Iggy Azalea is Killing the Rap Game Right Now - Why?

Posted 2 years ago by
Download DJBooth's new App, The PLUG This was supposed to be Future's quarter. After a growing resume of heavyweight writing credits, hit singles, a tour with Drake and widespread acclaim from across the interwebs, Honest was supposed to solidify Nayvadius Cash place as the brightest new star in the game. Reality turned out a little different.

Future's future is a discussion for another post, but it's becoming increasingly clear that the last few months have indisputably belonged to Iggy Azalea. Despite seemingly far less buzz around Iggy's The New Classic album, she sold 53K copies in the first week and is currently sitting comfortably in above "Honest" on the charts. More impressively, she now holds the honor of being the first artist since the Beatles (yes, THE BEATLES) to have a No. 1 and No. 2 song ("Fancy" and "Problem") simultaneously on Billboard with their first two Hot 100 hits.

Iggy's not just killing the rap game right now, she's killing the music game. But why?

I'm sure I'll get my fair share of "why you hating?" criticism for writing this, so let me get this out upfront. The New Classic sold well, but even by 2014's lower sales standards, 53K isn't particularly impressive. Hip-hop's big but not-quite-superstar artists (Mac Miller, Wale, etc.) all did over 100K first week on their last albums, and it certainly doesn't touch the 500K plus units the super-superstars (Drake, Jay, Nicki, Em, etc.) are moving. Also, as a guest on Ariana Grande's "Problem", Iggy's simultaneous number one and number two hits aren't quite as impressive as, for example, Drake, who held down the top three positions simultaneously in 2011 with "I'm on One", "She Will" and "Headlines" (unlike Iggy, they just weren't Drake's first three single Top 100 hits).

Some might call that last paragraph hate, others objective fact, but either way, I assure you, as a student of the music industry I'm far more interested in figuring how Iggy is winning than see her lose. How did a white woman from Australia become the breakout rap star of 2014 (so far)?

The first easy answer is sex appeal, and to some degree yes, of course. It can't be an accident that Iggy first broke through with the not-exactly-safe-for-work "Pussy", and this is America in 2014. If you look hot, throw down a couple twerk videos, maybe slip a nipple in a music video, and you're going to have our rapt attention. Still, while it's certainly a factor, I don't think sex explains all, or ever that much, of her success. She's certainly not the first female artist to play on her attractiveness, many have done it far more explicitly, plenty of male artists use an equivalent amount of shallow imagery to propel their careers with far less criticism. And, most importantly here, this may help explain why Iggy's got so many YouTube views, but it certainly doesn't explain why so many people are buying her album.

Could it be that simple? While The New Classic was a solid album I didn't think the music was anything special, but white, 30-year-old bearded rap critics aren't necessarily who Iggy needs to impress to grab that number one spot on the charts, certainly not when she's standing next to Ariana Grande. As Macklemore proved last year, hip-hop and pop have merged so completely that it often doesn't make sense to separate them anymore. Hip-hop hasn't gone mainstream, it is the mainstream. While the T.I. co-sign might have put Iggy in front of a more serious hip-hop audience, there's a generation of kids who don't see anything particularly remarkable about listening to Jay Z, Taylor Swift, Eminem, Skrillex, Drake and Ariana Grande back-to-back on iTunes. If you can hit that space where teenage girls think you're dangerously cool, but you're still safe enough for dads to lip-synch to, you're going to crush the charts, and that's exactly where Iggy seems to be.

How high can Iggy's star rise? Only time will tell; she's already proven my doubts about her appeal completely wrong once, I won't risk being wrong twice by making a prediction. But even if this somehow, someway, ends up being the pinnacle of her career, she'll always be able to rightfully claim she had one of the strongest debuts in music history, and no one can take that away from her. Not even me.

[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth, the proprietor of RefinedHype, and a hip-hop writer. He also occasionally talks in podcast form and appears on RevoltTV. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]

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