ELLE (Canada) - - Front Page - By Aliyah Shamsher Pho­to­graphs by Max Abadian

IGGY AZA­LEA MAY BE ONE of the most po­lar­iz­ing fig­ures in the mu­sic in­dus­try to­day. Since re­leas­ing her first al­bum, The New Clas­sic, in 2014, the 25-year-old Aus­tralian has proudly de­fended her right to be a white fe­male rap­per. In do­ing so, she has amassed a le­gion of de­voted fans who have been in­ter­act­ing on so­cial me­dia with the mu­si­cian al­most daily since her early days pro­duc­ing mix­tapes. Shortly af­ter re­leas­ing The New Clas­sic, her sin­gles “Fancy” and “Prob­lem” held the num­ber one and num­ber two spots si­mul­ta­ne­ously on the Bill­board Hot 100 chart. (FYI, no artist has been able to achieve this feat since the Bea­tles.) She has also re­ceived in­dus­try praise over the past two years in the form of four Grammy nom­i­na­tions, two Amer­i­can Mu­sic Awards and three Bill­board Mu­sic Awards.

As all of this was hap­pen­ing, how­ever, an emo­tion­ally charged de­bate about race, gen­der and the so­cio-political state of the hip-hop scene was also heat­ing up. By mid2015, the con­ver­sa­tion en­gulfed Aza­lea when her pub­lic feud with rap­per Azealia Banks went vi­ral. In the wake of protests in Fer­gu­son, Mo., New York and Bal­ti­more, Md., Banks called her out for not com­ment­ing, tweet­ing her “Black Cul­ture is cool, but black is­sues sure aren’t, huh?” The widely re­spected rap­per Q-Tip jumped in shortly af­ter with a se­ries of tweets aimed at Aza­lea, in­form­ing her about the his­tory of hip hop, while the hacker group Anony­mous threat­ened to leak nudes of the mu­si­cian if she didn’t apol­o­gize for mis­ap­pro­pri­at­ing black cul­ture.

There were also the weirder con­tro­ver­sies, like when Aza­lea pub­licly fought with the pizza chain Papa John’s on Twit­ter af­ter she gave a de­liv­ery man her phone num­ber and be­gan re­ceiv­ing calls from his fam­ily mem­bers. By the end of last year, Aza­lea had can­celled her tour, aban­doned so­cial me­dia and re­treated from the spot­light.

But on the eve of her se­cond al­bum re­lease, Dig­i­tal Dis­tor­tion, Aza­lea says she’s ready for an­other go-round at the rap game. This time, how­ever, much of her bravado (which fu­elled the con­tro­ver­sies) seems to have faded. In­stead, she’s in a more re­flec­tive and even re­gret­ful mood. Over the phone late one Fri­day evening from her L.A. home, Aza­lea openly dis­cussed her con­flicted re­la­tion­ship with so­cial me­dia, her un­apolo­getic love of rap and her much-talked-about up­com­ing wed­ding to Los An­ge­les Lak­ers player Nick Young. h

