Recently, Azealia Banks has gotten into a huge battle with the white Australian rapper Iggy Azalea over Iggy’s cultural appropriation of blackness, calling it a “cultural smudging”. As we have moved further and further away from the founding of the genre, as the older heads recede from the game, hip hop risks losing its sense of history.
I came in to hip hop in the late-1980’s through mid-1990’s when political rap was at its popular forefront – Public Enemy, Ice-T, NWA and its solo member offshoots Ice Cube and Dr Dre, A Tribe Called Quest, Snoop Doggy Dogg, even Arrested Development. A suburban kid can’t really relate to those conditions but the music was authentic, real, harsh, raw and sometimes funny. And did it ever sound great, lyrically and sonically. Dr. Dre’s Ain’t Nuthin’ but a G Thang still ranks among my favorite songs of all-time. Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five’s The Message was jarring, to say the least.
As such, Iggy Azalea and folks of her ilk, who willfully disregard hip hop’s socio-political history, are the new minstrels. To simply mimic the very vocal patterns within which hip hop was established, when that is not her modus operandi, and to make an exaggerated fetish of some behaviors is to disrespect the genre. It is profoundly inauthentic. No one who truly cares about the genre and isn’t just looking to make a buck (or an aussie) should applaud it.
Aamer Rahman takes the significance of this appropriation a step further:
A white rapper like Iggy Azalea acts out signifiers which the white majority associates with black culture – hyper sexuality, senseless materialism, an obsession with drugs, money and alcohol – as well as adopting clothing, speech and music – as a costume that they can put on and discard at will. It’s a cheap circus act.