She’s white, she’s blonde, she’s Australian, she models, and she raps like she grew up in an Atlanta trap. Like it or not, Iggy Azalea has planted her Louboutins in American hip-hop and has no intention of going back to the Land Down Under.
This feature appears in Complex's October/November 2013 issue.
Midsummer heat can make a person do strange things, and at Hollywood’s Conway Recording Studios in late July, Iggy Azalea is ready to get into some “weird shit.” Having already turned in conventional, label-pleasing hip-hop and hip-pop songs for The New Classic, her debut album for UK-based Mercury Records (distributed in the States by Island Def Jam), the 23-year-old rapper is now experimenting with unexpected sounds that would have freaked out her label bosses.
Today she’s recording a track with moombahton, trap, and dubstep producer Bro Safari, a.k.a. Knick (Nick Weiller) from the drum-and-bass outfit Evol Intent, who previously worked with Iggy on her 2012 mixtape TrapGold. He’s delivered a left-of-center beat that keeps speeding up. Iggy, dressed for comfort in Nike running shoes, gray-and-white printed leggings, and a vintage L.A. Raiders jersey, says the music makes her envision monkeys rapping in the jungle. “Weird shit” indeed.
On the hook to “Work,” the album’s infectious and decidedly less weird first single, Iggy says she’s “working on my sheeeeit,” in the divisive southern U.S. accent she adopts when rapping. It’s clear from her discography that the tall blonde with fair skin and model looks is still evolving and finding herself as an artist. From her sample-heavy 2011 mixtape debut, Ignorant Art, to TrapGold and her 2012 mainstream rap EP, Glory, she’s popped a lot of shit but not revealed much about herself on songs. Although she’s candid in interviews, “Work,” a celebration of how far she’s come, is the first song to actually give listeners a sense of the woman who was born Amethyst Amelia Kelly in Sydney, Australia and raised in tiny, rural Mullumbimby (population: 3,129). She scrubbed floors with her mom to fund a trip at age 16 to Miami, from which she’s never really returned.
Conway’s studios are set back from the street with gates and a lush tropical garden that big-name artists like Mary J. Blige (reportedly also doing a session this day) can hide behind, but Iggy isn’t dodging anyone or any topic, be it the complicated role that race plays in her career, her struggles with record companies, or her relationships with A$AP Rocky and Nas. She’s opinionated and unapologetic, so either you’re “on her sheeeeit” too or you can fuck off.
When I was 13 I got a fake ID. I’d go out, get hammered off my face in nightclubs because I thought that made me an adult, meet older guys who thought I was older, and go f*** them.
COMPLEX: “Work” gave listeners a little taste of the red dirt and back lanes of Mullumbimby. What else can you tell us about your hometown?
IGGY AZALEA: There’s one of everything: one hairdresser, one supermarket, one florist, one bakery. You know everybody that’s owned the stores and they’ve owned them for generations. The population’s 3,000 but it seems smaller because most people live in the hills. They’ll come down to the supermarket to get food and that’s the only time you’re hanging around or seeing people. My dad’s a surfer. My mother had me when she and my dad were 19. They were hippies and built their own house. They wanted to do self-sustained living. My parents split up when I was 8 or 9 and my mom got a teaching degree and would clean houses and substitute teach. That made her a bit more straight up and down.
What do kids do for fun in Mullumbimby?
If you don’t play sport, you probably get stoned all the time. In elementary, we called the kids that liked rap and smoked “The Homies” or “FUBUs” and the surfers “The Surfies.” They had brawls that the police would break up, and that was the biggest thing in my town at the time, to fight with kids from other towns.
What sort of trouble did you get into as a kid?
When I was 13 I got a fake ID. I’d go out, get hammered off my face in nightclubs because I thought that made me an adult, meet older guys who thought I was older, and go fuck them. I’d do that all the time. Hitchhiking was something I would do all the time as a kid. When I was 14 I used to go to the red light district called Kings Cross and go to strip clubs.
We would hang out there so late that the train would stop working, and then we would walk back into the city on the sides of the road, three or four drunk 14-year-old girls with fake IDs. One time, after going to a nightclub with my friend, a guy followed us through all the carriages. Every station, we’d get out and switch a carriage and he would find the carriage we were in. When we got to the station in Sydney he started to chase us and was like, “Come here, you little sluts!” We ran and locked ourselves in the disabled bathroom and we stayed in there for like four hours until the sun came up and people were out for work again. That’s the only time I’ve ever felt scared doing something dumb.
You’ve described the people of Mullumbimby as ignorant. How so?
My friend Roland, a breakdancer from Sydney who is black and had cornrows, was walking down the street with me and one of the kids around my age screamed out the car, “What up, nigga! Yo! Yo! Rap music!” They thought it was hilarious. I was like, “I’m so embarrassed that I’m from here.”
What was the racial makeup of Mullumbimby?
One of my best friends growing up was half Aboriginal, and I’d be around them a lot, but there was not a lot of diversity. It’s very white—a few Aboriginal kids, a few Asian kids, some Indian kids, and that’s it. The neighboring town Lismore was much more diverse because they had a refugee program where all the Sudanese refugees went, but it’s a much bigger city. They probably have 10,000 people. When I got into rap music and wanted to go do cyphers or open mics, that’s where I would take the bus. There were a lot of African kids who wanted to rap and breakdance and shit.