Dear Iggy Azalea:
Remember when you caused a brouhaha when you rapped, "When the relay starts, I'm a runaway slave…Master / shitt*ng on the past, gotta spit it like a pastor” on "D.R.U.G.S.?" Now, you were taking a cue from a Kendrick Lamar song, but ultimately you conceded, "In all fairness, it was a tacky and careless thing to say and if you are offended, I am sorry."
So even though you, lily white rapper from Australia, may not understand the sort of racial politics behind that line and lingering criticism over your rap act, I thought that maybe, just maybe, you’d learn to at least listen to the people from whose culture you currently profit from.
Then reality smacked me upside the head by way of your October-November cover story with Complex magazine.
The question goes: “In a country where ‘speaking [Black]’ has been a hindrance in almost every profession but rap, do you see how a White person making money in rap by adopting this accent could ruffle feathers?”
For the record, I’m not one of those Negroes who feigns aloofness over the notions of “speaking Black” or “Black music” or Black-anything. We have our culture, and not every single Black person may identify with it. Still, that doesn’t negate its existence. Why can everyone else have certain norms and mores but not American Blacks?
In any event, here was your answer: “If you’re mad about it and you’re a [Black] person then start a rap career and give it a go, too. I’m not taking anyone’s spot, so make yourself a mixtape. Or maybe if you’re [Black], start singing like a country singer and be a white person. I don’t know. Why is it such a big deal? This is the entertainment industry. It’s not politics. You should be more concerned about the message, not the voices saying it.”
This is mighty White of you to say and equally stupid. Madam, you are an Australian bred White woman who spits like Diamond from Crime Mob trying to imitate Charli Baltimore’s cadence. Yet, you sound every bit the Aussie when speaking. If you don’t pronounce Atlanta as “Alannuh,” you needn’t rap the way those that do.
And for your information, “it’s a big deal. I think Solange put it well:
Liiiiike……Lets all dress up, and "play black" today because that shit is more fun than six flags!!! "Whhheeeeeeee"
Not only that, these people get to do Black and make more green off of it. Robin Thicke can rework a Marvin Gaye song and enjoy the biggest hit of his career. Likewise, Justin Timberlake can give us what radio programmers would describe as an “urban adult contemporary” first single in “Suit & Tie” and enjoy widespread airplay. Let a Black person do this and they’re relegated to my mama and ‘em’s favorite stations.
As much flack as Nicki Minaj gets for going pop – and oh boy, does she ever deserve it sometimes – the reality is these days it’d be whole lot harder for her to go mainstream ala Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown 10+ years ago with straight hip-hop tunes.
Needless to say, to see you rapping like you’re from one of our southern hood blocks and yet, naan one of us have ever, ever seen you, is irritating.
You’re young, you’re trying to find yourself and your voice and I get that, but what you and yours need to understand is that you enjoy white privilege. You don’t have to wake up every day feeling guilty about it, but recognize it and respond to questions as those posed by Complex accordingly.
I don’t completely fault you, though. After all, you note how when asked if you’re an imposter while interviewing with Hot 97, T.I. chimed in with, “Nah. We don’t do those. She’s certified.” The same goes for Kanye West and Pharrell, who as pointed out by Rolling Stone’s Miley Cyrus, cover story embolden her and all her appropriation antics.
Like Miley, you may say you know who you really are, but that’s not what you’re currently selling, now is it?
This country isn’t nearly as evolved as it purports to be and that includes our pop culture. Look at the Emmys, the VMAs, the decimation of Black radio and its influence on Billboard Hot 100 positions. That is what makes appropriation all the more frustrating for so many of us who love this culture, are of this culture, and will remain champions of this culture long after your type moves on to the next fad.
Again, not your fault, but it is all our shared reality. You are a visitor, and while I don’t know how they get down in Aussie, I do know the southern Blacks you only pretend to be like show a bit more courtesy. Do yourself a favor and Google Teena Marie, she’ll show you how to act. Then maybe we can cover “Fire and Desire” on my mixtape.
Michael Arceneaux is the author of the “The Weekly Read,” where tough love is served with just a touch of shade. Tweet him at @youngsinick.