TRIGGER WARNING: The following post contains incidents of racism and homophobia:
by Shane Thomas
It’s best to begin this with a statement of intent: I ingest a lot of popular culture. It’s the staple of a lot of conversations with friends, a reliable icebreaker when meeting new people and can make me a useful addition to any pub-quiz team.
However, many think that popular television, movies and music are disposable pursuits. It’s what you do from being exhausted after a long day at work and want something to passively consume. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard, “It doesn’t matter. It’s only a song/movie/TV show.”
I divest from such a viewpoint. Popular culture is one of the few things that link a large portion of this country – and further afield. It’s one of many aspects of how we mediate our relationship with ourselves, and those around us. This very website is founded on such a belief. So you’re not going to get much change with me by stating that popular culture doesn’t matter.
The reason for this declarative opening is to contextualise the subject of this post. The subject being the rapper, Iggy Azalea.
Azalea has been a regular on British commercial radio for most of 2013 with her singles, Workand Bounceboth making the Top 20 singles chart. However, there’s another strand to Azalea’s career that many will not be aware of without a Google search that goes beyond the cursory. In short, Azalea has committed to the Internet a number of transgressions that include cultural appropriation, homophobia and racism.
The first is a series of tweets in which Azalea makes derogatory comments, stereotyping the bodies of women of colour, talking about playing football with “5 dyke bitches”, and finally, utters a slur towards Native Americans.
In the midst of a Twitter spat with Nicki Minaj, Azalea makes something of an apology, apparently thinking that sexism, racism and homophobia are acceptable behaviour, as long as you’re not famous. The problems continue, when on the song, D.R.U.G.S, Azalea refers to herself as a “runaway slave… master”.
Now for this incident, she gave a more thorough apology. However, the problematic collisions with race continue in the video for her latest single, Bounce. The video is shot in India, and features Azalea dressed in the traditional dress of the country, complete with sari, and a bindi on her forehead. Azalea’s explanation for this choice is something of an indeterminate ramble, eventually trying to explain it away as “a fantasy”.
Now first of all, Azalea may think of the Bouncevideo as a fantasy, and so may many of the people who watch it. However, it seems to be lost on her that India isn’t a fantasy land. It is a nation with a long and rich history, much of which included generations of oppression. Narnia is a fantasy land. Gallifrey is a fantasy land. India is not.
For any non-Indian to daub themselves in Indian clothing is often problematic – and even more so when that person is white – and seems to have no understanding of another country’s history or its culture. This ties into a wider (and ongoing) issue that goes back to the minstrels in blackface. Simply put, the dress, dialects, and customs that derive from people of colour are not part of a buffet table for the pleasure of white people. “Hey, look at that sari! I need to try one! Oh, and aren’t those braids adorable! Someone needs to do my hair like that. Africa’s such a beautiful country, isn’t it?”
Sadly, and all too predictably, Azalea’s thoughts on the issue of race in hip-hop left a lot to be desired. She seems to be completely unaware (regardless whether you think her music is any good) of how her white privilege has given her a degree of access to mainstream success, and also seems to misunderstand what segregation is.
Now, it wouldn’t be prudent to ignore that the issue of white people in hip-hop raises numerous questions regarding appropriation, and what their place in the culture should be. Aamer Rahman recently posted his thoughts on this.
I don’t fully agree with Rahman’s argument. I tend to be more of the opinion that crediting the origins of one’s work is the most important thing. However, I am definitely on board with how Rahman deconstructs the nature of white privilege in the context of hip-hop, especially with regards to Azalea. And while some may think I’m singling out Azalea, I do so because she’s become a touchstone of the problem. Each of her aforementioned displays of bigotry have often been followed with some kind of apology. But part of being contrite is to take steps to prevent repeat occurrences, which Azalea has clearly failed to do.
