A few months ago, most people hadn’t heard of the woman who is now the most-searched-for musician on Google.
But in the past several months, 24-year-old Iggy Azalea — real name Amethyst Amelia Kelly — has risen to global fame with her hit “Fancy,” which has been called the Song of the Summer.
Some of the buzz surrounding Iggy has to do with her being a white female rapper with a unique background.
She grew up in Australia but moved to the U.S. in 2007 when she was 16 years old. According to a Billboard profile, Iggy told her mum that she was going to Miami on vacation with a friend, when really she came to the U.S. by herself to try to make it in music.
After arriving in America, Iggy spent time perfecting her craft in Miami, Atlanta, Houston, and L.A., where she recorded her mixtape “Ignorant Art” and made a music video for her song PU$$Y that went viral and helped launch her career, according to a 2012 Gawker profile.
She used the last of her savings to shoot the video and hoped it would pay off. As Gawker noted: “She and her girls licked at ice pops in such a way that one does not generally lick at ice pops in public, and there was also an adorable young boy doing the Dougie. It went viral soon after.”
Iggy’s name is as unusual as her style — once she decided to get into the music business, she created her rap persona by combining the name of her childhood pet (Iggy) with the name of the street her mother lives on (Azalea).
Atlanta rapper T.I. has been a mentor to Iggy from the start, and she had a management deal with his label Grand Hustle Entertainment in 2012. But that fell through, delaying the release of her debut album, and she signed with Island Def Jam in 2013.
So far, her album “The New Classic,” released in April, has brought her considerable commercial success.
Her hit single “Fancy” was the most-played song on U.S. radio earlier this summer, and the video has amassed more than 160 million views on YouTube. It riffs off the popular 1995 movie “Clueless,” with Iggy dressing as the movie’s main character, Cher. Scenes from the movie are also recreated in the video.
Here’s Iggy in the video:
And here’s a shot from “Clueless”:
Iggy’s hard work over the past several years has landed her some high-profile gigs. Before she rose to mainstream popularity with “Fancy,” she was the supporting act for Beyoncé on the Australian leg of her “Mrs. Carter” tour last year. She has also toured with rapper Nas.
And Iggy does more than just music — she also models and has a contract with Wilhelmina, a big-time modelling agency based in New York.
As Iggy has risen to fame, she’s faced a lot of criticism. She’s a white female in a business dominated by black men, and she raps with a southern twang even though she speaks with an Australian accent.
Emma Carmichael wrote for Gawker in 2012:
There is a studied nature to her flow. She sounds very much like someone who learned to rap by listening to other (black, male) rappers and mimicking them. … Rappers’ flows are called flows because they are supposed to sound natural. Though she says she now feels as if she’s totally found it, Iggy’s sounds practiced. In conversation, her voice is high and light, her Australian accent unmistakable. When she raps, though, her voice lowers a near octave. She growls, sneers, and takes on an accent that is decidedly un-Australian.
But Iggy says there is authenticity in her rapping — she told the Sydney Morning Herald last year that southern rap reminds her of growing up in her small Australian hometown of Mullumbimby and made her realise that “the country is cool.”
Beyond being called inauthentic, Iggy has been accused of appropriating black culture.
Brittney Cooper, a writer for Salon who teaches Africana Studies at Rutgers University, wrote last week that Iggy “has very little appreciation of Black culture or the problematic ways that white privilege can colonize that culture to the tune of millions of dollars.”
As Cooper points out, “though rap music is a Black and Brown art form, one does not need to mimic Blackness to be good at it.”
Iggy talked to BET about race in hip hop in 2013, saying: “I think this idea of ‘rap should be Black’ or ‘rap should be this or that’ is worrying to me because it’s like segregation. … If we have something in music that is unifying, that other cultures are drawn to … then it should be a positive thing.”
Iggy is now working on recording another album.
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