IS IGGY THE NEW ELVIS?
It’s 1956, and a new, up and coming star gets his first number one with ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. His energetic performances and thrusting onstage would contribute to him eventually being named ‘The King of Rock and Roll’. However, rock and roll wasn’t his invention – nor was he a pioneer of the genre. Little Richard had the same energy in his performances, and Chuck Berry would go on to create some of the most memorable riffs in rock and roll. So why was this young man named ‘The King’? The crucial difference between him and other similar artists at the time was one of massive significance: Elvis was white.
But times have changed surely? In the 50’s and 60’s, racism was culturally accepted. The same thing wouldn’t happen 50 years later, when racism is now a taboo… Right?
Well the story goes: Iggy Azalea and Azealia Banks both exploded onto the scene around roughly the same time and the beef began, seemingly over having a similar name. Iggy shot up to fame, whilst Azealia was left in the underground. Iggy released her debut album, The New Classic, in April 2014, and it received mixed reviews, entering the US Billboard Chart at #3. A review by NME slated the album, saying ‘The Aussie rapper’s debut is about as convincing as her American accent’. Yet, Iggy sill went on to win ‘Favorite Rap/Hip Hop Album’ at The American Music Awards. Broke With Expensive Taste, Azealia’s debut offering, released November 2014, received very positive reviews. SPIN wrote that ‘A flash of personality like this would be welcome on so many of this year’s duller pop releases’, yet the album entered the US Billboard Chart at a mere number 30.
Now some could say the beef was fuelled by jealousy of Iggy’s success – and I’m sure Iggy would agree. But with her controversial radio interview with Hot 97, Banks explained that it’s not that she’s jealous, but it’s that she believes that she, as a black woman in hip hop, is being stamped out by the likes of Iggy Azealia. She stated in the interview, ‘they’re trying to erase us… the blackness is gone’. Iggy apparently disagrees that she is part of a complex system of racial preference and cultural borrowing, as she retorted via Twitter, ‘There are many black people succeeding in all genres. The reason you haven’t is because of your piss poor attitude’.
However, this simply isn’t true; of the 40 most successful musicians of 2014 only six weren’t white, and all of those artists were limited to the genres of hip hop or R&B. And whilst it’s true that the rap/hip hop genre is dominated by non-white artists, those who are white often rise to the top quicker than any of the black artists, and receive vast commercial success as well as many awards, for music which isn’t necessarily better than that of their ethnic peers. Iggy Azalea is the perfect example of this – she released a mediocre ‘hip hop’ album (which would be better labelled as pop), rose to fame at an incredible rate, and received awards for said album over better offerings from black counterparts (Drake’s critically acclaimed Nothing Was The Same lost out to Iggy’s album at The American Music Awards).
The music industry is divided on the issue – especially the hip hop scene. Many have spoken out against misappropriation of black culture in general. Macklemore has always been upfront and accepting of the white privilege he receives, and stated in an interview with Hot 97, ‘Why can I wear a hoodie and not be labelled a thug?…Why am I on Ellen’s couch?…The privilege that exists in the music industry is just a greater symptom of the privilege that exists in America. There’s no difference.’ Others have directly weighed in on the twitter beef, with Q-Tip, Tyler the Creator and Solange Knowles all supporting Azealia Banks. In response to Q-Tip’s respectful ‘history lesson’, Iggy slammed ‘I find it patronizing’. If Iggy would respond in a way in which Macklemore has, and rallied for the issues behind the culture she apparently loves so much, maybe she wouldn’t be constantly having twitter wars.
However, some have come rushing to support Iggy in the feud. Will.I.Am tweeted, ‘hiphop is global now…it doesn’t matter if your white or black…thanks for contributing & spreading our culture positively.’ T.I. defended his mentee with a similar response. He tweeted ‘not all white people out to steal our culture…There are some that merely wish to contribute to it.’ If this is the case, what is Iggy contributing? The notion that if you’re white, you’ll sell ten times as many records? The idea that you can steal from a culture that in no way reflects your own, impersonate a black artist, and reap rewards because you are white? This is exactly what Elvis did, but the difference was, he contributed as well. Who can say that Iggy’s music is pushing the rap game forward?
Although Iggy and Elvis are both reflections of the way things work in US culture, it is fair to say that the same thing is happening in the UK – black music is being drowned out. Bloc Party frontman Kele Okereke recently wrote an article for noisey about the issue, and stated that ‘in this present climate the people who are reaping the greatest rewards from black music are not black.’ He mentions in the article that white British acts such as Jessie J and John Newman dominate the MOBO’s, an award ceremony that was meant to level out the playing field for black music in the UK. Lets not even get into Ed Sheeran topping Radio 1Xtra’s ‘Power List’ or the fact that Sam Smith not Sampha dominates soul. ‘Cultural smudging’, a term used by Azealia Banks, seems to be a global issue.
In that sense, this isn’t a personal attack against Iggy Azalea. This is a harsh truth about the music industry. White musicians aren’t just receiving privilege in hip hop, they’re receiving it across the board, in every genre. Music is one of the definitive ways that various non – white ethnicities have been able to express their culture and flourish. If this form of expression is ‘smudged’ or ‘erased’, all diversity will be stamped out. As for Iggy’s misappropriation of black culture (especially that accent), what she is doing is sadly nothing new. Iggy Azalea’s success in the rap industry could be seen as a reflection of what happened in 1956, when Elvis rose to fame. Elvis is ‘The King’… Will our children remember Iggy as ‘The Queen’?