The primary reason for my focus on Azalea, and not on a different white rapper like, say Kreayshawn, is that the latter isn’t a significant presence in popular music. The former is. At the time of writing, Bounceis in regular radio rotation, not only on Britain’s commercial stations, but also on the country’s major urban music station, Choice FM. Again, why single out that particular station? Because they have placed themselves as Britain’s premier space for urban music. Their use of the world “urban” rather than “black” is quite telling, as is the identity of their Digital Editor and Managing Editor.
So while I’m disgusted with any media outlet that promotes Azalea in a positive light, Choice FM have to come in for particular criticism. If you’re a station that plays solely black music, there’s one hell of a cognitive dissonance between doing so, and also playing the music of an artist who has habitually piggybacked on the work of black people for her own ends.
And to bring this back to my second paragraph, the argument that Choice FM are “only a radio station” whose responsibility is to play music rather than play politics, is asinine. As journalist Dave Zirin has said,
“not taking a political stand is still taking a stand.”
And by airing Iggy Azalea’s songs (without even the slightest pushback from any of their DJ’s), Choice FM have made the political stand; to co-sign her racism.
 Yes, I know Africa isn’t a country. It’s a satirical comment on what many ignorant people say in regards to the continent.
 Sure, Azalea’s not the only one to co-opt black music. For example, UK commercial radio stations are currently being plagued with Miley Cyrus’ new “black sound”.
 David Farrar and Stuart Grant. Both are white men. Both have senior positions at radio stations that cater to a more white mainstream audience.
READ: THE MACKLEMORE PROBLEM
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A mixed-race film graduate, Shane Thomas comes from Jamaican and Mauritian parentage. He has been blogging about sport since 2010 at the website for The Greatest Events in Sporting History. He is also a contributor to ‘Simply Read’, the blogging offshoot of the podcasting network, Simply Syndicated. A lover of sport, genre-fiction, and privilege checking, Shane can be found on Twitter, both at @TGEISH and @tokenbg (and yes, the handle does mean what you think it means).
Media Diversified is a 100% reader-funded, non-profit organisaton. Every donation is of great help and goes directly towards sustaining the organisation
- WHITE RAPPER FAQ | Aamer Rahman
- Miley Cyrus’s twerking? It just isn’t working | Maurice Mcleod
- Solidarity Is For Miley Cyrus: The Racial Implications of Her VMA Performance
- Cultural Appropriation: The Fashionable Face of Racism (mediadiversified.org)
- African Culture Made in China (mediadiversified.org)
- Racism on the Runways (mediadiversified.org)
42 thoughts on “Iggy Azalea and a Culture of Appropriation”
Great article Shane! Also great responses to some of the hotheads above. You are quite conversant in your eloquence!
I actually think that Iggy is very much aware of her white privilege and is using it consciously (check out @KidFury tweets on Dec 19th 2014 on how she said she’d slay the fashion industry because she was tall and white), while also appropriating black culture and using that as a gimmick. Her raps are a joke, her ‘name’ sounds very much like that of Azealia Banks who was on the scene first.. the whole Iggy persona makes me think of the offspring and ‘pretty fly for a white guy’ video crossed with britney spears “hit me baby”.. urgh..
Tough to know for sure, but you may be right. I will say that at the time of me writing this, maybe she was less aware, but given that her fame & prominence has increased since then, she has much less excuse now (not that she really had much excuse to begin with). But whether she’s aware or not is largely irrelevant. It’s the damaging impact she’s having that causes so many problems.
To say someone who’s white wearing Indian clothes is racist or racially insensitive is racially insensitive. Here’s why. With the incoming of western brands into Asia and Africa, many of us have slowly abandoned our traditional attire and switched to western style clothing. Now would our wearing these types of clothes be considered racist? No. Because in the minds of many from the west these clothes are ‘normal’, and you expect ‘normal’ people to wear ‘normal’ clothes. In this vein, a saree, dhothy etc are considered non-normal, traditional, indegenous clothing specific to a certain culture and hence need to treated with racial undertones. In our culture we just wear them and don’t think about its significance in any way. They are just clothes that serve a purpose nothing more. To treat them somthing more than that, is to strengthen the notion, that these other cultures are something else, something not normal, something that’ll always stick out, catch surprised stares.
