IN 2004, A 14-year-old Australian white girl named Amethyst Kelly heard Tupac Shakur for the first time. Blown away by his poetic intensity, she resolved to become a rapper. At 16, she bought a one-way ticket to America, became Iggy Azalea and began uploading videos to YouTube.
Now she is one of the most feted rising stars in US hip-hop, hanging with Angel Haze, beefing with Azealia Banks and being accused of having an affair with Kanye West. So how did THAT happen? She tells us about battling haters, overcoming misogyny and racism… and why Australia should keep the Queen.
Q: A middle-class white Australian girl trying to make it in US rap! That’s quite a task you set yourself.
A: Yes, it was! I only ever want to try to do things that are impossible. Easy things are no fun!
Q: What was it about Tupac that first excited you?
A: I loved that he was so emotionally volatile. That’s how I am as well. He was very unapologetic, very human. A lot of stars are so polished, but he was a mess. I think all great creative people are a big fat mess.
Q: Did you make a conscious decision to rap in an American accent?
A: No. I spent five years in Atlanta, which has a very strong accent, and it rubbed off on me. When I go home now, my family says I have a [in exaggerated Deep South voice] twang.
Q: Your first big track, ‘Pu$$y’, and the mixtape it came off, Ignorant Art, were extremely sexually explicit…
A: Well, it’s interesting that male rappers are allowed to be very overtly sexual but female ones aren’t. I’ve always been fascinated by sexuality and gender roles in society.
Q: What initial reaction did you get?
A: People said that I had daddy issues! What the fuck? Why is it that if a male rapper talks about his penis, it is fine, but if I talk about my vagina, I must have issues with my father??
Q: It can hardly have come as a surprise to you to meet with misogyny and sexual objectification in hip-hop?
A: No, but it’s very frustrating. If I’m honest, the only thing that really offends me is the way that rappers talk about white women and call them all “Beckys”. Imagine if it were a rock band calling all black women “Shaniques”, or something! It would not be fucking OK.
Q: Well, Azaelia Banks tweeted this about you: “Fuck white girls. They shouldn’t be allowed to rap – they are privileged and rap is black culture.”
A: Ha! That is just ignorant.
Q: Why do you think she is so angry?
A: I don’t know if some people even believe the things they say, or if they have some other agenda going on. But she is blocked on my Twitter feed. I know there is this history in rap culture of calling people out and having rap battles, but over the years media and blog culture have warped all that. Now, instead of it being about who is the best MC and who has the best raps, it’s just a mud-wrestle – people calling each other bitches in blogs.
Q: How did it feel recently to see stories on magazine covers that you were having an affair with Kanye West?
A: It was… weird. It was more funny than annoying, because I don’t think too many people believe there is any truth in it! It was all just too ridiculous.
Q: So how did you meet Kanye?
A: First he wanted to talk to me about signing to his label, then he asked me to be in the video for ‘Watch The Throne’, with Jay-Z. Kanye and I had a conversation and I decided not to be in the video.
Q: You didn’t like the video?
A: I didn’t like our conversation! But now we’ve met a few more times and I like him a lot more. He will say stuff and you just think, “What the fuck is wrong with you?” But now I understand he is pretty harmless, and he is just a creative, wacky thinker. When he goes off at a tangent, well, it is just Kanye being Kanye!
Q: Are you very tight with Angel Haze?
A: Yeah! She’s a friend. We laugh about how people always try to pit female rappers against each other and how silly it is. We go to each other’s shows a lot, and support each other.
Q: Why did you go to India to film the video for your new single, ‘Bounce’?
A: It’s a fun summer party song, so I thought, “What different kinds of celebration are there that aren’t just the predictable thing of popping bottles in a club?” I read about these Indian holy festivals where everybody throws paint around, so we went over there to find one.
Q: You rode an elephant in the video. How hard is it?
A: Not too hard at all because they move so slowly! But they are very cool, and I love them now. For my birthday, I got a book all about elephants.
Q: If you were still living in Australia, how would you vote in a referendum on whether to keep the Queen or become a republic?
A: I didn’t know what I thought about that, but then I saw the proposed flag for the Republic of Australia and it was awful! It was all these ugly green and yellow kangaroos! I just thought, if we are going to have a shithouse flag like that, I’d rather we stayed in the commonwealth!
© Ian Gittins, Virgin Media Music, 10 July 2013