When will Iggy Azalea's rap career see new life? Do we even want it to?
2014 was a different time: Flappy Bird was still available on the App store, Pharrell Williams gifted the Internet with a never-ending meme source by wearing a questionable Vivienne Westwood hat to the Grammys, Solange laid hands on Jay-Z, and Iggy Azalea was poised to become the hip-hop's "next big thing." The fair-skinned Australian blonde with bleached edges and a thick down-under accent threw herself into her come-up after dropping out of school at 16 and moving to the US on a string of continually-renewed visas, residing primarily in southern cities. "I was drawn to America because I felt like an outsider in my own country, I was in love with hip-hop, and America is the birthplace of that, so I figured the closer I was to the music, the happier I'd be. I was right," said Azalea, citing the inspiration behind her immigration. After grinding for years on local rap circuits and rubbing shoulders with future collaborators like FKi and Natalie Sims, Azalea dropped her residency in hip hop meccas like Miami, Houston and Atlanta, after being persuaded by a high-ranking executive at Interscope Records to move to Los Angeles.
Polow Da Don, the executive producer behind Fergie's most successful chart-topping hits, housed Azalea for free in his guest house during the summer of 2010-- drawn to the dollar signs in his eyes when envisioning the lucrative future of this exotic import in an industry where no one else looked quite like the newcomer. "She looked like a star," he said. "If she was in entertainment, I wanted to work with her. If she wasn’t, I wanted to talk to her, try to take her out on a date or something." Under Polow's thumb, Azalea was introduced to industry titans like Timbaland, Dr. Dre and T.I., with the latter being the only one to move forward with the aspiring rapper's rejection of the pop music label and dedication to the "super hood shit" that was her "style." Due to Azalea's hard-lined stance on not becoming the next Australian Britney Spears, Interscope Records then terminated their brief management direction of the rapper, citing "creative differences" as the reason behind the split.
In September of 2011, Azalea enjoyed her first taste of critical praise after the release of her first full-length project, a mixtape titled Ignorant Art which was designed to "make people question and redefine old ideals." The hungry-for-fame femcee's debut release featured a number of big-name guests, like YG and Problem, and made most of its waves thanks to the track "Pu$$y," a feat that earned the praise of radio and television personality Charlamagne Tha God. While Azalea's indifference to the struggles faced by the community she was desperate to have blast her music to was immediately visible to her detractors, the rapper stepped just a little bit closer to the "hood pass" as Charlamagne praised her rise to fame. "She's a superstar," he said in 2014. "Iggy's got star power. The game has never had a white female rapper that's been successful."
For her debut studio album, Azalea reached out to Tip for his direction (or was it the other way around?) in developing a cohesive sound-- an action which led to the two collaborating exclusively for the drop of The New Classic. Despite the fact that her initial studio release was postponed, Azalea still snagged a coveted spot on XXL magazine's Freshman cover alongside the likes of then up-and-coming rappers like French Montana, Kid Ink and Future. Criticism of Azalea's cherry-picking of Black culture, her over-accentuated "Blaccent" and money-backed push into the white gentrification of hip hop finally reached the mainstream via professional Twitter troll, Azealia Banks. "Iggy Azalea on the XXL freshman list is all wrong," tweeted Banks. "How can you endorse a white woman who called herself a “runaway slave master?," she continued, referring to the rapper's offensive lyrics from an early track titled “D.R.U.G.S.” The record features the unbelievably tone-deaf lyric, “When the relay starts I’m a runaway slave-master.”
By the summer of 2014 however, Azalea's seat at the top of hip hop's "hot at the moment" throne was undeniable. Her hit single "Fancy," with it's catchy Charlie XCX-styled hook, stabby synth beat and electro-hop vibe skyrocketed to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for a whopping seven-week tenure. Bolstered by the success of the cross-genre hit, Azalea seemed to no longer care about straddling the line between pop and rap, tossing away her oft-mentioned desire to stay "hard hip hop." "People have said I'm not real rap or real hip-hop," she told Vanity Fair in January 2015. "But I don't care if people think I'm pop or rap." Shortly after the smash success of "Fancy," Azalea nabbed a feature on Ariana Grande's "Problems" and became the second music act in history to claim both the No. 1 and No. 2 positions simultaneously on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, a record previously held only by The Beatles.
It was at this point that Azalea flew her willowy frame far too close to the sun, and the layers of pale foundation used to contour her nose (pre-cosmetic surgery) began to melt. Reduced to a viral, new-era Vanilla Ice punchline, Iggy Azalea's tenure as a misguided, un-informed torchbearer of Black culture finally began its long-awaited descent into obscurity. Between beefing with everyone from Azealia Banks to Papa John's Pizza and getting shaded by Nicki Minaj at the 2014 BET Awards, the rapper was getting slowly buried alive by a number of high-profile critics. Singer-songwriter Halsey summed up the rapper's public implosion with this razor-tongued quip: "She had a complete disregard for black culture. Fucking moron. I watched her career dissolve and it fascinated me," she said to The Guardian.
