We need to stop talking about Iggy Azalea. Not forever, but for right now. We don’t need to stop talking about her because she’s a poseur—though she is and there should always, always be conversations about poseurs in the public sphere. We don’t need to stop talking about her because she’s white. But we need to stop talking about her because her whiteness has granted her a privileged position in a conversation about race that we've been having all year, and in all that talking, we’ve learned nothing and changed nothing. And now, as the year closes, we are still talking about her when she shouldn’t be the story at all; when talking about her comes at the expense of Azealia Banks, and what Azealia Banks has to say about the music industry and the world we live in is way more important that anything Iggy Azalea has ever said.
That Macklemore album wasn’t better than the Drake record. That Iggy Azalea shit is not better than any fucking black girl that’s rapping today. And when they give those awards out—’cause the Grammys are supposed to be accolades for artistic excellence—Iggy Azalea is not excellent. —Azealia Banks
Despite releasing her long-delayed debut album, Broke With Expensive Taste, to significant critical acclaim, Azealia Banks is likely better known for her caustic and combative social media presence, which has seen her exercise no amount of chill. She lashes out at her perceived peers and frenemies, her collaborators and producers, her icons and respected rap figures, the varied and many machinations of the music game. Unfortunately, the social media beefs have overshadowed the larger narrative formulating for the past three years, obscuring the journey of a woman who completed an arc from having her nose pressed up against the window of the mainstream music industry, to getting a major label deal, to growing disenchanted and striking out on her own. It’s a journey that usually takes an artist much longer, with many detours, false starts and regrouping. Told 140 characters at a time, Banks came off as often problematic, sometimes misguided and, quite frankly, wholly stank.
Yet, in a recent interview with New York’s Hot 97, she was able to soften the corners of her argument with a tone and level of humanity missing from her online outbursts. Even through Ebro’s unnecessary interjections and condescension while trying to prove to be the smartest person in the room; even though Peter Rosenberg played the informed everyman while trying to make it all about him, Azealia Banks refused to be a black girl lost in the shuffle. She refused to be who we all thought she was. And she had the nerve to talk about the kinds of macro observations of the industry that are akin to bringing up abortion rights over holiday dinner with the in-laws.
Azealia banks had the nerve to talk about the kinds of macro observations of the industry that are akin to bringing up abortion rights over holiday dinner with the in-laws.
More insightful than inciteful, she was all over the place, touching on industry politics and revenue streams (she’s happy to be independent and deal with her fans directly via the Internet forevermore), media conspiracy theories and race (“We have Eric Garner, Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin, and y’all fucking talking about Bill Cosby, like, what the fuck?”), the classification of hip-hop and the swagger-jacking of black culture—even bringing up reparations. “There are huge corporations that are still caking off that slave money,” she said. At this point, she broke down. Her voice cracked. She choked. There were tears, and she could barely finish her next thought: “At the very fucking least, y’all owe me the right to my fucking identity and to not exploit that shit,” Banks demanded. “That’s all that we’re holding on to—hip-hop and rap.”
If her identity as a black, non-heteronormative woman isn’t the intellectual fulcrum of her worldview, the interview proves that it’s her emotional one. Many of her strongest statements sprang from this center: “It’s like a cultural smudging, is what I see,” she said when discussing the Grammys. “And when they give these Grammys out, all it says to white kids is like, ‘Oh, yeah—you’re great, you’re amazing, you can do whatever you put your mind to.’ And it says to black kids: ‘You don’t have shit. You don’t own shit—not even the shit you created for yourself.’”
It’s not a surprise that this part of the argument has been glossed over by just about every non-black outlet speaking on the interview—because that’s how white supremacy works. White supremacy is not always hidden under white hoods, advertised via Aryan tattoos or announced with a skinned head. Those things are definitely white supremacist signifiers, but equating them to white supremacy is like equating hip-hop with the fashions of Southern trap and ignoring the rest of the genre’s expanse. It also misses the point that white supremacy at its core—even at its most benevolent—is simply about putting the white experience front and center. So, Iggy Azalea—who has had no shortage of digital ink dedicated to her this year, ranging from breathless, sycophantic vamping to cries of her being a harbinger of doom—became the focal point of the conversation as piece after piece rehashed what Iggy means, or how Iggy responded to Azealia. A discussion where Azealia Banks literally cried that everything she had has been taken from her, that the only thing she has is what she creates—even that very conversation is taken from her and given to the white woman.
