Iggy Azalea and “post-racial” rap

I turned on Power 106 this morning and heard a pretty fantastic song. It was catchy, simple, spacious, and filled with bass and wonderful sirens, just about everything one would want in a club banger. A new Young Money product I immediately assumed, or perhaps a Diplo-rapper collaboration. It sounded like a perfect summer jam amongst the station’s rotating mix of mostly young and black top-40 rappers, so you can imagine my surprise discovering that the song’s creators were neither black nor young, but Los Angeles mainstays Far East Movement, better known as the first Asian-American musicians with a Billboard #1 hit.

Based on its YouTube hits, I suppose the song hasn’t gotten much airplay beyond the Southland (even though it should), but these Koreatown heroes aren’t strangers to chart-topping success (“Like a G6,” “Rocketeer,” “The Illest“). The biggest thing they have going for them is a wonderful balance between strip club rap and decent female vocals against non-threatening Clear Channel beats (they’ve obviously studied the Black Eyed Peas). If you listen to them on the radio, they sound like young black musicians. If you watch their music videos, they look like Asian-Americans imitating hip-hop culture (which for anyone who has visited the San Gabriel Valley is what young people look like, anyway). At the turn of the century, when rap was dominated by black Americans and Eminem, nobody would have taken Far East Movement seriously. Now, they’re signed to a major label, pumping out hits, making a lot of money, and most importantly, hold the same amount of credibility as every other top-40 hitmaker.

Now let’s turn our attention further east, where 23 year old Australian-born Iggy Azalea is tearing up the charts and throwing every pre-teen boy into puberty with two top-ten hits (one with Ariana Grande). When first listening to her, I thought she sounded like Left Eye reincarnated, which is most definitely a good thing. Her current smash, “Fancy,” sits at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.

It’s hard to write about Iggy Azalea without mentioning her appearance (especially since she’s building a brand based on her appearance more than her music). She’s tall, blonde (likely dyed, but no one calls Gwen Stefani dark-haired, you know?), and beautiful. She’s dating a Laker who claims that God annointed him with the nickname “Swaggy P.” She has the most talked-about bum since Pippa Middleton, and in a music industry where we can’t talk about Nicki Minaj without mentioning her assets, it has certainly gotten her press.

Both Iggy Azalea and Far East Movement make music that is played on the same radio stations, stations that play music predominantly made by young, black Americans, which is to say that Iggy Azalea and Far East Movement make black music. But not only do they not look black, they also racially are as far removed from their genre of music as possible. To this point, Far East Movement are the only Asian Americans to have charted anywhere on the Billboard rap charts, and Iggy Azalea is the only white female rapper to hit the top-ten (Lady Sovereign hit #45 in 2006, and Kreayshawn hit #57 in 2011). Both acts are killing it, trailblazing, and not making a big deal about their racial differences.

So…WE DID IT! Post-racial America, here we are! Right?

Well, probably not.

One of Eminem’s most remarkable accomplishments was gaining credibility in a culture that was nearly 100% black without sounding black at all. That was probably as close to post-racial as rap has ever gotten (thanks to funding from white suburban kids, ironically). Ever since Eminem, rappers have broken into the industry by sounding different or looking different, but rarely both. You either have to look hip-hop or sound hip-hop to make rap nowadays (which is an improvement over the 90s when both were required), and both Far East Movement and Iggy Azalea qualify under those standards.

Iggy Azalea sitting at #2 (with a really fun song) is probably a small step of social progress towards a post-racial utopia (without mentioning other problematic topics like setting bad examples of female body image), but as long as we’re talking about artists that make music that doesn’t sound that different from the other forgettable corporate drivel being produced, it’s nothing but a step. They’re fun songs to dance to, though.


1 Comment

  1. Reblogged this on Imarashed.

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