Nicki Minaj, for better or worse, is one of music’s biggest stars. With hits like Super Bass, Starships and features like Bang Bang or straight hitters like Monster where she drops the hottest verse on the track; love her and that fake ass or hate her, there’s no denying her star power.
On the other hand you have Iggy Azalea, the wonder from down under. With a delivery that evokes memories of MC Lyte or Charli Baltimore and a look that doesn’t at all sync with her sound, she’s taken the game by storm.
In a perfect world, these two would have combined their powers and laid down a track about how girls with big asses have taken over in a lyrical display that could, once and for all, legitimatize the female MC.
We don’t live in a perfect world, though. The world we inhabit is full of haters and naysayers — folks that would rather clown and steal a victory in the court of public opinion instead of doing it how they used to do back in the day and challenge a rival to a duel. (See Vanilla Ice and 3rd Bass, Dre and Eazy E, Canibus and Ladies Love Cool James himself, Pac and Big, KRS-One and Nelly, Hova and Nasir, and the list can go on and on and on. )
Instead of that approach, the New Classic’s authenticity was brought into the conversation, which if I’m honest… I thought was special considering the source. On the surface, it seemed to be about the appropriation of black music and the fact that Izzy Azalea doesn’t write all of her own music or doesn’t speak in her Aussie accent. This started a torrent of backlash on the interwebs with an overwhelmingly anti-Iggy sentiment, summarized in this less-than-positive piece from the Washington Post. For the actual speech, click here: Nicki at BET Awards. If it doesn’t start at the proper time, just advance to the 1:45 mark.
Quoted for truth: “When you hear Nicki Minaj spit, Nicki Minaj wrote it.”
A Quest for Relevancy
Then it dissolved into a diatribe about how it means so more coming from “us” meaning BET, which is pretty funny because BET is owned by Viacom. Anyway, this was taken as throwing shade toward Iggy Azalea who doesn’t write all of her own music. I’ll get into that a bit later. Before I do, I want to provide some of the other comments regarding Iggy.
“Iggy Azalea, I can’t really get into her. Because it’s just not real to me. There is a white girl from Australia that spits in an Australian accent, and her name is Chelsea Jane. That I can get into. Teach me Australian Hip-Hop culture. Don’t come to America and try to convince me that you’re Gangsta Boo. We’re not going to believe you if you’re trying to convince us that you’re out here trap shooting.” – Rah Digga
Translation, if one is even needed: Who does this white girl think she is, singing our music the way we sing it, and being so successful at it? Why doesn’t she just stay in her lane?
Or this one from female rapper Azealia Banks, just after TI came through and got Snoop Dogg to stop clowning Iggy.
“Where was the white media when T.I threatened to push me down the stairs though?”
Context for Banks’ comments can be found in this article on MTV.com. If you’re too lazy — Banks and Iggy had a beef. TI stepped in and took up for Iggy AKA the first lady of Grand Hustle. Banks went in at Tiny, TI’s wife. TI came back with a threat. Then we fast forward, Snoop does the same to Iggy. TI squashes it peacefully. Banks tweets the above.
Aside from the fact that Azealia Banks and Rah Digga are completely irrelevant to the pop-culture lexicon is unimportant. What is important, however, is context as there is a racial subcontext of this whole thing that needs analyzing. Even though it can be explained away as TI as a manager, looking out for his talent. Business is business, and Snoop’s wilding out could have potentially tarnished Iggy’s brand and her money drawing power. The conversation should stop there. But it won’t. Nor should it.
TI coming to Iggy’s defense was quick to illicit a reaction about black men not coming to the rescue of black women, but willing to come to the rescue of white women. Before moving on, I’ll just put it like this: if Iggy was black, or asian, or purple and making TI money, he would come to Iggy’s defense. The only color in this equation that has any real bearing is green — a sad commentary in and of itself.
A Journey into Sound
Before I delving deeper into this conversation, we’ve got to look back at popular music as we know it today and give props to what came before so that we can frame this conversation properly. This means acknowledging that music today has origins in styles of music that were appropriated and outright stolen — there’s really no other way of saying it — as this is some the reason for some of the negative sentiment.
