Iggy Azalea would be the first to admit that she’s something of an outsider in the world of rap. As a white girl from rural Australia, raised in the small New South Wales town of Mullumbimby (population: 3,000), how could she not be? It’s appropriate that she’s risen to the status of one of the most promising new MCs in an era when hip-hop has never been more open to artists from a diversity of backgrounds. It also demonstrates that Iggy isn’t just an outsider, though. Iggy has had cosigns not only from King of the South T.I. but rap royalty from Dr. Dre to Snoop Dogg; in 2012, she became the first ever woman to be named to XXL’s Freshman list. Iggy Azalea has succeeded in gaining the respect of the inner circle as well. It’s remarkable to think that, just six years ago, a 16-year-old Iggy touched down in Miami airport, ostensibly for a fortnight’s holiday, but with the intention of escaping Australia for good. She knew just one person in the entire USA.
But in a sense, Iggy’s background is perfect for hip-hop. The drive and the hustle illustrated by that flight to the other side of the world; the toughness and poverty of life in the Australian countryside. “Does being from the country mean I’m a pussy, or soft?” she laughs. “Because the country where I’m from is hard. People there are tough as nails. I wouldn’t fuck with anyone from there. Whether you’re trapped in an inner city or in the middle of fucking nowhere, they’re both really hard to get out of. It breeds hard people, because it’s about the lack of privilege. It’s not the same privileges you’re lacking, of course, but when you’re lacking anything you have to be a fighter.”
Iggy’s love affair with America began at the age of 11, when her grandparents took her on a road trip starting in Los Angeles. “I bought a blue wig on Sunset Strip and I wore it everywhere…I remember seeing the showgirls in Las Vegas and thinking, wow, I wish this was my life,” she remembers. As a teenager, her love of hip-hop – Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliott, Field Mob but most of all 2Pac – deepened this while also isolating her at home. Searching for rap music online, she bonded with another teenager in the Bahamas. “His name was Derek; he was my only friend. We’re still friends to this day. I’d send him rap songs I’d done and say, what do you think? You’re American, your opinion is legit! He really encouraged me.” By the time Iggy had hatched her plan to emigrate, Derek had moved to Miami. “He was literally the only person I knew. So I was like, well, shit…guess I’m just gonna go stay at Derek’s house. I hope he’s not an axe murderer. And he wasn’t. He picked me up from the airport with his friends on 4th of July – I remember it was raining and there were fireworks going off – and that’s who I became friends with.”
To fly across the world to pursue a dream, knowing just one other person: it’s the kind of impulsive act that seems insane to even Iggy herself, looking back. “You’re a kid, so you don’t have any idea how big things are. I was scared, but I was more scared of what would happen if I stayed where I was. It wasn’t just about going somewhere to be a rapper. It was about going somewhere to feel like I could fit in. I was more scared of being unhappy and stuck.”
Rap is about telling stories, and Iggy has stories that have never been told in hip-hop before – and she’s planning to open up about them on her debut album proper, which she’s writing while currently holed up in – of all places – the Welsh countryside. Her musical journey to get to this point has been one of trial and error played out in public: the mixtape which first garnered her mainstream attention, Ignorant Art, was the kind of impressive, raw statement one expects from an unknown with no pressure on her. Since then, collaborations with everyone from Southern rappers to EDM artists have followed as Iggy tried to nail down her sound; the ridiculously catchy single, “Murda Bizness”, demonstrated a growing knack for songcraft – as well as a brilliant Toddlers & Tiaras-themed video, cheekily comparing the cut-throat competition of the rap game to child beauty pageants. Last October, a follow-up mixtape, TrapGold, indicated that she’d found her voice. Almost wholly produced by Diplo, it combines booming, clattering trap production with Iggy sounding more aggressive and confident than ever, both when she rattles off doubletime flow or when she slows it down to menace the listener. “I was so mad and frustrated and angry, that’s why it’s so aggressive,” she explains. “I felt mad at people who’d fucked me over, I was mad about people shitting on me for being on the XXL cover, I’d broken up in my relationship. After I did TrapGold I felt like I’d let it all out. My album will definitely be like that, because I liked the way that made me feel…” To that end, as well as Diplo, producers from Flosstradamus to Bro Safari are sending Iggy beats to work with.
TrapGold also showcases a lot of what makes Iggy so distinct as an artist. In between the shit-talking and gleeful bragging, she sprinkles snippets of interviews with Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol and David LaChapelle; as the title of her first mixtape indicated, Iggy is all about combining ignorance and art in a fresh way. As a child, art was another form of escapism alongside rap, instilled in her by her comic book artist father; she tells stories about bonding with Pusha T over their mutual love of Basquiat. But, as she says, in rap “someone can have the best metaphor and someone else could just say, ‘Fuck you, bitch!’ – and people want to hear the second one because of the way it makes you feel inside.” Iggy gravitated towards Southern rap for a reason – “The South doesn’t give a fuck and they have more fun” – and perfected a distinct, uptempo-friendly clipped style of her own. “When you rap fast it almost seems like another language,” she explains. “People can’t understand all of what you’re saying, and it’s cool to me not because you can have bad lyrics but because it becomes about the way you say it and the energy of it all.”
Elaborating on her style, Iggy asserts: “Who cares about real life when it’s so much fun to just say all this stuff? If someone tells me not to go in a room, I’m going to go in that room, and even if there’s nothing in the fucking room I’m going to have so much fun just because you told me not to be here.”
She’s firmly in that room now – and she’s certainly having that fun right now.
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