Remembering the Music Lost in the Azealia Banks vs. Iggy Debate

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All the hip-hop recaps these past few weeks have played out like a weird ending of a Dragon Ball Z episode: Will Iggy Azalea ever speak up for black culture? Will Azealia Banks tone down her “near trollish” rhetoric? Will old heads have a say in this? Find out on the next episode of “tell ‘em why you mad son!”

Not to marginalize anyone’s opinions, but I had to find a moment of levity during all of this; the over-reaching and “you tried it” dialogues, essays, tweets and conversations have reached extraordinary levels. Regardless of how you feel about the unfolding debate around cultural approriation and responsibility, it’s great to see people so passionate with their ideas, but the music, the most important aspect of this discussion, gets lost.

I have a friend I know in my heart of hearts would be the first person in line when and if the revolution starts. She embraces other cultures, but at the end of the day Black culture is the center of her world, from her career to her appearance. She immediately hopped into the Iggy Azalea versus Azealia Banks argument, agreeing with Banks that, put most simply, white people are stealing hip-hop. She made incredibly valid points, reaching back to the days of Elvis to describe how innovative music seems to trade cultures every few years. I had to interlude on her Twitter rant though with a question of my own, since she seemed to know so much about the two artists. So I slid in her DMs with a four word question…

1991 or Ignorant Art?

She responded, “What are those?”

The look on my face could best be described as a disheartened grin; disheartened by the fact she hadn’t heard either artist’s first legitimate piece of work, and a grin, because this bit of sophisticated and blissful ignorance has become a household thing these days. We see something on social media, act like we truly care, but seldom have the ability to back up the crux of argument..

I remember when a friend sent me a link to Ignorant Art, Iggy Azalea’s first mixtape. This was right after Kreayshawn had popped off with “Gucci Gucci,” so I wasn’t expecting much - white chick spittin bars? It just seemed too much of a gimmick after hearing Kreayshawn. However, after running the tape through I was taken back by her delivery. It was raw, definitely needed some work, but there was something there. The tape was incredibly commercial, but it had rumblings that Iggy wasn't just a gimmick.

Fast forward a few months to Azealia Bank’s EP, 1991. I hate using the word fresh, it’s reached the commercial nature of the word “swag,” but that is one of the few ways to describe the 1991 EP. The title was perfect as the production brought back a nostalgic vibe of an early '90s CeCe Penniston vibe mixed with lyrics both gritty and raunchy at times. I knew it wasn't for everyone, but it definitely had a place at the table because it pushed the envelope. It was both ahead of its time and 20 years late; but somehow that was the beauty of the project. It was dope and I was excited for hip-hop because I truly believe women needed as many voices represented as possible, and Azealia clearly had a voice that was both creative and refreshing.

By contrast, Ignorant Art had some decent reviews, but the album seemed more of a work in progress (there is a Dave Matthews sample with a verse from a younger YG in there…), while 1991 garnered mostly critical acclaim from various news outlets. All signs pointed to Banks being the one who would come out on top.

Fast forward two years though and the tables have turned. Iggy has signed to T.I.’s Grand Hustle label and dropped a smash single in “Fancy,” while Azealia Banks has sadly been seen as the mad rapper in various circles. I say sadly because things shouldn't have played out this way. She shouldn't be looked at as the “angry black woman.” She shouldn't be looked at as difficult to work with; she’s better than that. She shouldn't be looked at for situations outside of the music, and when she gets the platform she can speak powerfully, but as we all know perception is everything.

[insert Hot97 video interview]

Fan support and Hip-Hop has always been a slippery slope, but one thing is for sure... Iggy’s fans buy singles and albums. I heard “Fancy” earlier this year and although it isn't for me, I know a smash single when I hear one. I knew from a commercial standpoint the song was going to be huge. Hard work alone will not break an artist. It takes a collective of hard work, talent, timing and the propensity to move forward.

As stated previously, I’m into solutions, not taking sides. I do think it’s odd Iggy’s rap voice is totally different than her speaking voice, and I’m not a big fan of her songs, but I can acknowledge her ability to make content that sells. On the converse, I did enjoy Azealia Bank’s first EP, and her most recent work, Broke With Expensive Taste, is growing on me, but when you get more retweets than album sales, that’s a problem.

And maybe that's the point - when it comes to Azealia Banks, who buys her albums? People can be upset about cultural appropriation all day, but I can’t be mad at her fans who support Iggy Azalea, I can’t be mad when they at least cop a single on iTunes. Thousands of people are ranting and raving on Twitter wanting emcees like Azealia Banks to garner more buzz, to get Grammy nods and claim how “real” they are, but they don’t buy albums. Sure, supporting a cause is great, but the music is what suffers. Buying music produces the change everyone wants. We can complain about how “Fancy” is trash, but who went and copped Broke With Expensive Taste? Rapsody’s album? Who copped Dej Loaf’s single? Who buys music from emcees like Nyemiah Supreme, Detroit Che, Angel Haze and so on? 

One man's compassion, can be seen as another man’s complaint, so whichever side you sit on, let's set Twitter aside for a moment and focus on the music. It’s overwhelmingly clear there are some Black female emcees who have been dropping bars for years, but hip-hop is mad at Iggy. We’re (speaking generally) mad because she took “our” culture and her fans flocked to the stores. The frustration is understandable due to the history of hip-hop but opinions, support and complaints seldom translate into dollars. I was taught early on if there is a creative person who takes the time to produce something you like, the least you can do is make a purchase.

So can we just get back to the music?

[By Greg Stowers, Non Nobis Solum Nati Sumus. This is his Twitter.]

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