Wednesday, 29 February 2012

"A lot of people don't want to see a woman on the mic, just like they don't want to see a woman play an electric guitar"

"Race to me is a low blow that people just use when they have nothing real to hate on. To me, being a woman is the biggest hindrance; a lot of people don't want to see a woman on the mic, just like they don't want to see a woman play an electric guitar. There are a million and one things that I go through as a woman and as a human being that we can all relate to, and colour is just an extremely small thing to me.  I have to view it that way if I want the rest of the world to take on that mind frame too."
Iggy Azalea, talking to Dazed Digital on being a white female rapper. 

I originally intended to lift the guitars and mics comment of the title as a stand-alone, because it draws a smart line between the misogyny of those two worlds, and confronts ideas of permission, but Azalea's 'woman is the nigga of the world' stance is ultimately problematic if she can't/won't also address her co-existing privilege: whiteness. I suppose Azalea means "colour" (not the preferred nomenclature) is a "small thing" in terms of artistic ability, and women *are* still very much the visible minority in rap, but race is an inherent and loaded issue in hip hop, and dismissing her white privilege in that context comes across as willfully ignorant.

Like Eminem and Yelawolf, Azalea's whiteness grants her a privileged otherness in her adopted rap world, the same 'temporary minority' status that earned Kreayshaun her hype. Her gender complicates this, SURE, and we/she should have that discussion, but if we whitewash one of the things that's so clearly allowed Azalea to stand out in the hip hop blogosphere, we're only having half the conversation. If Azalea chooses to capitalize on and appropriate black culture's socio-musical traditions, she has an obligation to address that culture's histories, and the role her whiteness plays in that sphere. Subvert responsibly!

Eminem and Yelawolf earned their seats because, skills aside, their experiences intersect with rap's black working-class narratives; they have shared oppressions, and can express a complex, if sometimes problematic, solidarity. Maybe the "rural" Australian background Azalea is loosely attached to in interviews is equally working-class, maybe that's why she dismisses her whiteness as a "small thing"; there's certainly explicit links to be made between working-class gender stereotypes and the "ratchet rap" tropes Azalea favours. If that's the case, I'd really like to see Iggy elaborate on that and acknowledge those dynamics.

Yela is astute where Azalea, perhaps unwittingly, obfuscates. He made his opinions known last year when asked about White Girl Mob and V Nasty using the N-bomb. What starts out as an initially specific response turns, quite naturally, into a wider, holistic discussion on the systematic appropriation of black music cultures, and how white emcees have a duty to conduct themselves responsibly in these spheres:

"You don't take that shit lightly. Hip hop...American music culture is black culture. Don't ever get it fucked up. Know your roots, know who the fuck you're getting this music from."


I've been holding off on this post because I have an exclusive Tricia Rose quote sitting in my inbox that I'm waiting on permission to include, but it feels pertinent to post now, given Azalea's just-announced XXL Freshman cover. Over to Ms Banks...

01.03.12 update

I spoke to Tricia Rose last year about all the debate around Kreayshaun. Our conversation covered most of the issues discussed above, and given the parallels between Azalea and Kreayshaun, the Prof has kindly given me permission to include part of that conversation here:

"There is a long and painful history of black musical (verbal, clothing, dance) and other cultural styles being appropriated by white artists and industry for far greater profit than black artists could garner. At the same time these same cultural styles are disparaged, labeled inferior or denied legitimation and under-documented. This is the proper context for the criticism you say white female rapper Kreayshaun is facing . However, it is not reasonable at this point in the industry saturated genre of hip hop to pretend that hip hop style has not become a global style to which all people around the world have been exposed and perhaps have found deep interest and appreciation. The main issues for me are:  how much does an artist know about the styles, codes, tropes, and traditions he/she is borrowing? Do they know the racial dynamics at play that consistently provide more opportunity for whites than blacks, even when they play in black cultural backyards? Is the white artist in question willing to be honest about this dynamic and express proper appreciation, solidarity and connection to the traditions and the people behind the music?"  