Prior to Halsey's unapologetic comments dissecting Iggy's failures, critics and former supporters were already making their descent off the Azalea hype train. Joining in with the public, high-profile criticism, rapper Q-Tip unholstered his Twitter fingers to school the Australian import about the origins of the genre she so recklessly borrowed from. He shared with Azalea directly on twitter, "HipHop is artistic and socio-political movement/culture that sprang from the disparate ghettos of NY in the early 70's." Q-Tip went on to explain the important history behind the birth of the music, "you have to take into account the HISTORY as you move underneath the banner of hiphop," he pleaded with the "Black Widow" rapper. "...I say this 2 say u are a hiphop artist who has the right 2 express herself however she wishes," he wrote. "This is not a chastisement this is not admonishment at ALL this is just one artist reaching to another hoping to spark insight into the field you r in. I say this in the spirit of a hopeful healthy dialogue that maybe one day we can continue. I'm Kool with it as long as I got to share this w u. Zzzzzzz's up! Peace!"
Q-Tip's message proved to be a refreshing deviation from the constant barrage of negativity surrounding Azalea's behavior, and gifted the rapper with a rare opportunity to respond in kind-- to issue a thoughtful and compassionate response to the criticism that she had yet to address save for the odd flippant remark. True to form however, Azalea issued a response that was in equal parts both self-indulgent and dismissive, calling his thoughtful message "patronizing."
After taking a brief break from social media, the newly-disgraced rapper announced the postponement/cancellation of her "Great Escape Tour," losing the small leverage she held over Banks during their feud, in a childish "I-have-an-arena-tour-and-you-don't" Twitter outburst.
Itching for another mega-watt star to scrap with, Azalea turned on pop's princess Britney Spears to blame the singer for the poor performance of their "Pretty Girls" collab.
Not one to take shade lying down, Spears lashed out at the rapper where it hurt--her tour cancellation amid rumors of poor ticket sales.
Going after an icon heavily supported by the LGBTQ community, after a series of past homophobic and racist tweets were unearthed, rocketed yet another nail into Azalea's coffin. She was barred from performing at a 2015 Pittsburgh Pride event. Par for the course, Azalea's response was surface-level apologetic at best: "I am firm believer in equality. Unfortunately in the past as a young person, I used words I should not have. The last thing I want is for something so careless said to be interpreted as reflective of my character."
It was around this time that even Tip could read the writing on the wall. Formerly Azalea's number one advocate, fan and mentor, the rapper revealed on HOT 97's Ebro In The Morning show that he was finally parting ways with his "Fancy" protege. "Man, I ain’t gonna make no excuses, but in her defense, she had a lot thrown at her at one time," T.I. revealed to the hosts, partially deflecting Azalea's ill-advised social media entanglements. "Any human being anywhere [is gonna] have a hard time adjusting… It came at a time when culturally in this nation — when she's not from here — we were actually looking for a source to place that pent-up aggression. Some stuff they brought upon themselves. In some cases, it kind of was the easiest place to put some pent-up aggression." When pressed to reveal the exact moment his relationship with Azalea deteriorated, T.I. referenced the rapper's response to Q-Tip's "schooling," even after he stepped in to diffuse the tension. "After I kind of had smoothed it over, like okay, 'What is really meant to be said here is…' Then, after it was cool, everything was cool," T.I. recalled. "And then they kind of came back and undid what I had just [orchestrated]. Imma be all the way real: I'm a loyal partner. If I rock with you, I'm gon' rock with you… Right, wrong, we're gonna discuss that in the car."
Tip then mentioned how stepping in to proverbial "ring" for Azalea was akin to the rapper taking bullets for his mentee, a selfless act that was never repaid. "Right now, Imma block the bullets…" he said. "When I say, 'Go?' Go! Don't stand around and talk while I'm blocking bullets. You slowing me down, you know what I'm saying?"
In response, Azalea played dumb about the tension between the two former partners and said she was simply "just chillin'."
And while, all this would indicate that she was casually indifferent toward to the constant flood of disparaging remarks aimed at her talent and flailing career, Azalea admitted that in the center of the swirling controversy, she was actually struggling with suicidal ideations. "Sometimes I would drive through the canyons to get to my horses and I'd be like, 'What if I kept driving off the canyon?' Sometimes I'd feel like that," she admitted on Power 106 FM in 2016. "People in the industry that I worked with… [would say], 'Oh, this is it for your career now. So, what are you going to do?' And I live in this country on a work visa. So, if I don't have a job that means I go home. My whole life is here," she continued. "That's a lot for somebody to deal with…For somebody to come [and say]…'Okay, now we're taking everything from you— what you do, your friends, everything could be totally gone,' that's a lot. It can make a person feel like, 'Well, what do I have left to live for?'"
The rapper has since released several singles that have been met with moderate streaming success but is currently unable to release new music until 2018 as she has signed with a new label. Azalea was also a judge for the eighth season of The X Factor Australia during the dissolution of her engagement to NBA player Nick Young.
While there are many facets to Azalea's rise and fall, there is nothing more prolific than the rapper's attempt (and subsequent FAIL) at dropping a freestyle: