Tuesday, December 23, 2014

No One Is Igging Azalea

Such a shame they're enemies. They have the same
taste in clothes!
An odd byproduct of the controversy over the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner (and John Howard and Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin, etc.) and susbsequent non-indictments is a good ol’ fashioned hip-hop beef: Azealia Banks vs. Iggy Azalea, with special guests Anonymous and Q-Tip...and (sigh) T.I.

The short story (which is still long) is that in the midst of all the #BlackLivesMatter protests, Ms. Banks called out Igloo Australia Iggy Azalea for not speaking up about issues facing the black community, like the unfair penal code and police mistreatment, while appropriating black culture for her personal gain. This got a rather flippant response from Azalea, who basically said, “Well I just saw this since I was in dance practise, but somebody needs to get a life!” Banks then gave an emotional interview on Hot 97 expounding on her point that she feels that Iggy Azalea, as well as other white artists, has mined black culture, namely hip-hop, and given nothing back. Azalea responded to that by calling Banks a racist whiner saying she’d be successful once she grew up. This prompted Anonymous to go #GamerGate on Azalea and threaten to release a sex tape of her if she didn’t apologise to Azealia Banks, because we all know slut-shaming solves EVERYTHING.

AN ASIDE: Before we delve too deeply into the main subject, one should also remember that Azealia Banks has a long history of picking fights, many times unprovoked, with MANY artists. This is not to dismiss anything that she said, but if next week she starts a beef with Kreayshawn or Diplo...again, this will be old news very quickly.

Q-Tip then actually stepped in and gave a 40-Tweet explanation of the history of hip-hop, from whence it came, and where it is; it is rebel music. It is a political movement off the heels of still-disfranchised vets and emergers from the Jim Crow South. It’s music for EVERYBODY, but one cannot forget its roots and why some may resent its manipulation for just profit. He wasn’t even saying that this is what Iggy Azalea was doing, but he wanted to set the record straight. Seriously, it would bring a tear to your eye. He won the internet that day. It ended the argument.

...But then (sigh) T.I. had to chime in, with an unnecessary Tweet parade of his own. It was about as useful to the conversation as making a prequel or sequel to “Dumb and Dumber” was. Finally, Iggy Azalea responded to Q-Tip’s history lesson, calling it patronising and saying she DID do her homework, and then told everyone to get off Twitter and get a life and celebrate the Holidays...and then sent another Tweet.

ANOTHER ASIDE: Anyone who was a 23 year old who went from being homeless freshman to an engineering baccalaureate within 5 years and got a job straight out of college, only to be talked to by his older peers as if he doesn’t know how to do basic math may have felt insultingly partonised. If Iggy Azalea really DID do her homework and work hard te 8 years she was in the States to get where she was, I can understand her getting lesson from Q-Tip as partonising. BUT, seriously, dude. It’s Tip.

This is neither the first controversy over Iggy Azalea, an Australian white girl who is dominating popular hip-hop right now, nor will it be the last. Whether one thinks she deserves the shower of praises she’s getting, mostly from other white critics, is up to the listener. There must be at least 20 articles out there referencing her and the white appropriation of hip-hop, a genre and culture created by blacks, but profited from by mostly white record executives. The ire seems to have grown this last quarter of the year, but I have definitely seen many comparisons to her and Christopher Columbus, and other invaders and pillagers of lands not their own.  I get it. It can be frustrating to work twice as hard at your job, and see someone else soar to success by seemingly putting in half the work. I would wager it is as if you are a tailor spending half a year making a suit, and then some big booty white girl from Australia walks in and tries on the suit, and a window shopper peers in the window and exclaims, “Oh my God, that is the BEST suit I’ve ever seen! That big booty white girl really knows how to sew!”, all while you are sitting there still holding the needle and thread in hand.