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That would be fine if the cultures and nations were on a level playing field historically. But they’re not. As I said in the piece, part of India’s history is having its resources and culture stolen, misrepresented, and bastardised by white Europeans and their descendants.
Seeing Western clothes as “normal” is part of the problem. Western shouldn’t be the default. South Asian culture isn’t inherently normal, or abnormal. It’s just different to other cultures. The problem in this specific instance, is that Azalea reduces an entire nation to a costume, and that’s harmful. I also touched on this topic in a piece I did on Halloween – https://mediadiversified.org/2014/10/24/halloween-racisms-biggest-party/
Forgive me if I’m assuming incorrectly, but I got the impression from your comment that you’re from India or South Asia? Reason I ask is I don’t want to throw information at you that you likely already know, and act like I know more about your own country than you do
dear black (and white) people who think iggy azalea is stealing “black” culture:
remember afrika bambaataa’s “planet rock”, the song that, along with “rapper’s delight”, basically gave birth to hiphop?
well, “planet rock”‘s melody was taken from kraftwerk’s “trans europe express”; it’s beat was lifted from kraftwerk’s “numbers”; and its whistling melody was taken from ennio morricone’s “for a few dollars more”.
hiphop was literally born out of “cultural appropriation”.
so you’ll forgive me for not giving a shit about your stupid iggy azalea issues.
That’s a pretty lengthy response for someone who doesn’t give a shit.
While Bambaataa is rightly heralded as one of the most significant icons in the culture, allow me to disabuse you of the idea that he is the progenitor. Never heard of Kool Herc?
And the things that influenced hip-hop happened long before Herc or Bambaataa. As Akala said, “the idea that African people began rhythmically rhyming over the beat of a drum in 1974 is the dumbest piece of bullshit I’ve ever heard – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4N-jOWeJUM#t=51
So when you say, “hip-hop was literally born out of cultural appropriation”, you’re making not an ounce of sense. Where are you getting this information from?
maybe that MIA is a non-American non-black doing rap. Is she appropriating? she did not grow up in the hip hop cullture
I didn’t say a non-black person doing hip-hop is immediately wrong. I wrote, “I tend to be more of the opinion that crediting the origins of one’s work is the most important thing.”
Did you miss that bit?
Also, MIA not being American shouldn’t immediately raise a red flag. Hip-hop as a codified art form may have come from America, but many elements of it existed long before then. I’d suggest watching this if you haven’t before – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rgM-WXr-0gM
“For any non-Indian to daub themselves in Indian clothing is often problematic – and even more so when that person is white – and seems to have no understanding of another country’s history or its culture.”
I don’t get this part. Why is it that a white person in Indian clothing is ESPECIALLY problematic? That seems outright racist. You single out a specific people for no apparent reason. And why would you even assume that a non-Indian like Iggy Azalea will have no understanding of Indian culture and history? Oh right, I forgot that she’s WHITE. Being of European descent must automatically make one ignorant.
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Learn your history. Not everyone colonized India and partitioned it on the way out.
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Calling Messrs Nehru and Jinnah.
My main problem with Iggy Azalea’s music is the aping (how’s that for a loaded word?) of the American Black accent in the rap. At least in this sense, Eminem is completely distinct because his is a unique voice in its sound, rather than trying to ‘pass’.
Iggy Azalea seems to be trying to ‘pass’.
In terms of both Miyavi video linked and the Bounce video, there is the contrast of WOMAD.
WOMAD did in fact mean real exposure, and real long term financial gain for those exposed in the albums and concerts. Yes Peter Gabriel did engage in cultural tourism on the way there in his own music, but he did not simply plunder the treasures. He brought widespread exposure for the artists on their own terms, in addition to using them, and drove himself to financial distress in the process.
