Iggy Azalea and Macklemore: White Rappers in a Black Genre

By Alex Wen on July 7, 2014

“First thing first, I’m the realest,” Iggy Azalea boasts in her hit single “Fancy.” After moving to the US when she was 16, the Australian-born rapper has risen to national stardom in a relatively short time span. While her pop-influenced rap hits have given her many fans, her background has drawn even more controversy.

Whether it’s listening to the anthem “Work” or the T.I. assisted “Change Your Life,” the first thing that most people notice is Iggy’s exaggerated Southern accent. The now iconic drawl that Azalea uses is something she picked up while she was getting into rap. It’s not her natural voice, and it raises questions on authenticity and race in hip-hop.

Source: https://flic.kr/p/nfQLU8

The braggadocio nature of a lot of hip-hop songs and the genre’s roots as an outlet for African American youth has made Iggy Azalea’s rise to popularity controversial. She has the longest run for a female rapper as #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Fancy.” Azalea is also the first female to appear in the XXL’s Top 10 Freshman list, a ranking of up-and-coming rappers. While her accomplishments should not be belittled, her complete disregard of the culture of hip-hop and her wanton appropriation of African American culture is not only problematic, but an indicator of a larger issue.

In a market dominated by African Americans, why is it that the white superstars garner breakout success? Just last year, Macklemore (another white act) swept the Grammys and released a multitude of hits. Both artists reap the benefits of being white, while profiting off a predominantly black genre. Their white status makes them more marketable for the mostly white audience. Take a look at the current drill scene and the controversy surrounding “Chiraq.” The more authentic the music seems, the less enticing it is for audiences to consume. After all, it makes it difficult to associate oneself with such an unfamiliar community.

This makes Iggy Azalea’s white status, plus her foreign angle, pleasing for consumers because there is a detachment from the uncomfortable negative stereotypes about hip-hop and Black culture. This is compounded by how Iggy Azalea is marketed as an authentic hip-hop participant, but dismisses the community and insults them at the same time. Iggy is using her status advantage to exploit the consumers’ desire to engage in hip-hop, but leaves out the history and culture of the genre.

Source: https://flic.kr/p/edA7W2

This demonstrates the difference between Iggy Azalea and Macklemore as one of appreciation versus appropriation. Both of them are not part of the oppressed system that hip-hop was born from, but they both profit from it. While Macklemore released a track called “White Privilege,” acknowledging the gentrifying aspect from which he built a career, Iggy Azalea has completely disregarded the community that has allowed her type of music to prosper.

It’s an exciting time now that rap has risen to the forefront of popular music. There is great opportunity for new fans to enjoy hip-hop and for old fans to find new gems. However, non-blacks must understand the complexities and structures that caused hip-hop to be the genre it is today if they want to participate in the culture. While Macklemore acknowledges his privileges and creates his own story within hip-hop, Iggy Azalea’s fake accent only makes her sound like a good copy-cat at best.

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