Azealia vs. Azalea: Dissecting the Beef Between Two of Hip-Hop’s Most Polarizing Artists
by JUSTIN CHAN
Iggy Azalea’s been getting a lot of shade, and the pessimism directed towards her may have something to do with the latest horoscope and Capricorn’s tendency towards the pessimistic. The Australian rapper found herself at the center of controversy last month when fellow artist Azealia Banks accused her of misappropriating hip-hop in an interview with Ebro Darden, Paul Rosenberg and Laura Stylez on HOT 97. Banks, who is no stranger to public beefs, didn’t hold back when asked to explain the source of their tension.
“Here’s the thing with Iggy Azalea,” she said. “I feel like just in this country, whenever it comes to our things like black issues or black politics or black music or whatever, there’s always this like undercurrent of kind of like a ‘fuck you.’ Like a ‘Fuck y’all n-ggas. Y’all don’t really own shit.’”
What followed was a Kanye-like diatribe about the evils of white rappers - one that probably made many listeners cringe. Azalea, who caught wind of Banks’s comments, fired back on Twitter, accusing the Harlem-bred rapper of race-baiting.
“Special msg for banks: There are many black artists succeeding in all genres,” Azalea wrote. “The reason you haven’t is because of your piss poor attitude.”
The squabble between Banks and Azalea is nothing new. The two have long had a tumultuous history, but the latest bickering is the first in which the issue of race has come to the forefront. While some like Azalea think Banks overreached with her comments, there is a certain truth behind Banks’s antics that even Azalea can’t deny --- white culture has blurred the definition of hip-hop.
Before I continue, let me just say that I, in no way, speak for the black community. I’m in no position to be a voice for a demographic that I’m not a part of; but, as a minority, I can understand why some rappers like Banks equate hip-hop with blackness and are eager to protect the culture as their own.
Over the years, white culture has blatantly taken ethnic experiences and trivialized them. The Western (read: white) concept of Orientalism, for example, has often belittled East and South Asian cultures by exoticizing them. Native Americans, too, have constantly found themselves under pressure to assimilate into white society, even though their way of life is misappropriated by those who think it’s fine to dress up as an American Indian during Halloween. The list of such exploitative instances is too long to detail here, but you get the point.
And that brings me back to the Banks/Azalea beef. Although Banks may have taken things a bit too far when she suggested that hip-hop is a purely black thing, she wasn’t wrong to say that oftentimes, many black hip-hop artists get the short end of the stick. In the past 18 years, for example, white rappers have won six Grammy Awards for Best Rap Album. The remaining 12 Grammys were given to commercially successful black rappers like Jay Z, Kanye West and Lil Wayne, all of whom have a strong white fanbase. Artists like Nas, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Lupe Fiasco have yet to win one, leading some to accuse the Grammy Awards of favoring those who are more popular with white listeners.
That’s not all. Most radio stations that play mainstream music seemingly give more airtime to artists like Macklemore, Iggy Azalea and Eminem (when was the last time you heard a black rapper other than Kanye or Jay Z?). Here in New York, for instance, I can never go a day without listening to Azalea’s “Black Widow” or Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us” on Z100 or 103.5 KTU, two of the city’s most popular stations. The other non-rapping artists that are regularly played on those stations are, for the most part, white (i.e. Ariana Grande, Sam Smith, Nick Jonas, Ed Sheeran, etc.). What does this say about the music industry? Well, for one thing, Azalea’s claim that “many black artists are succeeding in all genres” is simply not true. With the exception of Chris Brown and Jason Derulo (both of whom dabble in pop music), successful black artists are often confined to one of two genres: hip-hop and contemporary R&B.
And that’s what Azalea doesn’t get. Because black artists can only be successful if they “stay in their lane” and stick to “their” music (read: music which they created), the pain of having their achievements overshadowed by those of white hip-hop artists, especially those who aren’t that great, hurts even more. Did Eminem deserve to win a Grammy for The Marshall Mathers LP? Perhaps. But did he deserve to win four more? No. Was Macklemore’s The Heist better than Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City? Helllllllll no. And if you ask me, I can say, with certainty, that Azalea’s album was not better than Childish Gambino’s Because the Internet or Schoolboy Q’s Oxymoron.
To be fair, Azalea doesn’t deserve all of the backlash she’s gotten since her album was nominated for a Grammy Award. But she does need to understand her place in a culture that was created by a community she doesn’t belong to (as Macklemore suggested in a recent interview with Darden). The problem here isn’t that Azalea became popular. It’s the fact that she’s trying to be a part of a culture she has yet to fully comprehend.