You must be deep into wed­ding plan­ning. There are so many ru­mours cir­cu­lat­ing about what could pos­si­bly hap­pen on the big day.... “I know! My mom even asked me if I was hav­ing two wed­dings and lots of horses—I don’t know who wrote that. And to be hon­est, that sounds like a re­ally trashy wed­ding that be­longs on a re­al­ity show. I can tell you right now that my wed­ding is go­ing to be pretty bor­ing com­pared to what ev­ery­one has been writ­ing about it.” It’s not the first time on­line ac­counts of your life have been more fic­tion than fact. Back in Fe­bru­ary 2015, you said you were step­ping away from so­cial me­dia and that your man­age­ment was tak­ing over your ac­counts. Are you back now? “I’m back. But this time I’ve given my­self some rules so I don’t get too sucked in again. For me, what hap­pened, not just on so­cial me­dia but with ev­ery­thing in my ca­reer, was like a whirl­wind. I started to feel like I was los­ing con­trol over my own life. And it wasn’t just how peo­ple be­gan per­ceiv­ing me or the sto­ries that were writ­ten about me— it was ev­ery­thing. I just felt like I had lost con­trol of the whole thing to the point where it was like be­ing on this rocket and then sud­denly re­al­iz­ing you aren’t even driv­ing it any­more. It was re­ally scary. I even think back to the Papa John’s in­ci­dent and ask my­self ‘Why did that piss you off so much?’ I see now that it spi­ralled into some­thing so quickly be­cause I felt like I didn’t have any power over my own life. At that point, I needed to take some time, step away and just get that con­trol back.” Okay, so let’s re­ally look at 2015. You grew up lov­ing hip hop and rap, and you now get to par­tic­i­pate in this com­mu­nity— “Kind of... it de­pends on who you talk to.” Well, you get to ex­press your­self through rap. But for the ma­jor­ity of 2015, your re­la­tion­ship with the hip-hop com­mu­nity was in­cred­i­bly fraught—how do you feel about this? “So many peo­ple think that I don’t care about rap mu­sic and the com­mu­nity, but I ab­so­lutely care about it, to the core of my be­ing. That’s why the Q-Tip in­ci­dent an­noyed me so much: Why do you think I need a his­tory les­son? Be­cause surely if I did know any­thing about hip hop, I wouldn’t mix pop and rap to­gether? Or I wouldn’t rap in an Amer­i­can ac­cent if I truly un­der­stood? I just have a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive about rap mu­sic. I love learn­ing about hip hop, I love read­ing about it and I ac­tu­ally love hav­ing de­bates with other peo­ple about it.” Do you think there is any va­lid­ity to the crit­i­cisms that have been lev­elled against you? “Yes and no. Do you not like me be­cause I rap with an Amer­i­can ac­cent and I’m not Amer­i­can? Well, that’s valid on some level be­cause that’s your opin­ion and I can’t change that. But I’m not try­ing to sound black—I just grew up in a coun­try where on TV and in mu­sic and film, ev­ery­one was Amer­i­can or any Aus­tralian per­son in them put on an Amer­i­can ac­cent. So I never saw it as strange at all. And I think it’s hard for Amer­i­cans to un­der­stand this be­cause, when you look at the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try, Amer­i­can cul­ture is the dom­i­nat­ing cul­ture across the globe. A lot of peo­ple say ‘Imag­ine if some­one rapped with a fake Aus­tralian ac­cent.’ Well, okay, but you don’t turn on the TV and hear Amer­i­can peo­ple with fake Aus­tralian ac­cents, so I don’t think it’s a fair com­par­i­son. I grew up watch­ing Ni­cole Kid­man speak­ing with an Amer­i­can ac­cent in ev­ery movie. Even Keith Ur­ban sings with an Amer­i­can coun­try ac­cent. And that’s just what you have to do to make it in this in­dus­try and be ac­cepted. It’s what I heard and it’s what I saw, so how can you not un­der­stand that that would be in­flu­en­tial for me?” But you un­der­stand why some peo­ple in the hip-hop com­mu­nity might find it prob­lem­atic? “Of course. It’s black cul­ture and black mu­sic, so it be­comes a racial con­ver­sa­tion—ver­sus Keith Ur­ban, who is mak­ing coun­try mu­sic, which is con­sid­ered white. It be­comes a very muddy area. And it be­came es­pe­cially dif­fi­cult in 2015. The United States has such a fraught his­tory with race, and I don’t think I re­al­ized how preva­lent racism still is and how hurt peo­ple still are un­til I moved here and saw it for my­self. As I was grow­ing up in Aus­tralia, it was easy to think ‘Well, that was then and ob­vi­ously it’s not like that now.’ It’s not some­thing you can un­der­stand when you’re on the other side of the world. But many peo­ple think I still live in that bub­ble and that I don’t un­der­stand that the United States is set up in a way that doesn’t ben­e­fit mi­nori­ties. I’ve lived here for 10 years now, and I don’t want it to be that way ei­ther. I’m mar­ry­ing a black man, and my chil­dren will be half black—of course I care about th­ese things. And I un­der­stand if you’re not com­fort­able that I rap with an Amer­i­can ac­cent, and you are to­tally en­ti­tled to your own opin­ions, but you don’t have to lis­ten to my mu­sic. I’m still go­ing to keep mak­ing mu­sic.” Are you look­ing for ac­cep­tance from the hip-hop com­mu­nity? “Cer­tain peo­ple who don’t like me think that I don’t love rap mu­sic, but I love rap mu­sic. I love it like it’s my fuck­ing hus­band.... I think a lot of peo­ple in hip hop h


have a tough time find­ing some­thing in com­mon with me. At least white [and black] male rap­pers both have dicks and they’re Amer­i­can. But for me, I’m a white woman from Aus­tralia. I get it, but I think we have a lot more in com­mon than they think.”