Without Duke, Dizzy, Satchmo, Ella, Billie, or my dude Langston and their contemporaries of the Harlem Renaissance Jazz and R&B wouldn’t exist as we know it today. Without the B in R&B there wouldn’t be Rock and Roll. Without the Jazz and R&B stylings from the Harlem Rennaissance, there wouldn’t be Funk. And until a guy called Grandmaster Flash used the break beats on Funk records from the 60s and 70s to transform the turntable into a percussion instrument there would be no Hip-Hop.
I can probably get more granular than that, but the point is this: all music is somewhat derivative of what came before it. When it is something completely new and different it is derided (see Kanye’s Yeezus).
It would be naive of me to even try to argue that artists like Elvis didn’t steal from Chuck Berry. I’d like to hope that incidents like that were a product of its time. I’d like to believe that in 2014, we were above claiming a certain kind of music as belonging to one group of people or another, but that’s simply not the case. There are a number of artists who don’t “stay in their lane” as it were, and I have to wonder if their inability to stay within a sphere of influence that is socially acceptable has any connection to their level of success.
Diversity as a Marketing Tool
Eminem is the first to come to mind. Arguably one of the illest lyricists of our time, Marshall is the poster boy for a white dude holding it down in what is widely viewed as a black man’s game. He spawned a gaggle of imitators, but none have come close to claiming the title of Great White Hope. But let’s be real. Slim Shady is virtually peerless when it comes to what he does. Jay-Z and Nas are probably the only other contemporaries in his league. Maybe throw Wayne into the conversation when his head’s on straight, but that’s about it. How much of his success is linked to his being white versus him being one of the best at what he does?
Another prime example would be Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish. There is veritable minefield when it comes to discussing D-Ruck — a black man at the top of the Country-Western game — and black identity. Most black people would scoff at the notion of listening to country music, but step into a line dancing bar, you’ll see brothers in there showing everyone how to get down on an Electric Slide. I don’t listen to country music nearly as much as I do other genres, so I don’t know the nuances of the culture and whether or not there is derision that a black man has come in and climbed to the top. There is a joke here about how black folks always do this., but I’m gonna avoid the low hanging fruit this time. Again, how much of Darius Rucker’s success linked to him being black, versus him simply being a talented musician and songwriter?
There are probably not quantifiable ways to answer that question, but it provides context to what is ultimately my view on this whole Iggy and Nicki beef and the larger issue that looms behind it.
It’s a shame that in 2014 we are unable to simply view music as music and not attach the racial connotations and societal constraints that we do to it. That said, we should never lose context, either. We should know the origins of the media we consume. We should celebrate those origins. We shouldn’t use those origins to segregate and divide. And if it comes from a place where, as black people, we feel we are owed something? That 40 acres and mule are never coming. We have got to get over that.
Now we circle back to this whole Iggy and Nicki thing.
In this day and age of music and media, how far are we supposed to analyze “authenticity”? An artist doesn’t write their own lyrics (a lot of artists these days don’t). Sure that counts. Or that said artist may or may not have cosmetic work done to change their appearance? What about the fact that an artist doesn’t produce their own music? Or the fact that those producers don’t have the faintest clue about music theory or how to play an instrument? How far do you take this “authenticity” argument?
Personally, I prefer Iggy’s music to Nicki’s. I can only listen to poorly veiled references to men eating Nicki’s ass so much and think that she could learn a LOT from Lil Kim. But getting back to the whole authenticity tip, Nicki can’t honestly ask me to believe that she’s that promiscuous (if she is, she keeps it low key, lyrics not withstanding) in the very same way that Iggy would never get me to believe that she’s any more street than more than half of the posers in hip hop today. That said, I will probably get tired of Iggy spelling out her name at some point. Bottom line, though, Iggy has come into the game and crushed it. Whether or not her success has anything to do with her being a white girl from Australia, that’s not for me to decide (It probably does). But she’s making decent music and has a management team behind her that is making choice moves. Nicki, love her or hate her, is one of the best female MCs who can hold her own with some of the industry’s hottest talents.
All of that said, what does the future hold? Hopefully, it holds a no-holds barred Iggy and Nicki rap beef. That would be special. The fact that two female rappers are on the precipice of such mainstream success in such a male dominated industry is something to be celebrated in and of itself. It’d be nice if they could do something to alter the misogynistic slant that Hip Hop and popular music across the board propagates.
I’m gonna go listen to Jessie J right now.