Azealia Banks, bigotry, cultural appopriation, current issues, fan bases, hip hop, hip pop, Iggy Azalea, Miss Bank$, music industry, racial tension, racism in the industry, rap, twitter feuds, unresolved issues
So most people would be living under a rock not to know of or at least heard of Iggy Azalea. Her song, “Fancy,” featuring rising Brit pop star Charli XCX, blew up the charts with it’s catchy hook and was everywhere, from commercials to SNL, no thanks in small part to it’s equally memorable Clueless themed video. Likewise, her second single off her debut album, “Black Widow,” featuring the Rihanna-esque Rita Ora, was also well received with it’s Kill Bill inspired video. Listening to both singles, or her debut The New Classic, it’s easy to see how she would find success. Her songs are certifiable bops with mainstream appeal and feature colorful, sexy videos. Iggy herself is a gorgeous Blonde with curvacious features and pouting lips who, unsurprisingly, has done some modelling. Her music, referred to as “Hip-Pop” by the general public, is easily digestible to the masses with it’s fun dance-beats and lyrics penned by the likes of Katy Perry.
Less well known is Harlem rapper Azealia Banks (also known under the moniker of “Miss Bank$”). Whereas Iggy Azalea has found success commercially, Azealia Banks is a critically acclaimed Indie rapper. Her debut studio album (just recently released) was four years in the making, however she had been releasing free mixtapes and touring since 2011. Her recent effort, Broke with Expensive Taste, is a testiment to her diverse tastes, and is a far cry from the commercial ready sounds featured in Iggy’s music. Her videos too are eclectic and in some cases, down right eccentric, and stand out in a sea of flashy, booty-heavy, bass thick vids found on VH1 and BET. Many find her refreshing in sound and style, but she is yet to become a household name.
It’s obvious Banks and Iggy are two completely different types of rappers with different backgrounds with the only glaring similarities being their names. However it is more than their shared name that ties them together. Both have said things that have brought them in the middle of controversies, but as controversy isn’t unheard of in the music industry, particularly in the rap game, this shouldn’t be a big deal. However their feuding online has sharpely divided some in the industry (with Banks receiving overwhelming support from most in the hip hop community) and considering the subject matter and timing (Ferguson), important questions are being asked about racial appropriation in the music industry.
To give some background into this matter, one must know a little about Iggy Azalea and the controversy surrounding her. Iggy is Australian born, and immigrated to the States when she was sixteen to pursue a career in entertainment. She was a high school dropout who was frequently teased because her family had little money. Alledgedly, her love of hip hop motivated her to work until she could save enough money to move to Miami to pursue her dreams. She found success in here, first going viral on youtube and then being signed on to the famous Wilhemina modelling agency, where she became a face of Levi Jeans. Under the guidence of famed rapper T.I., she eventually signed on to Def Jam where The New Classic found completion. Prior to her debut, she also released mixtapes and internet videos, building a sizeable fan community. Since The New Classic, Iggy has been nominated for numerous music awards, including no less than six nominations for the American Music Awards (she won two for Favorite Rap Artist and Favorite Rap Album) and eventually won a Grammy. However, Iggy has not been without her detractors. Tweets from a few years back depict a…less than PC Iggy in which she tweets comments that isn’t as racially/culturally sensitive as some might like. Tweets like this:
Then there were the lyrics to “D.R.U.G.S.”, and the infamous “runaway slave…master” line:
But perhaps the most obvious criticism thrown her way is the style in which she raps. When interviewed, Iggy speaks with her natural Australian accent, however when she raps she uses a very Southern American accent that many claim is the vocal version of “black face.” It is not a natural accent but one she has adopted for her rapping style, which she (and her fans) claim is used because it sounds better than her Aussie accent would sound. Regardless, this accent, along with her reluctance to speak on racial issues (such as the recent Ferguson controvesy) instead opting to talk about her album and tours, has many crying foul.
Not the least which is Banks, who is perhaps her most vocal detractor.
Azealia grew up with a hard luck story too. Coming up in a working class environment, she lost her father at a very young age and she faced horrible physical abuse at the hands of her mother, causing her to flee home at the age of fourteen to live with her older sister. She worked hard and attended the LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts, before trying her hand at acting, finding little success. She did however, discover her talent at the hip hop game, and began using rap as a creative outlet before dropping out of school to pursue it as a career. She hit a slump period, taking odd jobs and even trying her hand at stripping to make ends meet until her release of “212” achieved a following in Europe. Credited with writing her own lyrics, she is known for her savvy (though often profanity laced)nlyrics and unique club bangers that often feature a mix of house-rap, 90’s R&B, trap, and punk. She has since garnered enough of a following to keep her continually touring at such events as Coachella and overseas. Though she had released successful remixes and a hit mixtape, Fantasea, conflicts with various labels delayed the release of her debut for many years. Finally released, Broke with Expensive Taste was well received by critics, and peaked at #30 on the U.S. Billboard 200, and #2 on Billboard’s Top U.S. Rap Albums.