On the Japanese utter lack of cultural sensitivity:
For Japanese culture in particular there is simply no nice way around the utter lack of awareness of the ‘other’. Imperial Japan was successful as a colonial power because it was as good as the European powers as denying personhood to the colonized. But the thoroughgoing denial of the personhood of the ‘other’ remains in place well past the usefulness as a colonial tool. A possible reason is offered by Leo T.S. Ching, in “Becoming Japanese: Colonial Taiwan and the Politics of Identity Formation”
“the lack of the decolonization process in the breakup of the Japanese Empire has prevented.. Japan… from addressing and confronting the overall Japanese colonial legacy. The abrupt dissolution of the Japanese Empire by an external mandate instead of through prolonged struggle and negotiation with its colonies has enabled Japan to circumvent and disavow its colonial question.”
Furthermore, its self-defined role as a defeated power has further allowed Japan to completely forget those the ‘others’ they laid waste to in its hyper compressed industrial revolution that took place in the stunningly short space from the Black Ships to Nagasaki. Internally, and externally, the Japanese project oppressed to gain power, and then recast itself as that very same oppressed ‘other’ in its sudden shift of status under the American Occupational forces.
A neat trick, and maybe one which does something to explain Japan’s blindness to the very existence of the ‘other’ besides its own ‘otherness’ compared to American military power.
Post colonial studies would be a different animal had the intellectuals of France not been driven to examine just what France was doing in Algeria, or if the British had not been confronted with Gandhi. Decolonization happens as part of a process that includes the realization of personhood of the formerly colonized.
I think in one of the embedded links, Azalea actually mentions why she affects an American accent in her rap. While it’s not my main issue with her, it’s not something I particularly like. I think it’s done because she’s instinctively copying what she heard before her career began. But, of course, that’s not genuine artistic expression.
Your points about the heavy shroud of colonialism are pretty sound. As with a lot of racial injustice, so much comes about from the refusal to acknowledge the way it has made the world lopsided in terms of resources. As Nas once said, “If the truth is told, the youth can grow.”
But it’s an arena where very few people want to tell the truth.
The part about her trying to “pass” using an ascent is so accurate. I’ve always felt it was inauthentic. Almost as if she’s faking it to gain respect and not be seen as say vanilla ice.
I wouldn’t contest that. My suspicion is that the “accent” wasn’t initially part of the plan to become famous. However, if she rapped in her Australian accent, there’s no doubt that it would have been less likely that she would have got to the place that she has. It’s one of a number of reasons why she’s a “name” now, which has nothing to do with any talent she has (or doesn’t have).
I agree with mostly everything said about Iggy because I have seen here videos and it is almost laughable the amount of times minorities are in the back of her videos as props. That song set in India has nothing to do with India at all; it makes no sense for her to be there. There’s also another video where she has black people dressed ghetto riding behind her in bikes and dancing so that she can show she’s “authentic”/one of them/part of the hood. She has always rubbed me the wrong way.
To talk about the whole argument aside from Iggy:
I have a question though: Do you believe that white people who rap or sing hiphop/r&b tracks are all generally racist? Because it almost sounds that way & I’ve actually heard arguments that state no white person should rap. Also the tweet stating that Jay Z liking Picasso and Tom Ford is him worshiping white culture is preposterous. That’s the equivalent of saying high art and high fashion is only a white thing and colored people cannot like or make high art/fashion.
I think it is strange to say that one thing is only for one people. It is hard to say that Rap/hip hop is and should only be for black people the same way it is hard to say that pop is only for white people. Sure Rap started off as an outlet for black people to express feelings of oppression and hardship in an unfair society but as generations pass, society grows and new ways of streaming music across the nation comes forth, rap will also expand. The same way that rock music has changed or how pop has changed. Rap music is now accessible to many people and in turn will inspire people regardless of the color of their skin. This is why I don’t think Eminem or Mackelmore are examples of racism like the tweeters in your article think they are. Eminem grew up listening to rap music that talked about people in a similar financial situation to his that he felt he could relate to-things mainstream music didn’t highlight. He also grew up in an area mixed with black and white people, experiencing two sides of culture. He tried to prove himself by first establishing himself in the underground scene and taking part in the street battle culture. In none of his music does he try and make himself seem black, on the contrary he is very aware of his skin color and how it later helped him when he moved passed the underground scene. He also never used black people as props. Unlike Iggy & Miley who state they have street cred, are in with the “black” sound, and constantly use minorities as props.
