Arguably the strangest transformation in the music industry in recent years has been the rise of a white Australian to the forefront of American hip-hop. For a while, Iggy Azalea was the Donald Trump of the rap game: racially divisive, prone to ugly tirades—and hugely popular.
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Her debut single “Fancy” made her the fourth rapper to top the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. In 2014, the four-time Grammy-nominated man reached both No. 1 and No. 2 on the Billboard charts, a feat not even Beyoncé could do.
Azalea is most notable for the audiovisual gimmick: a tall blonde spitting out her signature black. Of course, hip-hop has long transcended the African-American community, and white rappers have a way to channel music without causing too many complaints about appropriation. But the dialect, the form of vowels, and the rhythm of language, are more intimate markers of identity.
Many critics find it offensive that Azalea’s accent is clearly not hers. “It sounds like a big problem to me — tone,” R&B singer Jill Scott said on “Sway In The Morning.”
“The question is why? Why does she have no problem imitating Sonic Blackness?” Britney Cooper, a cultural critic and assistant professor at Rutgers University, said in an article.
Others likened Rhododendron’s singing style to the fault of a bard. Rapper Jean Grey described her voice as “verbal blackface”. In December, Azealia Banks simply tweeted a photo of the bard with the caption “It’s you.”
But if she’s a possessive, at least Rhododendron isn’t a sloppy one.
As the rapper Eve puts it, the “blandness” controversy recently caught the attention of linguists Maeve Eberhardt and Kara Freeman, who listened to and analyzed Azalea’s entire record. In a July article in the highly regarded Journal of Sociolinguistics, they argued that the rapper’s songs displayed extraordinary fluency in pronunciation and syntax in what linguists call “African American English.” Spend.