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?"  


  1. I disagree on the key argument here. By arguing that Azalea has less claim on creating music in this style is parallel to telling a black artist they have no right to create "white" music, which would (quite obviously) be unacceptable. Her whiteness is constantly referred to as a priviledge, despite the fact that it hinders what acceptance and credibility she finds in her profession. The assumptions made about her background seem unsupported, and weather on not she has the experience of 'being black' it is quite clear she has the experience of being a racial minority, of being targeted for her skin colour, and of having to defend her work on grounds entirely unrelated to her abilities (her race).

  2. Azalea has every right to make hip hop music, but she also has a duty to respect that music's histories and traditions. Her whiteness is a privilege here because it is a privilege *everywhere*. Especially in this sphere, where it has worked to her advantage, because blonde-haired white girls who rap are the new EXOTIC. For someone who has to “defend her work” and fight for “acceptance and credibility”, she’s done pretty well: a major label record deal, co-signs from chart topping male emcees and the accolade of being the first female XXL Freshman - and all before a debut album release! I’d say her whiteness hasn't hindered her at all - it’s made her a commodity. She is a minority in hip hop because she has *chosen* to operate in a traditionally black sphere. This is what white privilege means: CHOICE. It means being free to move between spheres at will, to choose where you exist, where you operate, where you earn your wage, where/how you create your art. It means having the power to indulge, play and/or capitalize on the artistic legacies of oppressed minorities, knowing you can exit on your own terms and rely on the safety net of your white privilege should you tire of your adopted minority status.