Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting

Lyrics about cultural appropriation aren’t as fun to dance to as ones about ass-clapping

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The Independent Online

I’ve always seen Azealia Banks as an evil twin of mine. We’re alike; both twenty three year old bony, big toothed black girls with a penchant for over-long weaves. Prone to the odd bout of Twitter beef and similarly vocal about our disillusion with a bigoted world that appears to love black culture and loathe black people.

Banks gave a recent radio interview after my own heart, where she spoke about the ‘cultural smudging’ taking place in hip hop, which sees black artists sidelined in a genre they created, to make way for their white counterparts, who more often than not are rewarded for both novelty and mediocrity

“That Iggy Azalea shit isn't better than any f*cking black girl that's rapping today, you know?” Banks told Hot 97 last week.

“When they give those awards out — because the Grammys are supposed to be accolades of artistic excellence...Iggy Azalea is not excellent.”

It’s impossible for me to disagree. Iggy Azalea, essentially a white woman in a Nicki Minaj costume, is not a good rapper. But the interview garnered international attention not because of the impeccable putdowns as part of a long running feud between the two artists, but because Banks's points were valid, and this conversation is long overdue.

To be fully immersed in a culture (as Azealea has claimed to be in a series of offended tweets) you must embrace all parts of it. Race is integral to any dialogue around hip hop, so uncomfortable conversations about white privilege are bound to take place for any white rapper. And Iggy’s exasperated huffing at any mention of cultural appropriation or the like betray her as more disconnected than she’d like us to believe. As a hip hop artist, these issues are part and parcel of a genre she has chosen to embrace and her choosing to brush them off as ‘making it racial and political’, is insulting. Hip hop in its essence is both.

Her apparent affinity with hip hop has been rightly questioned. She says she respects and understands its significance to the black community, but anyone bold enough to refer to themselves as a runaway slave master on a rap song, as Azalea did, simply cannot.

Banks received reams of support after the interview airred, from musicians such as Solange Knowles, Q Tip and Tyler the Creator, while other artists have recently begun to express the same sentiments both on social media and in their music.

Ever since hip hop was begrudgingly embraced by the mainstream, musicians have avoided the politics that made it so important, releasing apolitical club hits that were guaranteed to sell as opposed to provoke anger from potentially offended listeners. 

Consumers don’t necessarily want rhymes with a side of reality check, so the fun parts of hip hop are embraced but little interest is shown in hearing about the pain that inspires it. The genre has always been both about strength and strife - and part of that strife includes cultural appropriation and white privilege which benefit artists like Iggy Azalea. These sounds didn’t form in a vacuum; like the melancholic Blues, hip hop was primarily about struggle, yet it’s the only musical genre we want divorced from context. I guess lyrics about appropriation aren’t as fun to dance to as ones about ass clapping.

Rappers like Banks and J. Cole are not trying to alienate listeners with the bleak black tales they are producing. But what they’re now saying is that if you are going to get down to the cool parts of rap - the twerking, the grills - then be prepared to shift uncomfortably in your seat as you realise a system you’ve been benefiting from is essentially screwing over your favourite artists.

Their timing is flawless. They’ve been patient and waited for a time when rap is integral enough to popular culture that America has no choice but to listen. They are mainstream enough for the discussion to be heard around the world. And now, when a white teen who wonders why we won’t leave race out of it hears their favourite musician rapping about the realities of white privilege and black disadvantage, maybe they’ll realise why.

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