ALBUM: The New Classic
ARTIST: Iggy Azalea
Out of curiosity, I did a Google search beginning “Is Iggy Azalea... .” Google’s top searches are the following (in descending order): “Is Iggy Azalea gay,” “Is Iggy Azalea white,” “Is Iggy Azalea black,” “Is Iggy Azalea racist,” and “Is Iggy Azalea albino.” Iggy Azalea’s music is not without controversy. Some are turned off by the young Australian’s rap persona and scrutinize her for appropriating a musical culture and heritage she, as a white non-American woman, “shouldn’t” have access to (critics, for example, often cite her fake American accent as evidence of such appropriation). Others bypass the cultural criticism in order to appreciate her sass and style—finding in her raunchy flow and IDGAF-attitude an empowered artist. Either opinion of Iggy Azalea is problematic. The first garners a whole host of problems to address. The latter puts the listener in a compromised position of possible social irresponsibility (as in, “Do you really know who and what you’re listening to?” and the follow-up question, “Then why are you listening to her?”). I ended up in a bit of a conundrum writing my review for this album.
This is what I did before I sat down to write this review: I listened to Iggy Azalea without looking her up, without reading up on her, and without engaging in the conversation of race and cultural appropriation. Of course, I could have decided to disengage all external criticism and base this review solely on her discography, but I don’t think her music should be isolated from what she represents to herself and to her audience. She’s, in some way, asking for it. She raps about these controversies. She talks about it. But she fails to publicly address the tension in thoughtful ways. Her go-to response, so it seems, is the dismissive “I do what I want and if people don’t like it, they don’t have to listen to it.” I’m prone to thinking this mentality is fine, but it’s ultimately passive as a critical listener to think of it as just “fine” and move on. Therefore, after giving her album dozens of listens, I did some research.
I eventually stumbled across Harry Allen’s provocative piece titled “The Unbearable Whiteness of Emceeing: What the Eminence of Eminem says about Race”. Yes, Iggy Azalea is not on the same level as Eminem. Yes, I believe Eminem is a highly-skilled, valuable rapper (and for this, I can’t fully agree with Allen’s deposition on Eminem). Still, Allen’s central argument is something I can’t evade when thinking about Iggy Azalea. Mainly citing 8 Mile, Allen argues that white emcees propagate, what he calls, “the refinement of white supremacy.” This, in short, means that through the use of black speech and music, white emcees have overturned hip-hop into a genre of music made for the interests of white people, therefore disenfranchising the very music that a marginalized (and still marginalized) group inspired and created. In the essay, Allen concludes, “In this context...hip-hop is valuable for one reason only: because a lot of white people are into it...” I don’t think Allen is completely right. I have a ton of thoughtful white friends who speak about their love for hip-hop and rap in intelligent and authentic ways and there are many white rappers and emcees, aside from Eminem, who rap well and productively contribute, with their own artistries, to the hip-hop and rap cultures.
Allen’s argument does make me think, though—is Iggy Azalea doing something wrong? In the end, I’m not sure. And if she is, she doesn’t really care. Here are some facts: She moved to Miami at the age of 16 to pursue her dreams as a hip-hop artist. She lived in Atlanta. She considers Southern rap as a crucial catalyst to her style. What I really know is that there’s no proven “right” way to navigate this. What I also know is that there’s danger in assuming expectations for any artist. Applying a specific set of standards can be debilitating and unfair. What one may consider as an unwarranted invasion, another can consider an expansion. Sure, singing with or dancing to “Fancy” supports—unintentionally or not—who and what Iggy Azalea represents, and sure, what we find pleasure in can be incongruent with our innate ethical beliefs. But we like what we like—whether it’s transitory (say, one night at the club) or perpetual. The same can be said for Iggy Azalea...only it gets complicated when speaking about someone who’s excavating her way into the forefront of pop culture—especially as someone who seems to not care about the potential ramifications of her perceived role. But I say all this knowing I blared The New Classic while driving and sang along to it in the shower. I may, in the end, be as conflicted as Iggy Azalea.
Certainly, what works for Iggy Azalea is also what sells. The strongest tracks are the ones with ample radio-play possibility. I can see “Black Widow” (feat. Rita Ora) circulating just as much as Katy Perry’s, what I’d call, sister-track, “Dark Horse.” The danceable, more melodic, “New Bitch,” is another track with high-hit capacity. Needless to say, “Work” and “Fancy” (feat. Charli XCX) are already successful hits. Iggy Azalea’s lyricism is sometimes kitschy, but has its strong points. In “Work” she raps, “Rose through the bullshit like a matador / Just made me madder and adamant to go at ‘em / And even the score.” In the same track, Iggy Azalea employs a cute hashtag rap line—“Valley girls giving blow jobs for Louboutins / What you call that? / Head over heels.” In “Fancy,” she raps, “I can hold you down like I’m giving lessons in physics.” In “Change Your Life” (feat. T.I.), she raps, “Through customs accustom your wardrobe, damn / Stamped passports where they all pass ports.” She’s a playful lyricist who can write punchy lines and who embraces her punctuated, derisive flow. Iggy Azalea also uses her vocals by singing some of her hooks. Sometimes they work, though usually, her voice is better economized through her verses. The album also includes a good mix of features—WatchTheDuck, T.I., Charli XCX, Rita Ora, and Mavado—though the featured artist either does a more interesting job than Iggy Azalea (WatchTheDuck and Mavado), fails to do anything interesting (here’s looking at you T.I.) or fruitfully complements Iggy Azalea’s flow (Charli XCX and Rita Ora).
In the end, what you can expect from The New Classic is a good, but not great album of straightforward tracks with straightforward aims. They’re a bit formulaic—both in content and in arrangement. She raps about typical subjects without contributing anything particularly new—there are tracks about being hated on, being loved, getting money, spending money, the hardships of being in the music industry, where she came from and where she is now, etc. All of this has been done and it’s going to keep being done, but it should be done in fresher ways if it wants to reach longevity. The New Classic, therefore, has its ups and downs. It could have been more consistent. The album is split between filler tracks and tracks that stick. The “deluxe” version has three additional tracks—“Bounce,” “Rolex,” and “Just Askin.’” Despite the success of “Bounce,” it’s a track that enervates more than energizes. Though it asks for a high-energy reaction, it’s a stagnant track. “Rolex” and “Just Askin’,” however, provide a welcomed relief to the album’s predominantly “loud” setlist. These tracks reveal a lighter and more reflective side of Iggy Azalea that isn’t really tapped into in the album’s main tracks. What may separate Iggy Azalea from other hip-hop artists is the very attitude that some find conflicting. Iggy Azalea harnesses a cocky spirit that isn’t novel in female hip-hop artists, but is always, I’d say, welcomed. Her sound, at best, is flirtatiously volatile, fun, and loud. It’s a bit in-your-face, but catchy.
My scores are based on my initial impression of her sound, unmarred by what I looked into outside of the album. What I hope this review reveals is that there’s always way more to look into besides the album—that an album (or any piece of work, creative or not) is never without its own history—connected to or disconnected from a larger history. For this review, I mash my own conflictive beliefs and waver back and forth: “Artists should do whatever they want” versus “Artists should be more conscious.” Not to be cheaply summative, but to speak curtly: The New Classic isn’t a classic, though what it warrants is the revitalization of a, say, classic thought—that what we listen to can have a context outside of itself, only if we choose to consider it.
“White chick on that Pac shit / My passion was ironic.”