While Iggy continues to pretend that she doesn’t understand this, T.I. made it clear last year during an interview with Power 106.
“She got a look. I sat with her and Travis Scott the same day and this was when I came home the second time, the last time, I’m really trying to rebuild Grand Hustle as a record label and as a entity in the industry,” he recalled. “So I’m seeking new talent, surfing the whip, ‘Yo, this is a white chick, OK, get her on the phone, man, let’s see when we can sit down.’”
The Hustle Gang leader obviously understands how to exploit race as it pertains to marketing his starlet, but turns a deaf ear when critics acknowledge that her race has led to a number of opportunities that haven’t been offered to black female rappers like Azealia Banks and Dej Loaf. How many black female rappers has T.I. even signed and promoted aggressively?
The question of authenticity may seem antiquated in an era of hip-hop where Rick Ross can go from corrections officer to faux drug kingpin, but it can’t be dismissed when talking about appropriation. White media making black culture cool while disregarding the people from whence the culture came is fairly old news, but in this media age there are ways to make dissident voices heard. There is an important difference between portraying a fictional character and appropriating cultural stereotypes. It’s not just that Iggy isn’t being herself—it’s that she’s attempting to be “black.” In her own interview with Power 106 last week, Azalea discussed her Grammy nomination and the fact that people seemed happy that Eminem won Rap Album of the Year over her—despite the fact that he’s as white as she is.
“I found it to be kind of ironic,” she said. “It was because I’m white, therefore I’m appropriating culture. But then Eminem won it—who’s white and won it many times—and they didn’t seem to say anything about that.”
The Iggy Azalea backlash isn’t going anywhere—largely because the rapper herself continues to remain tone-deaf about exactly why hip-hop fans have such an issue with her, and is adamant about portraying herself as the victim of a racist and sexist double standard. But she should look at Kid Rock, who’s gone from a hi-top fade sporting rapper to a flossy rap-rocker to a Red State-pandering faux-redneck; or Robin Thicke, who’s gone from blue-eyed soul crooner to crass pop charlatan, as examples of why cultural appropriation should always be scrutinized. When white artists feel as though black culture is an outfit they can put on and take off at will, it enables the disrespect and cheapening of that culture. And when they present that culture at its most distorted and caricatured, they obscure its nuances and roots. Iggy should care enough about hip-hop to not reduce it to a tacky SNL sketch.
So maybe her boyfriend, her mentor, and her fans should stop protecting Iggy and start educating her.