As for Mackelmore I was off put by people saying he didn’t deserve rap awards because he is white. Anyone can make music of any kind. It also an easy cop out to just call award shows racist without any real thought put towards why he won all the awards he did. It’s clear to see why Mackelmore got famous. For starters his music is very mainstream. It actually lends more to Pop than Rap. Nearly every track of his is a crossover track, not a pure rap track. Kids eat up big bombastic choruses and he had one in nearly ever song. Secondly his songs are more relatable to the 13-18 year old middle class majority that listens to the radio. He whiteness helps because culturally he is more relatable to the majority. So when it comes to teeny bopping voting award shows like MTV, Peoples Choice, etc it is pretty obvious he will get the most votes. As for the Grammys which have been on a downward spiral for sometime, they too like to go for the mainstream votes. There are hundreds of artists more talented in every genre that are constantly overlooked because they are not mainstream or too transgressive. His only true competitor was Lamar for the grammy, who made one of the best albums of that year. I would say he edged Lamar out by including a pro-gay song that voters probably ate up and wanted to almost thank him for by picking him. Jay Z’s album was hum drum and received so many bad reviews that it was obvious that the Grammy’s like to nominate big names even if they do badly. While Kanye West had an album with great high points but weighed down with narcissism, meaningless songs about sex, how tough he is, or how he is god- when it comes down to voting he probably didn’t win because he pissed off some voters.
As far as white people doing R’n’B/hip-hop goes, I don’t think it makes one automatically racist. As with most things in art, it’s about how it’s executed. It’s key to go out of your way to give credit to the origins of the medium, and recognise if you’re coming into the scene with a type of social privilege. For example, Eminem acknowledged the advantage of his race in two songs on ‘The Eminem Show’, and even Macklemore (before he got big) did a song called ‘White Privilege’.
In and of itself, I’m ok with black artists referencing white products. But there is a problem when one does so, at the expense of others. It’s definitely an issue, and an area where capitalism & Eurocentrisism crosses over with race.
I don’t especially disagree with your take on Eminem & Macklemore. I think they both are genuine lovers of hip-hop, and I don’t think the genre is the preserve of black people. The problem with forms of oppression is that it goes beyond individuals. It’s about structures.
If Eminem & Macklemore were black, they wouldn’t be as successful. Same for Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke and Adele. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t talented. And it doesn’t meant they haven’t earned their success. But it’s a worrying symptom of the societal imbalance for PoC.
This article is a wow and your responders are as well. Very interesting dialogue and subject to ponder. Thank-you so much. Still formulating all I think about this, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
Many thanks. Glad you got something from the piece.
Hello, I read this post awhile ago and it stuck with me.
I recently watched a music video by a Japanese artist I’m a fan of, and I was wondering – does his video approach on cultural appropriation? What do you think of it?
I have to caveat my response in as much that I haven’t heard of the artist before, or know anything of his work, so maybe there’s a degree of context that I’m missing. But going on the video, I think it’s pretty horrendous.
While Miyavi can obviously be on the receiving end of racism, himself, I found the video to be extremely reductive and insulting. From what I could hear, there also seemed to be nothing in the song or the lyrics that could warrant such imagery. It all looks like a child playing dress-up who doesn’t realise how bigoted he’s being.
It touches on a point I make in the piece, when I say that one’s customs aren’t part of a buffet table.
But as I say, I know next to nothing about the artist. You’re a fan, so maybe there’s some reasoning that I’m missing for why he made a video like this?