Here’s my question though: when HAVEN’T white people in America appropriated black culture? Cultural appropriation has been an American tradition since Americans appropriated black PEOPLE so that they could build their economy and pre-appropriate the lazy stereotype they later gave black people. So a white person from a country once in the English Empire came to a land and adopted and profited from a brown people’s culture without truly showing appreciation. How is this new from the last 300 years? I’m surprised she didn’t sneeze on some blankets and give them to some people living in the Seneca nation. Most of our modern popular music has roots in appropriated black culture. Do you like Rock and Roll? Yes? Well, you’re welcome. Were it not for the creeping crossovers in the 50’s and 60’s, Your Weekends would have NO Vampires in them. There would be NO Fighting of Foo. Your Zeppelins would be made of a less heavy metal than Led. You would not second-guess yourself when spelling “Beetle”. Your Lo would not be Dipped. And The only Madonna you would know is the one who birthed a magic sky baby that made people in the South hate blacks and people in the midwest hate gay people.

Granted, most of these rock artists pay at minimum lip service to their pigmented predecessors, but there will always be one or two yutzes who don’t. These are the ones who will lick the froth off of your cappuccino and announce, “That was good! I’m done!”, leaving you a little bit bitter. They’re the two-pump wonders of music, and for the most part, they won’t last. Does anybody really remember Snow or Vanilla Ice? I didn’t think so. I don’t like any of Iggy Azalea’s music, but this negative freakout over her is drawing attention away from actual callous appropriation, like when Vogue announced that “big butts are in now”, thanks to “pioneer” Jennifer Lopez, ignoring our 200,000 years of humans with booties and their previous disparaging of darker models who had moderately shapely posteriors, or when Elle announced that Timberland boots, those shoes that EVERY kid from the hood wore to school from 1990 to NOW, are officially fashionable. Assuming she actually DID her homework and is just not so talented, Iggy is just making mediocre music. Elle and Vogue editors are truly culturally and egregiously tone deaf. That is the thing about which we should get mad. Their “discovery” of things that we’ve been doing for years and they’ve been dismissing as “thuggish” or “ghetto” for years but then poaching those things they feel are suddenly okay speaks volumes to the way that society has treated brown people in this country: they’re gross, but OOH! Can you sing that again? I want to imitate it! But they’re still gross, but OOH! gimme that drum! But they’re still gross...and so on...

I hate to break it to you, but two of the best hip-hop artists ARE white: El-P and Aesop Rock.  These are artists who not only appreciate their place and acknowledge what came before them, they collaborate with their idols and peers. Have you heard Run The Jewels or Hail Mary Mallon? El-P has produced so many of my favourite hip-hop artists, I’m almost disappointed he didn’t name himself White RZA (WZA?). And Aesop Rock wins, every time. His oldest music rings as true and eloquent as his newest. Listening to him make me want to get a PhD, just so that I can keep up. And if you want to talk white female artists, let’s talk about Dessa. Let’s talk about Princess Superstar. Let’s talk Lady Sovereign with her Patwa freestyling. Yes, there’s plenty of white “infiltration” of hip-hop, but it is mostly sonically pleasing, and the stuff that isn’t or sounds shallow eventually does what every shallow pool does: it evaporates, and people just look at it and say, “Ew, look out for that mud.”

The arguments about Iggy Azalea remind me of the arguments about Barack Obama. With Obama, people saying he’s a ruthless Islamo-fascist dictator who is secretly usurping power through confiscating our automatic Jesus guns are the same ones saying he’s an aloof, big-eared, monkey boy who spends most of his time playing golf and eating watermelon. With Iggy, she’s either an European invader who deviously infiltrated and usurped southern style hip-hop and plumped up her butt to get all the money and poop on all the people making REAL music, or she’s a vapid, ecstasy-addled 50-feet tall blond woman carelessly skipping through terrified streets of the music industry, completely unaware of the damage she is doing to foundation and monuments of hip-hop culture.

So we can keep making the claim that Iggy Azalea is the hip-hop anti-christ (Anti-Bambata?) who will mine hip-hop like it’s a trove of blood diamonds, or when another article about her insidiousness and/or shallowness arises, and we can put on our headphones, pump some #RTJ2, and know that everything is going to be all right. I think I’m going to visit the Bestiary.

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