“WHEN THE SMOKE clears I’m the last bandit,” Iggy Azalea raps optimistically on ‘Walk The Line’, a stand-out track on her long-awaited debut album.
Part of a scene jostling with vibrant new female MCs – from 3D Na’tee in New Orleans to Philly girl Asia Sparkes and Nyemiah Supreme from Queens – Azalea has her work cut out for her. After two firing mixtapes, 5 million YouTube hits and a clutch of Top 20 singles including ‘Work’ and the irrepressible ‘Bounce’, she is making headway, but is not without detractors.
Two years ago Azealia Banks threw down the gauntlet when she tweeted that white girls had no place in rap. Iggy answers this on ‘Goddess’, chanting that she’s “a white girl with a flow […] they want to burn me alive / But y’all they know a real goddess don’t die.” over a Boney M sample. Hailing from Mullumbimby, New South Wales, Azalea knows that the sensible path is to create her own musical identity. Even though she raps with a Southern US accent, she gives her vocal delivery a stylistic cartoon twist, playing with vowels and growls, and weaving this into a fusion of booming beats, atmospheric electronic pop and guest collaborators as varied as T.I., Rita Ora and dancehall supremo Mavado.
Like many in the new wave of female rappers, Azalea is drawing deep from old school ’80s and ’90s hip hop, returning to beats, rhymes and the basics. Artists like Roxanne Shanté and MC Lyte could hold a crowd captive with relentless wordplay, and there is the same kind of focus in the way Azalea uses her voice, treating her words with relish. Throughout The New Classic she tells a moving story, one that is less about love and romance, more about hard work and definition of self. “No money, no family / 16 in the middle of Miami,” she raps on ‘Work’, winding up to a frenetic tempo and painting a picture of passionate drive.
Iggy creates dark, sarcastic vignettes for her cast of characters. There’s the hardworking Aussie girl and the feminist goddess urging with messianic fervour that appears on ‘Impossible Is Nothing’. There’s the gold-digger of ‘New Bitch’ who cuts across gentle harmonies with a laconic drawl: “I’m his new bitch. Yeah. I’m spending his new cash.” There’s the scary stalker in the call-and-response anthem ‘Black Widow’, and the digital dancehall queen of ‘Lady Patra’.
If there’s one problem with this pop/rap hybrid it is the skittish way she sometimes departs from the beat, losing her flow in EDM choruses or radio friendly R&B pop hooks. Iggy is strongest when she welds her words to a minimal yet delectable bass boom, spelling out her name with mischievous exaggeration. “Who dat? Who dat?” she raps on ‘Fancy’, “I-G-G-Y / Put my name in bold”. When she locks it down, Iggy proves that she can be an elegant, assured contender. And it’s time now for the story to be updated. Got money, got fame, 23 in the middle of LA.
© Lucy O’Brien, The Quietus, 29 April 2014