It was the 1970’s that gave birth to Hip Hop-a culture that emerged and rapidly became a movement. It was created and inspired by a DJ from South Bronx, New York City. Going by the name DJ Kool Herc- Clive Campbell has been widely recognized and strongly credited for introducing an alternative culture to the predominant violent culture associated with the Bronx- typified by gangs, guns, and drugs. “I started in the ghetto and still in the ghetto, the best part of it I gave kids a culture, the money part is all good but it’s giving kids something to hold on to and say that’s theirs.” I want to draw attention to Kool Herc’s words regarding ‘giving kids a culture’ by correlating and focusing on one specific white female rapper whose image making and branding has indeed presented a culture. I want to highlight what culture she has in fact ‘given back’ to the youth.
From down under, Australian female rapper Iggy Azalea has indeed claimed her space in the music industry. With a daunting fan-base, she is known for having first come and caused the controversial rap song titled ‘Drugs’, which was a re-enactment of Kendrick Lamar’s song ‘Look out for the detox’. Having sampled his lyrics, which were originally “when the relay starts I’m a runaway slave”, Azalea gave it a distasteful spin by adding: “when the relay starts I’m a runaway slave… Master, shitting on the past gotta spit it like a pastor”. Her obviously offensive and brutally ignorant lyrics caused friction with rapper Azealia Banks- originally herself from Harlem, New York. Banks called out Azalea on her racist lyrics which led to “twitter beef” online.
Iggy then wrote an apology, quoted here:
“Sometimes we get so caught up in our art and creating or trying to push boundaries, we don’t stop to think how others may be hurt by it. In this situation, I am guilty of doing that and I regret not thinking things through more, I don’t hate any race of people, and it pains me to wake up to other young people being misled to believe I do. I am for unity and equality. People should get a fair shot at whatever they want to do no matter what color they are; rap and hip hop as a culture is not exempt from this. It is unfair to say other races who also grew up listening to rap don’t get a place too.”
My interpretation of her apology is quite frankly slim for pity. It is at best, a mainstream “apology” amongst whites who deny racism, and at worst, a poor cry for sympathy without any sincere feelings of remorse. In essence, she lacks the acknowledgment of her obvious and inherent white privilege. Had she mentioned it, I feel she would have recognized that the ending of her statement is deeply problematic. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? She is not even aware of the depths of her own ignorance and privilege, or perhaps she is, which is even worse, and makes this subject all the more frustrating. Although her statement sounds “sympathetic”, it deeply lacks self-reflection and humility in a world where she has indeed gained from the suffering of others. That is privilege, the privilege to feel free enough to say whatever you want, as hurtful as you want it to be and cause a negative effect in society without any real consequences from the establishment. This is because Iggy like many others, serves the interests of the establishment, who are wholly bent upon maintaining the status quo- that is institutional and societal racism against the black community.
I felt she diverted the attention away from her racist lyrics by claiming that the racism was justified based on all people of race deserving a place in hip hop. Someone should have told her that while unity and equality sound like pretty words written down on paper, it takes far more to truly make it a reality. If one wishes to be a part of a culture, then it is important to pay homage to those that not only came before, but also recognizing the strong sense of black community, which it represents. She does live in Australia after all, where the land is witness to historic injustice (colonialism) and modern day oppressive institutional racism (the aftermath). Brushing off racism is far too pervasive in Western culture- hence why Azalea is exactly the product of her own environment. It’s a deep seeded subject that filters into all aspects of our upbringing, from ignorant television shows; Hollywood movies; watered down versions of historical events taught at schools; to the deaths in police custody, and last but not least, the military industrial complex- where racism is a perfect tool for the dehumanization and killing of “the other”.
Today’s music is widely capitalized, and characterized by selling sex, brand names, corporate endeavors, glamorizing violence and is lyrically dumbed down. Selling yourself as a sexy ‘bad bitch’ is one thing, but using small children in your music videos is another- Yes she has gone there! In her music video “Pussy”- not only does Iggy-cringe-worthy-Azalea sell herself to capitalist pressure as a sexy “bad bitch” but she has indeed gone to further extents. She uses children in her music videos in a very provocative, sexual manner. In the music video, Azalea has a young boy riding a rocking horse. Visually I found this disturbing with the accompanying lyrics, “lick this fillin’, mold em ah ‘soak em ah”. Correlating the image of a child rocking on a horse with the extremely vulgar lyrics can only be a dream or field day for those into illegal child pornography- or of course pedophilia. Want more examples? In her song “Murda Bizness” she is again seen using overly sexual content with young beauty pageant girls, wearing excessive amounts of makeup and short dresses. Reinforcing sexual lyrics with children only serves over sexualized culture from a young age.
Inserting her repugnant image in the already problematic arenas within present day hip-hop culture (something quite visibly due to the whims and fancies of white corporate America), Azalea has devised alternative roots to ignite controversy. In her song titled “Work” she plays the role of victim, sharing her “struggles”, using rap as her easy ticket to fame and selling sex. Seeing a blonde over-sexualized white woman strut her “thang” in a shameless manner gained very little sympathy on my end. Not once does she differentiate white privilege from the struggle that coloured people have and continue to face in a racist institutionalized America (or Australia- remember she’s from “down under”) that has for hundreds of years milked black blood for white power. Her use of black people as extras in her videos is in my view an effort to normalize the so-called need for validation in the black community.
In a nutshell, Azalea sells the idea that if you did not have a silver spoon upbringing, along with the rest of the fine bone china set growing up, then anyone, and most certainly white women selling sex vis-à-vis rap and hip hop, from a working class background, are justified to booty shake their way up the hip hop charts, and claim something to be their own. Hip Hop is a culture, and like any culture, it has an embedded need for preservation, not destruction.
I couldn’t figure out what is more obnoxious about her image- her fake southern accent or the swinging of her ponytail while she recites her raunchy lyrics. Iggy would do well to watch the efforts of true resistance to white capitalist hijacking of hip hop by viewing Lupe Fiasco’s music video titled “bitch bad”. It is a perfect example that describes what our youth watch and imitate, and how what they see develops into an unhealthy perception of both men and women. In this instance, women being called ‘bitch’ and ‘ho’ is visually represented as something that has dangerously become normalized (something falsely desired), and has actually led to destructive relationships, where by love and respect are unrecognizable. Never before have our youth been so self-conscious, full of image insecurities, as they are today and the reason is clear: high intakes of media consumerism.
Iggy Azalea is the nightmare, not the dream and certainly not the vision that Kool Herc spoke of. She is the problem with hip hop- the hijacking and milking off of white privilege to sell sex and entertainment at the behest of corporate demands, which results in more business and less real music. She is the perfect recipe for disaster, and the perfect pawn to serve the white godfathers who have made hip hop into a manufactured white man’s entertainment industry-taking out the very heart and soul from the music. Not only should there be a stronger demand to condemn people such as Azalea, but to also demand they understand that their false statements will not be accepted as sincere, until true effort is presented to preserve the struggle that brought birth to hip hop culture in the first place.
By Aimee Valinski
Edited by : Sadiah Waziri