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Hip-Hop Out-Charted Pop By 227 Weeks in 2017

It may come as no surprise, but hip-hop was the most popular genre of music in 2017, by an impressive margin. It was reported earlier in th...

Iggy Azalea is Australia's Most Courageous Rapper

Iggy Azalea doesn't appear to give a fuck. On her break-out hit "Fancy", a track that stole the coveted number 1 position on the US Billboard 100 (a first for an Australian rapper), she flaunts hip-hop convention on the 7th bar, rapping "Cup of Ace, cup of Goose, cup of Cris". Old heads probably spat their D'Usse into their Yankee fitted upon hearing her shout out Cristal and Ace of Spades in the same bar. Rappers hoping to make it in America don't often go against Jay Z, the undefeated heavyweight champion of the entire industry. Cristal has been off limits since 2006. But I doubt Iggy cares.

Continuing her career in the face of persistent and damaging criticism takes a kind of courage rarely seen in the Australian hip-hop community. She's been accused of appropriating black culture, accused of putting on a "blaccent", accused of not caring about rap music, accused of just about everything you'd imagine a white woman earning platinum plaques in the genre of hip-hop could be accused of. Yet in 2017 she is readying her new record Digital Distortion unabated, though she has been hamstrung by label issues and leaks.  The music we've heard thus far points to a woman still brave enough to push the envelope, to create the kind of sound she wants, unfettered by heavy criticism at the hands of rap gatekeepers.

Source: Vibe 2014

Australian mainstream hip-hop, with some exceptions, isn't displaying anything as remotely experimental as Iggy's latest offerings "Mo Bounce" and "Team". One major exception is the brilliant work of A.B. Original, whose song "January 26" sparked many important and essential conversations around the validity of Australia Day, an event that attracts fierce patriotism amongst some, but for indigenous Australians can be a painful reminder of the suffering they have endured since their land was invaded and forcibly taken from them in 1788. This piece by Leigh Sales and the team at 7:30 is a must-watch, and considering the contentious nature of the topic and the passion with which each side debates their case Briggs and co risked alienating a large portion of their fanbase by releasing this song and their "Reclaim Australia Day" party. Now that is true courage, brilliant courage, and desperately needed courage.

Source: Pedestrian TV
And while "January 26" was typical of Briggs' back catalogue; an infectious beat, oozing personality and technical ability, the rest of the industry in Australia seems tethered to a very specific sound. EDM has infected our hip-hop community in a way it wasn't able to in America. Even the more diverse tracks from artists like Hilltop Hoods feature sweetly sung choruses and dramatic, skyscraping instrumentals. The worst purveyors are artists like Bliss n Eso and 360. Bliss n Eso's single "Dopamine" is almost comically stratospheric, with platitudes pillaged from the sweetest of bubblegum electronica. The latest record by Thundamentals, Everyone We Know, is derivative and boring, and regularly falls back on music that will get regular spins on local radio station Triple J. That station can make or break an act. Rapper 360 has admitted his goal is to chart high on their annual Hottest 100, and rappers like Kerser have called Triple J out for their selective hearing when it comes to Australian hip-hop.

All this breeds a culture of adherence to a common sound. It's not isolated to Australia. America is slowly but surely emerging from an era in which EDM, and sub-genre Tropical House, have absolutely dominated their charts. The Chainsmokers are likely the final horse out of the stable, as hip-hop, and I mean experimental, high-quality hip-hop, begins a fresh assault on the charts, it's first since the early 2000's when Eminem, Jay-Z, Ja Rule, 50 Cent, Busta Rhymes, Snoop Dogg and Kanye West ruled the roost.

So how does this relate to dear old Iggy Azalea? As I said earlier, she doesn't give a fuck. She vacationed in Miami at the age of 16, and fell in love with hip-hop culture, rang her parents, told them she wouldn't be returning home, and put her nose to the grindstone. A white Australian girl, who wants to make it as a rapper... Courage! Australian rappers are merely scared to deviate from the formulaic music that will earn them a place on Triple J's Hottest 100. Meanwhile, Iggy has written and recorded her second studio album despite being told in no uncertain terms, by multiple people who are highly respected in hip-hop, that she doesn't belong. And she drops a track like "Mo Bounce", an absolute stomper in which she repeats the word "bounce" 136 times. And yes, she copped criticism for that song too. She released a song in which she raps "drop that shit like a cholo at the dub show" despite being told by none other than Q-Tip, hip-hop royalty, that the genre is a "socio-political movement". She has been repeatedly called out by Azealia Banks, and was even threatened by hacker group Anonymous. In 2015 Cosmo called her "The World's Most Hated Pop Star". Noisey had a go at her in 2016, reminding us they'd accused her of cultural appropriation and reporting a story in which some random person "thanked" her for ruining hip-hop. Legend Snoop Dogg engaged her in IG beef, and worst of all, in 2015 her mentor T.I. went on the radio and claimed that they had "sort of" cut ties, despite Iggy having no forewarning of this arrangement.

Yet Iggy releases new music. Iggy does new interviews. She was engaged to basketballer Nick Young, but was devasted when he was exposed as a cheater by a secret video. Yet she didn't run home. She didn't withdraw. She was pictured with French Montana, and continue to put herself out there.

I don't care if you like her music or not. I've just given you a small snippet of the kind of opposition she's faced as a musician and a rapper, and the fact that she is dropping music videos, doing interviews, and desperate to release her next album proves she is just as tough as any Aussie I've ever met. And she isn't adhering to a sound that she knows will be picked up by radio, she isn't featuring Quavo, there is no Katy Perry feature (Nicki Minaj), no Diplo production (Nicki Minaj), and no superstar collaboration (being on Def Jam she could easily make this happen). Iggy is making the music Iggy wants to make, regardless of how a mainstream audience will react to it. On that point alone she's already confirmed Digital Distortion will be the most diverse, experimental and brave Australian hip-hop release of 2017 (and yes, she is an Australian rapper, she was born and raised here). It's sad that she may not begin to see her legacy truly appreciated for many many years to come.


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