It’s not as if the writers were alone in this. Banks did mention Iggy by name; she also mentioned Iggy’s ghetto pass signator, T.I.—both of whom responded to the interview on Twitter. Iggy’s a lightning rod for all sorts of hate, mainly because she’s a poseur. The alabaster blonde with Wilhelmina Models backing became a vicarious thrill for soccer moms playing at aspirational luxury fashion largely because of her ability to pose. She's also a mannequin as a rapper—refusing to rap about the specifics of her own past (save for a brief hook in "Work") and spending her debut album trying on a variety of personalities—she's both struggling underdog and defiant diva heroine; sullen wronged woman and smug home-wrecker; Cinderella and Fairy Godmother; rap goddess and dancehall queen. That she's less than a sum of the parts she represents is understandable—it would be hard to pull off these disparate roles and still be accessible as a human being. The lack of Amethyst Amelia Kelly (which is a better stage name, anyway) behind Iggy Azalea is precisely how she's ascended to pop stardom. Iggy Azalea has been able to cloak herself in the signifiers of black culture without ever displaying any true connection or affection for her source material, because there’s no real person standing there, where Iggy Azalea stands.
Put her in the pop category. Put her with Katy Perry, put her and Miley Cyrus in the same fucking box together. Don’t put her in hip-hop. Just because she’s not singing does not mean it’s rap music. —Azealia Banks
2014 may be seen as "The Year of Iggy," but she's merely the perfection of an aesthetic that has been years in the making. This year, there was Meghan Trainor, whose "All About That Bass" jacked both the stereotyped body priorities of black beauty and the codes of black slang, and rode the wave for eight weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Trainor's success no doubt played into Vogue declaring that "We're Officially in the Era of the Big Booty." With no mention of the painful history of shaming black bodies (see: Hottentot Venus), Vogue traced the ascension of derrière acceptance to Jennifer Lopez, through a lineage that included Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj—three women whose acceptance by the white establishment speaks volumes about race and shade. Similarly, the L.A. Times championed cornrows—an irrefutably African hairstyle that is wholly impractical for whites—without caring to mention a single black woman, light skinned or not. And it’s what makes the hijacking of Banks’ conversation even more glaring.
There’s also the jacking of the conversation by men, as Q-Tip came to Banks’ defense and T.I. responded to Q-Tip—both instances being lengthy, multi-tweet mansplaining pontifications about the history of hip-hop. Affiliates of the hacker group Anonymous also jumped in, threatening to release a sex video of Iggy if she did not apologize for doing what white men have been doing for decades. That the threat came in the form of slut-shaming, coming just months after Fappgate, is another layer of this incident that should not be forgotten and deserves its own piece.
In a year that has seen more race commentary as part of the national conversation since perhaps the '60s, at a time when #BlackLivesMatter has become part of mainstream discourse, the deafness around Banks’ position is startling, even if it is expected. White female pop musicians have long made it clear that they see black people as a cultural resource, while not seeing black people in the Na'vi sense. Taylor Swift visually set off her latest album, 1989, with "Shake It Off" using two separate takes on black culture—boomboxes and baseball caps; and truck jewelry-rocking, around-the-way-girl with booty-popping—over "this sick beat." In 2013, Lily Allen named her album Sheezus and released "Hard Out Here" as her first video—not-so-subtly borrowing from both Kanye West and Three 6 Mafia while generally equating black existence with ratchet behavior. Before that was Lorde's "Royals," with lyrics that poked fun at the conspicuous consumerism most regularly associated with hip-hop. Before still was Miley Cyrus' "We Can't Stop" with her "turnt up" twerking and gold teeth. And there's no shortage of unsuccessful white female acts who have attempted wholesale style stealing in an effort to make careers in recent years—the White Girl Mob-ness of Kreayshwan and Lil Debbie, the nigh-blackface of Brooke Candy, the based stylings of Kitty Pryde.
Azealia Banks wasn’t making things up. For some time now, the trend has been for white women to culturally appropriate via black-leaning visuals and code words in order to jumpstart an album into the pop sphere. This initial campaign is almost always followed by abdication of any allegiance to black culture, loudly echoed by a muteness on black issues. Azealia Banks said she was tired of it. Unfortunately, she said this in the year of Iggy; it’s the year where we learned everything and nothing. Hopefully, next year we’ll learn to stop talking about Iggy Azalea and start talking about Azealia Banks. Because, even though we should always talk about poseurs in the public sphere, we should never, ever be talking about the imitator at the expense of the original.
kris ex is a writer living in L.A. Follow him @fullmetallotus.