However, what probably stopped Banks from become a household name despite impressive talents may have had nothing to do with her eclectic style, but her own behavior. Like Iggy, Azealia sported much racial controversy with her own tweets and interviews, such as:
She’s also attacked many notable names in the industry online and in interviews, such as Pharrell, Lil Kim, Nicki Minaj, Lily Allen, Eminem, Diplo, and Lady Gaga (often unprovoked), derailing attempts at future collaborations. She has also attacked organizations like GLAAD. It should be noted that Banks identifies herself as bisexual and has a huge fandom within the LGBT community.
Her biggest beef however seems to be with Iggy Azalea, going so far as to threaten to throw a jar of her pee on Iggy. So why is she so angry at Iggy? She seems to see Iggy as the mascot for Cultural Appropriation, particlularly black appropriation (even going as far as to accuse her of being a minstrel act) .
Here’s an excellent interview showing Banks feelings on the matter:
Prior to this interview, notable urban media sources such as Bossip and Complex have discussed the feud, and many were quick to attack Banks as being jealous or “pressed,” or possibly riding Iggy’s fame to promote her own upcoming album. However, the tide seemed to turn with her interview at Hot 97, in which at one point she became visibly emotional. Since then, her claims of appropriation have been given more validity and many rappers such as Q-Tip and Minaj have come out in support. Discussions have spilled out into other major (more mainstream) magazines and other online sources, such as Billboard, Rolling Stone, and Vanity Fair.
But Iggy supporters are crying foul. After the interview, Iggy is experiencing a huge backlash that involve threats of releasing explicit (sexual) material online, death threats, and hacked acounts. While it’s doubtful Iggy intentionally intended on stealing anyone’s culture, it seems that she has become the scapegoat for the matter. Iggy’s own responses to the criticisms of Banks and others on this issue don’t seem to have helped her situation, as instead of addressing the issue full on, as did Eminem and Macklemore when they faced similar criticisms, she has chosen instead to promote her upcoming tour and the re-release of her debut. This has caused many of her detractors to claim deliberate ignorance on her part.
So the question is, IS Iggy guilty of cultural appropriation? That I can’t answer, though I enjoy reading the various debates on the topic. With racial tensions on the rise, it certainly is a topic worth looking at. It’s known that music of a traditionally African American origin, such as Jazz, Soul, Rock, and Rap, were mostly shunned until they enjoyed mainstream success thanks to the acceptance of white artists in the field (such as Elvis, Tony Bennett/Frank Sinatre, Adele, The Beatles, etc). As such, many like Banks feel that the black artists that pioneered the style are being forgotten, and it’s a sad, yet legitimate concern shared by many. However, others argue that by all races participating in a musical genre leads to the type of mass acceptance that will allow the style to progress and become non-racial (which seems to be what many Iggy supporters claim). It’s an interesting debate at least.
In the case of Iggy Azalea, I can see where she could have genuine ignorance which may be mistaken as indifference. Keep in mind, Azealia grew up in Harlem and is engrossed in the culture of hip hop, she has lived in that world and thus gained the experiences that Iggy couldn’t in her homeland, and while that’s not Iggy’s fault, many (like Banks) feel that she should have educated herself in the conflicts of being a part of American hip hop. Fairly uneducated, Iggy immigrated from another culture at a young age and instead of being assimilated fully, I could see her being taken advantage of as a highly marketable product, perhaps in the way Banks criticised the industry of trying to do to her. Iggy’s mentors, such as T.I., may see her with dollar signs only, and not wanting to lose their golden goose, may be feeding into her misconception that her detractors hate her for her race and success in the most superficial way, which causes her to fail to see the real arguments being made. It certainly doesn’t help that prior to the interview, Banks and allies have made several personal attacks against Iggy, possibly leaving Iggy to conclude that anything said toward her is just an excuse to rag on her. In any event, Banks taking it to a personal, aggressive level with Iggy has caused Iggy supporters to dismiss Banks’ concerns as just self promotion and her claims fall on deaf ears.
Or maybe Banks and her supporters are right, and Iggy, and others like her, doesn’t care to be a puppet as long as she is famous and rich. Maybe Iggy is a racist bigot airhead and T.I. is a puppet master sellout, and therefore they both deserve to be symbols of cultural appropriation. Regardless, I find the underlying current of the issue, cultural appropriation, to be an interesting topic. I imagine Banks will speak more of this issue in the future, as will other prominent figures in the industry. This seems to be a conversation worth happening.