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The Science of Hip Hop: Iggy Azalea’s Raps Are Dreadful, But What Does That Really Mean?

The Science of Hip Hop: Iggy Azalea’s Raps Are Dreadful, But What Does That Really Mean?

Posted by Dalton Higgins on October 28, 2014

How did Island Def Jam artist Amethyst Amelia Kelly aka Iggy Azalea, a mildly talented, blond, white female rapper from Australia, with a faux southern flow, who records odd incendiary songs about cunnilingus (“Pussy”) come to so thoroughly dominate the music charts of today? It’s a question that many music geeks, race baiters and traitors, ethnomusicologists and hip hop culture naysayers have been pondering over the last number of weeks. Why the fascination? Well, here are the facts. Next to rapper Drake, one can effortlessly argue that Azalea runs commercial hip hop right now – or rather, what is considered to be good saleable rap music in 2014 – despite having a rather pedestrian skill set. Just check out her resume.

Outside of being the first music act in history, next to The Beatles, to have their first two hits sit at number one (“Fancy” with Charli XCX) and two (“Problem” with Ariana Grande) on the Billboard Hot 100 hits chart, and for weeks on end mind you (“Fancy”, considered to be the summer of 2014 anthem has boasted a fifth week at No. 1 and counting), Azalea has also been racking up lucrative business deals (Levi’s, Wilhemina Models) since 2012.

By all measures of what skills and talents a good rapper might possess; lyrics, flow, content, presence, cadence, originality, Azalea fails miserably at most. That being said, when rapper Lord Jamar remarked in a Vlad TV interview last year that “white rappers are guests in the house of hip hop”, he might have severely underestimated how less attuned to talent, apolitical and race unconscious many consumers of the art form are today. There are bushels of rap enthusiasts absolutely digging Azalea’s bluster, but no one can quite pinpoint what her demographic represents. And it appears that more than a few non-black rappers of Azalea’s ilk have worked quite hard to secure their ghetto pass and/or honorary black community membership card.

Azalea’s PR plan seemed hell bent on keeping smart people, haters and race instigators at bay. In any discussion around authenticity, much is made of her move to the southern part of the United States, where hip-hop reigns supreme. Or that she is currently dating Los Angeles Laker guard Nick Young, and that her ex-boyfriend is Harlem rapper ASAP Rocky – both respected African-Americans in their fields. She even sloppily referred to herself in 2012 as a “runaway slave master” on song “D.R.U.G.S” to appear like she was even further down with the homies, a pathetic lyrical remark from which she has since apologized.

While appearing on a recent panel discussion with Rogers Media Editor-in-Chief Derek Malcolm, Universal music executive Ivar Hamilton, and Grammy-winning Professor Rob Bowman about music history as part of the Science of Rock N’ Roll exhibit at the Ontario Science Centre, I was immediately reminded that the Iggy Azalea phenomenon is nothing new under the sun. I spend much time lecturing in schools, colleges and universities about black music history, and for those with even a mild interest in hip hop, its roots, and it’s connection to the blues, rock n’ roll, punk, I think it is critically important for all students of music and life to dig a little deeper into human history, and to read books – and lots of them. The back stories and answers to all that ails some of us about Iggy Azalea can be found in some book, essay, audio-visual archive or museum.  

Perhaps Iggy Azalea’s success awkwardly exists for much the same reason that in 1981, a similarly not particularly talented white, female, blond, non-rapper Debbie Harry recorded a song called “Rapture” and it became the first rap song to chart at number one on Billboard. Likewise, believe it or not but her song was the first rap video ever played on MTV. How exactly did Eminem come to be the greatest selling rapper of all time, by far? Why does Macklemore dominate black music categories at major Awards shows, handily defeating far superior talents like Jay-Z, Kanye West, Drake and Kendrick Lamar? It should be of no surprise to anyone anymore. Like Elvis Presley, Benny Goodman or Vanilla Ice before him – or Azalea – it’s all cyclical and highly questionable.   


The Science of Rock ‘n’ Roll exhibit runs until Oct. 26 at the Ontario Science Centre

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