If you could redo any­thing from 2015, would you? “Umm, yeah... of course. If I could, I would Men in Black mem­ory-erase 2015, I to­tally would—that would be amaz­ing! Oh, God, there are so many things. I think the Azealia Banks thing is what re­ally started it all. We don’t like each other on a per­sonal level, and that has gone on for many years—be­fore the Black Lives Mat­ter in­ci­dent hap­pened. So when I dis­missed her, peo­ple started to think that I dis­missed the whole move­ment, but I wasn’t try­ing to dis­miss Black Lives Mat­ter—I was try­ing to dis­miss her be­cause it’s our per­sonal shit. I don’t think the sub­ject mat­ter of her tweet was in­valid; I just think it was emo­tion­ally charged and driven by some­thing else, and the whole thing got so mis­con­strued. I just wish I had ac­knowl­edged the is­sue head-on be­cause it made peo­ple think I don’t care about what’s go­ing on so­cially and what’s hap­pen­ing in Amer­ica, and I do care. Even though I still hate Azealia Banks, I wish I had said it in a way that didn’t make peo­ple think I was obliv­i­ous to the move­ment. And I wish I hadn’t got­ten into a fight with Papa John’s!” So will you be talk­ing about th­ese types of so­cial is­sues mov­ing for­ward? “I think it’s im­por­tant for mu­sic to re­flect what is go­ing on so­cially and for there to be those kinds of voices within the in­dus­try. But I want to be that per­son you can lis­ten to for four min­utes and not think about that stuff at all, and it’s im­por­tant to have that too.... I’m not go­ing to sud­denly start rap­ping about political mat­ters; it’s just not what I do. There are other great peo­ple who do that, like Ken­drick La­mar and J. Cole. I’m not here to of­fer that com­men­tary, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care. I don’t think ev­ery­one has to be ev­ery­thing—like, does Katy Perry have to start mak­ing songs about pol­i­tics? I think it’s good to still be able to have a lit­tle fun.” So­cial me­dia is such a dou­ble-edged sword. On the one hand, it gives you a voice, which feels amaz­ing when you first start out as an artist, but... “But then you say stupid things! I know a lot of peo­ple in my po­si­tion who don’t go on the In­ter­net, but I was born in 1990. I grew up with it. It’s just part of life. You can do with­out it; I did with­out it for a cou­ple of months and it was great. I was able to record my se­cond al­bum with­out any dis­trac­tions, which re­ally al­lowed me to en­joy the whole process again. Now I’m def­i­nitely back and talk­ing to fans, but there are some things I don’t do any­more.” Like what? “I don’t look at the com­ments any­more. Well, I say that, but I’m only hu­man. I love talk­ing to fans, but then you end up in some ran­dom com­ment sec­tion and ac­ci­den­tally find things that can re­ally af­fect you—whether you re­al­ize it or not at the time. It’s tough.” At what point did you re­al­ize you were ready to go back on­line? “I felt like not be­ing on so­cial me­dia, in a way, was let­ting those other peo­ple win. And be­fore, I felt like ‘Okay, so what if they win?’ I need my san­ity, and if that is what it takes to have my san­ity back, then they can win. But then I re­al­ized that there are peo­ple out there who do sup­port me and want to in­ter­act with me on­line, and I shouldn’t let other peo­ple take that away from me and my fans.” What did you learn about your­self through all of this? “I think the big­gest les­son I learned is that peo­ple are go­ing to say what they’re go­ing to say. And it’s re­ally hard not to get emo­tional or be­come overly sen­si­tive about other peo­ple’s opin­ions, es­pe­cially if you feel like they’re wrong. But I think I spent a lot of en­ergy last year try­ing to ex­plain my side of the story be­cause I thought ‘If you could just un­der­stand my side, surely you’d agree with me.’ But some peo­ple aren’t ever go­ing to agree with you—and that’s just life.” That pretty much sums up your year in 2015. “Yes, but in a weird way I’m glad for it all. Be­cause of what hap­pened, there were a lot of friend­ships that I ended up rekin­dling and peo­ple I started work­ing with again. It made me re­flect and change things that I may not have even con­sid­ered chang­ing be­fore. So, I’m re­ally glad that it all hap­pened.” One of those friend­ships is with your old pro­duc­ers, D.R.U.G.S., who pro­duced your mix­tape Ig­no­rant Art in 2011. “I’ve known th­ese guys since 2010; they were my first friends when I moved to L.A. When I ar­rived there, a lot of pro­duc­ers didn’t un­der­stand my an­gle, but D.R.U.G.S. to­tally got it and we ended up mak­ing my mix­tape. I didn’t even ask my la­bel for a bud­get for this al­bum—I just went to their house ev­ery day and we would just write stuff. I don’t want to record with any­one else, ever.” h


