It takes a lot to derail a white artist who cashes out big on repurposing black music. Even after a video of “White Iverson” hitmaker Post Malone surfaced with him saying the n-word, Kanye put him on his album. Now he’s well on his way to (maybe?) becoming a modern, rap-reared, nu Kid-Rock country-rock star. Iggy Azalea — white female rapper with a #1 Hot 100 single under her belt, and a label deal — had to make many mistakes to fall as far as she has from grace.
Did she have Post Malone skeletons in her closet before signing to T.I.’s Grand Hustle imprint and becoming the first, or at least most high-profile Australian woman, to rap in a Southern drawl? Oh, very much so. If you search “iggy azalea racist tweet,” well, there are too many results to count, or even tweets to read. In 2010, she was talking about how n*gga” didn’t have a racial connotation, and in 2011, about being “black skinny.” Then, of course, there was that lyric about her being a “runaway slave master” in her 2012 song “D.R.U.G.S.,” which came at a time when people were just starting to notice her.
This might have resonated among hip-hop fans and, indeed, anyone paying attention. However, it wasn’t going to deter the wider pop fanbase she had been carefully cultivating — the ones that allowed a song as bad as The New Classic’s third single “Black Widow” to hit #3 on the pop charts. These were radio staples, and a lot of this country is either racist or uninformed about the artists they enjoy hearing songs by.
It took a lot more recent, stupid tweets and a few more-than-disappointing singles to waterlog Iggy’s career. It wasn’t something people outright wanted to do from the beginning. “Fancy,” despite being an outright DJ Mustard bite, was a good pop song, and it never feels good or right to drag an ambitious female artist down into the mud. After all, this is someone who experienced noxious backlash about paparazzi photos taken of her in a bikini, which pushed her to quit social media (briefly) last winter.
But kneejerk, tonedeaf, even aggressive racist comments are racism, and even if it doesn’t seem to add up to a fall for Trump, it did for Iggy. It took a lot of “Wtf with everyone being like I’m racist?” comments and waxing poetic about the joyous, “emotional journey” of getting plastic surgery to make her a near-universal object of disdain in the entertainment industry and the media. There was also, of course, a bunch of bad music, and sadly, that may be more of the problem.
Last year, things got, objectively, rough for her career-wise.. There was a mammoth flop of her May Britney Spears collaboartion, “Pretty Girls,” followed by a beef with Spears after Azalea blamed the late-’90s icon for the song’s failure. In September, T.I. — seemingly the only other rapper on her side anymore — broke off his affiliation with her, in part for an embarassing spat she got in with hip-hop pioneer Q-Tip. LGBT advocates voted her out of a performance slot at a Pittsburgh Pride event, and her upcoming stadium world tour was cancelled due to low ticket sales.
This year, there was the lead single from her upcoming sophomore album, Digital Distortion (of all things): “Team.” It unfolds like a SNL parody of an Iggy Azalea-esque rapper’s hit, with an nebulous aggro pop-trap beat and droning hook that it’s hard to imagine divining pleasure from, in any context. It ends with Iggy recycling a tired “Back That Azz Up” flow, and features a line that it’s hard to imagine her (and actually, anyone else) writing: “You gotta set the score right, call it Hans Zimmer.”
“Team” hit #42 on the pop charts, a position exceeding its worth by a crazy margin, but stayed there for only one week.
These days, stranger, harder-to-characterize things are happening, revealing more cracks in the edifice. No, I am not talking about her apparently-fiery breakup with longtime boyfriend Nick Young, her most recent news item. I’m referring to the fact that Iggy is delaying her album in order to judge… The X-Factor Australia.
One can’t help but think that she made the right choice, from a practical perspective. It’s easy to imagine that there’s more money in reality TV than in her corner of the music industry.
But who knows? It may be impossible to totally derail the Azaleas of the world. One wonders why it had to be her to get the kind of longevity she’s managed and not, say, the much more lovable and woke Kreayshawn. Even if Digital Distortion sold less than half of The New Classic’s modest first week showings ($52,000) it would still debut higher than many new hip-hop albums. After all, Classic*’s returns did snowball over time:
In terms of hip-hop cred, she may not be a lost cause yet, and judging from the album’s early returns, she’s not backing away from hip-hop.
But the release of Digital Distortion, if it does find its way out this summer (or ever), will definitively be the make-or-break moment for Azalea, one of the odder and most divisive pop music commodities in recent memory.