Sadly, I think you’re right. I watched another one of his recent videos, and it was oddly sexist – the whole video was spent objectifying a girl as a guitar and hyper-sexualized.
I don’t think he’s being willfully ignorant though.
He is Japanese, and I’ve spent some time over there (and am dating a Japanese man). One of the big problems I see is the concept of uchi/soto, inside/outside. I’ve seen a guy ask his class (an American teaching abroad) how many students think racism is a problem in America, and how many think that it’s a problem in Japan. Almost all raised their hands for America, and only a couple for Japan. Part of that’s the pervading belief that Japan is only Japanese people, which isn’t really true (Ainu, Ryuukyuuans, Brazilians, Koreans, and anyone else are often still considered ‘visitors’ it seems like). So I think that makes them brush off race as ‘not their problem’ sometimes. It’s not something that’s discussed in most families or even schools.
In Miyavi’s case, it’s kind of strange, but he’s more popular outside of Japan than within it. Now he’s learned English and is (sadly, haha, it’s hard enough for me to find music I both like and can study) singing most of his songs in English. So now he’s trying to appeal to an even wider global audience, and I think as you elegantly said, using other cultures as a buffet. He’s never (to my knowledge) made a video like this before, so I think that must be the reason.
It’s sad to see since I do really like him. Usually regardless of whether I like his music or not, I’ve always liked him because he’s always experimenting, always crossing genres, and I know that even I don’t like his current style I know the next album will be different.
All that said, he seems like a pretty nice, if not bizarre person, and I like to think he’d reconsider and apologize if he hurt anyone with the video. I definitely don’t think he’d act like Iggy did in her tweets, at least.
Is there anything that in your mind could have made the video better? Or is venturing into other cultures in such a short context impossible to do right?
Lol u mad? Iggy $tay$ winning.
Not especially. Only thing that tends to get me mad is when Arsenal fail to win on the weekend. Not really sure what your point is?
Azalea is an M.I.A. wanna be. It works for M.I.A. because she is from this culture and doesn’t use it as a prop, her videos/representation come across as authentic, because she blends the rest of who she is in her videos. More than anything, white artists like Azalea need to figure out who they are. If they are inspired by Indian culture, cool, but don’t go decking out your entire video with brown people, saris and henna, bring some of who you are into the video.
Quick question re your comment, When you say Azalea is “an M.I.A wannabe”, do you mean in relation to the way Azalea piggybacked Indian culture for the ‘Bounce’ video, or just that generally Azalea wants to be a rapper like M.I.A?
Great question. I think M.I.A. has really mainstreamed a lot of Indian sounds and imagery, but in a very authentic way, which has also been commercially successful. M.I.A. is blowing up and I can see a lot of people trying to appropriate Indian culture in their music to piggyback on her success. Azalea comes across as just trying Indian culture on like the flavor of the month.
I agree re Azalea “trying Indian culture on”. But my question was more to do with your points about M.I.A and Indian culture. You do know that M.I.A isn’t Indian? It’s hard to tell from your earlier comments.
Yeah, MIA is of Tamil descent, which is in the Southern region of India. They share similar music, dress and music. There’s also some controversy and angst in that region about Tamil independence.
Not questioning the origins of the Tamil people. I meant more that she was initially brought up in Sri Lanka. However, I’m splitting heirs, and being unnecessarily pedantic. I’m in complete agreement about your point on M.I.A having the right to use that culture in her music, while Azalea does not.
It just bothers me that we refer to it as “Black Music” and make it seem that any white person singing/rapping it is somehow stealing or piggybacking off of black artists. If we follow that logic then eventually one could put Darius Rucker or for example the singer from Killswitchengage in the category of black artist piggybacking off of “white music” (Country, Metal). I completely agree that someone who says racist or prejudice things shouldnt be played on the radio, but they shoouldnt be played BECAUSE they’re a rascist not just because their rascist against the race that primarily listens to the station. Saying that someone white shouldnt be profitting from rap/hiphop is the same as a white person saying Tiger Woods shouldnt profit from golf, yes he is a very small minority in a area dominated by the other race? Its a bit of a stretch but I think it fits the arguement. Overall I see the point of this article and the comments on it I just think its not looking at the bigger problem of equality.