Friday, 17 February 2012

Complexities, treacheries, we watch through glass, we see nothing

I reviewed the new Tindersticks album, The Something Rain, for The Guardian.  Its an affecting record, streaked with jazz and loss and intimacy, and Stuart Staples' sad, rich, baritone poetry, which I think has the same kind of andro magic that I hear in Antony Hegarty.

 What I didn't have wordcount/space to say in the review:

The 9 min spoken-word opener 'Chocolate' (perfomed by David Boulter) felt initially problematic to me. It essentially ends with a MTF joke, which I think, despite being one of the worst, hackneyed transphobic punchlines, is in this song's context an unexpectedly tender (if clumsy) comment on love, acceptance and human connection, and about how precious that is when life can be so sad and ridiculous and expect so much of us. It's a shabby, ragged kind of love song (cheap pints, woodchip bedsits, Fox biscuits) and totally lacking the high jinx comedy of Cukor's films, but it made think of the queertastic outro scene in Some Like It Hot when Jack Lemon's honeytrap drag act (which by the end of the film had evolved in to a genuine trans ID) is revealed to his magnificently nonchalant millionaire lover as they ride off in to the sunset in a shiny-white fancy speedboat, with machine gun gangsters on their tail and Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis (in his own Cary Grant drag) making out in the back seat, the uniting factor between the film and song being not the punchline but the reveal that follows it, subverting that "SHE is a HE!" pantomime in to an act of trans acceptance/empowerment. 

Grief knits the album together, but I found the erotic instances the most exciting, particularly 'Show Me Everything'. Tight percussion, strip tease bassline, faintly sleazy organ notes and charged, ambivalent desire, glazed with numbness ("latex on my fingertips, we touch through glass, we feel nothing") but wanting and hoping ("We could take those stones, we could build something") to feel everything.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

I wake up, eyes to the sun

I guested on the Guardian Music podcast this week, and talked about Georgia-based Rough Trade quartet Alabama Shakes, ex punkband kids playing a noisy, joyful fusion of blues, rock, gospel and classic RnB. Its easy to imagine Brittany Howard's huge, gravelly vox filling a revival tent, but they came up covering AC/DC and Led Zep as much as Otis Redding and James Brown, and shun the 'soul revival' label in favour of straightforward RnR. I heard their wrenching live version of 'You Aint Alone' before anything else, and was struck by Brittany in the same way I remember feeling when I heard Millie Jackson's 'If Loving You Is Wrong' as a kid, overcome by the sheer force of the song's emotion, swept up in those tumultuous leaps from huge, frayed, stomping wails to desperately hushed, shivering from-the-gut whispers. 

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Dyke comix, from Second Wave counter-culture to the New 52

My Diva magazine feature on the herstory of lesbians in comics is out today. I'm not ashamed to say that writing it sent me a little crazy. Its such a niche branch of comics, with roots in Second Wave feminsim and late 60s underground counter-culture publishing, so all those early artists and volumes proved tricky to track down and draw out. The power of the lesbian phone tree came good, and I ended up e-talking with Mary Wings, Trina Robbins and Roberta Gregory, the real 70s matriarchs of dyke comix. Can you imagine emailing with women who were creating lesbian legacies in a pre-internet world? Seeing the PDF panels of 'Sandy Comes Out' in my inbox one chilly November morning was a BIG deal. I spent an obsessive amount of time drawing up timelines and cruising Amazon and Ebay, to moderately successful ends, for obscure issues, and spent a lot of cash padding out my collection with volumes I could ill-afford. I plan on pouring everything I've amassed into a bumper-sized zine at some point.

In the mean time, head to Queer Zine Archive Project to download a copy of Roberta Gregory's Dynamite Damsels. 

And because there appears to be a tag limit in Blogger: Wimmins Comix, Gay Comix, Tits N Clits, The 24 Group, Dianne DiMassa, Leanne Franson, Erica Smith, Girl Frenzy, Alison Bechdel, Erika Moen, Carrie McNinch, Arial Schrag, Michelle Tea, Laurenn McCubbin, the Hernandez Bros, Jennifer Camper, Nicole J Georges, Cristy C Road, Ross Campbell, Anne Elizabeth Moore, Gail Simone.