First Things First–Can Iggy Azalea Be the “Realest?”

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CONTRIBUTED BY GUEST AUTHOR ELLIS FREDERICK

“Hip-Hop is Run By a White, Blonde, Australian Woman?” Hardly. The white, blonde, Australian woman in question, Iggy Azalea, is on a roll right now. To say she runs Hip-Hop, though, is quite the exaggeration. Two Top 40 hits (“Fancy” featuring Charli XCX and a feature on Ariana Grande’s “Problem”) and a solid-but-not-revolutionary début album (The New Classic) do not even place her among Hip-Hop elites. The infamous Forbes article by Hugh McIntyre, now titled “Hip-Hop’s Unlikely New Star: A White, Blonde, Australian Woman” in light of surrounding controversy, doesn’t even reflect this notion. It simply sums up Iggy’s career as of now, notes her unique situation as a white female Hip-Hop artist, and predicts commercial success to come.

But that’s not why the article went viral. The title of an opinion piece on Bustle by Evette Dionne sums it up nicely: “Hip Hop Is Not ‘Run’ by Iggy Azalea, But It Sure Is Run by White Privilege.”

Let’s get academic for a second. The University of Dayton defines white privilege as “a right, advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by white persons beyond the common advantage of all others; an exemption in many particular cases from certain burdens or liabilities.” In the context of the Internet, white privilege—and privilege in general—is discussed constantly. It’s worth noting that acknowledging white privilege is not equivalent to being racist against white people; it’s the understanding that Western society favors white people, regardless of economic class, sex, and other  factors that can and do affect a person’s cultural standing.

Does Iggy Azalea’s career benefit from white privilege? According to McIntyre, Iggy’s success in the black male-dominated genre of Hip-Hop is unlikely. Dionne’s response on Bustle and Olivia Cole’s response on The Huffington Post argue the opposite, that a white girl is a popular Hip-Hop artist at least partly because she’s a white girl. So… who’s right?

It’s hard to say. Iggy’s fame is growing rapidly, but pinpointing why is difficult when taking race into account. It’s certainly not a pattern. White rappers, let alone white female rappers, are not commonplace in mainstream Hip-Hop. Macklemore specifically shares a lot of the same criticisms that Iggy does—his rapping skills are average, he’s not even Hip-Hop, and his success is rooted in white privilege.

Both Macklemore and Iggy are constantly questioned about authenticity, a term more vague and harder to grasp than ever in the music industry, let alone Hip-Hop. Rap music was created as a form of artistic expression for underprivileged black men. They didn’t just run hip-hop, they owned it. To say that isn’t true anymore would be absurd. As a white female, I often get weird looks when I tell people Kanye West is my favorite artist. Even black women can be criticized if they enjoy Hip-Hop due to misogynistic themes. If women can’t even like rap without skepticism, female rappers are sure to suffer from constant scrutinization. Of course, Iggy Azalea doesn’t run Hip-Hop. Until female and male rappers are socially equal, she can’t.

I won’t compare sexism in Hip-Hop to being a white rapper. However, in the case of Iggy, she’s encountered both. At what point are Iggy’s critics saying that she’s not a good Hip-Hop artist because she’s white? In music, there are two ways an artist can find success: commercially and artistically. Sure, Iggy is commercially successful. As a white female rapper, she is a commodity, perhaps even a fad, much like K-pop became in 2012 with “Gangnam Style.” Fads come with interest from all kinds of cultures. She’s white. She’s a woman. She’s Australian. She’s different. That’s going to get people talking and listening. Is that a benefit of white privilege? Well, yes. It certainly doesn’t hurt.

Artistic success, though, cannot be measured by viral music videos or album sales or even awards (just look at the flack Macklemore received for winning Best Rap Album at the 2014 Grammy’s). Critics of Iggy question how “real” she is all the time. Iggy Azalea, from the most extreme viewpoint, cannot be a great rapper unless she has undergone the same cultural struggle that’s engrained in Hip-Hop. In other words, she can’t because she is a white, blond, Australian woman.

Share your opinions in the comments section below.

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