I think your last remark is very ironic! Did you read this link from the article above?
Do you think the ‘bigger problem of equality’ includes black domination of US/UK culture? White people struggling to create and cultivate tiny areas within that culture to express their identity in a way that isn’t defined and controlled by black mainstream/universal culture? Cause I would say… er, no it doesn’t.
Instructive illustration of ‘the bigger problem of equality’: a black person might be accused of ‘acting white’ if they work hard in school or get a good job. Are you comfortable with generally doing well in life being a defining characteristic of whiteness?
Max, Hip Hop IS black music. It originated as a creative way to discuss our issues and experiences, and to define these experiences from our own perspectives in a way that Pop, Rock, Disco, Classical and other forms of music did not. It was also a genre in which we could be assured that we would not be left out of or sifted to the bottom of the pile in, as black artists so often are in music and film. It tickles me that you have a problem with it being called Black Music….why? Because we invented it, and it was so good that white people are now copying it copiously? Should we change the history of Hip Hop to better suit your mood, as historians are attempting to do with slavery? See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/23/tea-party-tennessee-textbooks-slavery_n_1224157.html
In the late 70’s and 80’s no one cared what Hip Hop was called. It was just a bunch of black people bippy booping, as far as mainstream white listeners were concerned. (Bring on Journey, Culture Club, and crossover black artists like Michael Jackson!) Only when white people began to foray into the mysteries of hip hop, did it’s inherent blackness become a question. Now, it’s not black music, because white artists have discovered that there’s a fortune to be made in appropriating this art form. (Show me ONE white rapper that ever hung his hat in the hood after he left the stage, and I’ll show you Eminem…an anomaly in white rappers)
I do not buy into the idea that when white people start doing something that black people have been doing for years, it is suddenly a mainstream “thing”. For example, just because Miley Cyrus twerked (badly), twerking is now a “thing”. Ever heard of Luther Campbell? The Ying Yang Twins? Twerking has been a thing for years before Miley attempted it. (and Incidentally, there is no need ton “Bring Booty Back” because it never went anywhere. Just had to say that.)
Having said all that, I do enjoy an occasional Macklemore song (Thrift Store was my ish!), and I sincerely think that rap as an art form can be performed by anyone who has the talent and determination to do it, but let’s not sugarcoat things here. Country music is White Music. when a black person sings country music, he/she has crossed over. Meaning, moved from traditionally black art forms to a traditionally white one. The same is true when a white artist raps. He has crossed over (in a direction most white people avoid), he IS performing Black Music. Hip Hop is ours, but we gladly share it with anyone who can get in there and bust a rhyme.
Notice how Iggy’s name was never mentioned as an example? That is because I do not consider what she does to be hip hop or rap. It is Pop with a funky beat, and therefore, there is no need to address her lack of talent or appropriation of black sound, because she falls SSOOO far from the mark to me! Bring back Missy Elliott, and Iggy will disappear down the drain.
max, it is referred to as black music because that is what Hip Hop is, a musical genre created by and for black people as an innovative way to address social issues and realities unique to the black experience. Do not make the mistake of thinking that just because there are some white hip hop entertainers, that they have not “crossed over”, and in a direction that most white people avoid. When a black person makes music for a genre that is not rap, R&B/soul, Jazz or gospel, they are considered crossover entertainers. Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston are great examples of crossover artists, and when Run DMC made Walk this Way with Aerosmith, it was considered a crossover song, even tho it was also Hip Hop. The point is, Country is VERY much white music, and Hip Hop is very much black music.
Black entertainers that sing Country have crossed over. Black people that sing opera have crossed over. Are they piggybacking? Well, that depends on how you look at it. Consider that the music industry and radio is predominately controlled by white men, so anytime a black person breaks through, you have to assume that it is because 1. some white man somewhere gave it the green light and 2. They have real talent in that genre (just as Tiger Woods has real talent on the golf course). There are very few Iggy Azaleas in golf-if a black person is there it is because he is just too good to stop. Whereas, Iggy, who has no talent, can put anything to a hip hop beat and become famous, just because she is white. No talent is necessary.
I do not say all this to say that there is an issue per se with white people making Hip Hop songs, just to point out that they are, in fact, making black music.
Interesting article. I find Iggy Azalea’s video (and those types of videos- others have done it before her) reminiscent of orientalism, and there’s always something uncomfortable about this type of representation, almost as if she’s making fun of the Indian people around her. It’s particularly interesting in terms of clothing; I’m not sure where the line can be crossed. What about UK fashion inspired by Indian or African cultures? I remember seeing a (white) friend wearing a sari for her Indian boyfriend’s graduation and it seemed comfortable, relaxed, fine. So I wonder in what cases it is offensive and in what cases it is fine (or complimentary)? Seems a fuzzy boundary.
Nice post Shane. But you do realise that the phenomenon that you observe is nothing new. Infact it has a long and illustrious tradition. Its older that Eminem, its older than Vanilla Ice, its older than Madonna, its older than UB40, its older than the Rolling Stones, its older than Elvis. Still, its good to give the young folks a heads up.
No doubt, Lee. This kind of foolishness has been in effect for generations. Think I singled out Azalea as its the latest in a long line of appropriaters (not sure if that counts as a word).
P.S. Sorry for the delayed reply. Was offline for a few days & then hit by a touch of flu. As you can see, I originally left this comment in the wrong place by accident.
Reblogged this on Shell Pebble and commented:
Great piece. I remember when I started following graceishuman and she tweeted something like ‘hi new followers, just so you know I tweet about soaps tv drama etc as well as feminism’ and I’m ashamed to admit that that’s when I realised that the luxury I have of not watching crappy TV and ignoring most pop culture is a function of my white privilege, and amounts to a failure of political engagement & awareness. That said, I haven’t started watching the crap, I’ve just started watching bell hooks talking about it (As usual, white person lets black person do the work.)
As journalist Dave Zirin has said, not taking a political stand is still taking a stand.
I recently read an interview with playwright Tony Kushner – it’s one of the best things I’ve ever read in my life, and I’m going to blog more from it soon. Here’s a little part of the exchange
What do you make of the fact that the longest-running musical and a successful Broadway play are both Socialist parables, Les Miserables and An Inspector Calls [This was 1999]
… I think Inspector Calls was kind of amazing. It’s an incredibly simple and clear parable about responsibility and about the desire to distance oneself from the evils that afford one the luxury of living the way one lives.
But do you think, it is an indication that people want something more than just complacent entertainment?
Well, The Lion King is a right-wing fantasy about social domination and the supremacy of men everywhere. It’s a completely beautifully packaged, neo-con parable for neo-con times and neo-con audiences and their creepy little children. The ideology Brecht says is there: the absence of an ideology is an ideology. It’s just a conservative ideology and everything that you see has it.
I don’t understand why not watching crappy TV is white Privilege? I don’t have a TV, I am not white. It’s a choice not a privilege.
Right, you’re obviously correct and I have written some fluffy foolishness there. What I mean is, I’ve ignored pop culture and not bothered to analyse it. Because it’s made for me and represents me (ok yes usually badly, as I’m a woman), I can express my resistance to it by not consuming it, expressing my indifference to it, and snootily looking down on and mocking people who care about it.
A bit like I’m able to resist the tyranny of patriarchal beauty by cutting my hair short and not wearing make up, and mocking people for caring about such things, in ignorance of the fact that beauty is hugely political for black women who are excluded and othered by it
Make any sense or naaaaahhh?