Tell me about your new al­bum, Dig­i­tal Dis­tor­tion. “I wouldn’t say it’s an an­gry al­bum. It’s still up­tempo and fun, but it’s a lit­tle more grown-up and moody. I didn’t want peo­ple’s com­men­tary to take me away from the style of mu­sic that I make.... There are some ‘Fuck yous’ and ‘Fuck yeahs,’ but I want peo­ple to hear it and feel good.” Does the ti­tle re­flect some of the “dis­tor­tions” you ex­pe­ri­enced that year? “The al­bum has a bit of an elec­tronic, dig­i­tal in­flu­ence, so the name fits son­i­cally. But then, of course, top­i­cally, we all know the dif­fer­ent things that were said about me in 2015—some of them were fair and some of them, I think, were un­fair. I just think it’s in­ter­est­ing that we live in this age of dig­i­tal dis­tor­tion where we’re all dis­tort­ing each other and dis­tort­ing our­selves and our per­cep­tion of who we all are, and none of it is re­ally ac­cu­rate any­more.” Would you say that your per­sona of Iggy Aza­lea is a type of dis­tor­tion? “Not at all. It’s not like my al­ter ego or any­thing. It’s me. I’m not some quiet per­son or a com­plete in­tro­vert un­til I get on­stage. Of course there are pieces of me you won’t see, but most of what you see in my mu­sic is present in my life. Maybe I am a bit more po­lite in real life ver­sus on­line. I def­i­nitely don’t say ‘Fuck you’ all the time! It takes a lot to make me pissed off in real life.” So you never ac­tu­ally set out to build a per­sona? “I started call­ing my­self Iggy Aza­lea in 2010; it was around the time I started mak­ing stop-mo­tion an­i­mated videos with my freestyle rap be­cause I felt like I had found my sound. But I was never like, ‘Let me cre­ate Iggy!’ And in 2010, I was only 20—I was just a kid! I think it’s rare to find any­one who has their iden­tity locked down at that age.” Do you re­mem­ber when and why you fell in love with rap mu­sic? “I was prob­a­bly 13 or 14 years old. It fit with my teen angst at the time. I was to­tally ob­sessed with Tu­pac, but I also re­mem­ber lis­ten­ing to Missy El­liott and OutKast. To be hon­est, some­times I didn’t re­ally know what any­one was talk­ing about be­cause I’m not from where they were from. But you didn’t have to un­der­stand ev­ery word to love a song. I was in China re­cently and our tour guide said that he loves rap mu­sic. When I asked him why, he said: ‘I just like the way it feels to say the words. Even though I don’t know what the words might mean, I like the way it feels to say them.’ And I can to­tally un­der­stand that. As a kid in Aus­tralia, I didn’t un­der­stand a lot of rap mu­sic ei­ther be­cause I was too young or I didn’t get the con­text. But I knew that it made me feel good.” When did you re­al­ize you could be more than just a fan of rap mu­sic, that you could be a rap­per? “I don’t re­ally know why I thought it was pos­si­ble since a lot of peo­ple kept telling me it was a shitty idea. And I don’t think I re­ally thought I could be more than just a fan or that peo­ple would even like my mu­sic. But I loved rap and had so much fun mak­ing mu­sic that I just kept do­ing it.” When you moved to Hous­ton and At­lanta—and you met South­ern rap­pers whom you’d ad­mired your whole life— were you sur­prised that they wanted to men­tor you? “When I ar­rived, ev­ery­one was so wel­com­ing and cool. I don’t think any of them thought I was a joke—I think they thought it was cool that I was so in­ter­ested in learn­ing how to rap so they let me come along for the ride.” You’ve said in the past that it was dur­ing this time in your life that you re­ally learned how to rap. What do you say to peo­ple who don’t agree with this idea that you can learn how to rap? “That’s like say­ing you can’t learn how to dance. I do think I’ve al­ways known how to fit into a pocket of a beat, and I love writ­ing mu­sic. So I agree, you can’t teach that—but you still have to be a stu­dent. And if you’re not will­ing to be a stu­dent, then you’re not go­ing to be great at any­thing—what­ever your pas­sion is. You have to learn things from peo­ple who know more than your mi­nus­cule knowl­edge as a begin­ner.” What kinds of sto­ries do you want peo­ple to be talk­ing about this year when they hear your name? “I feel like I got vil­lainized so badly last year, to the point where I wasn’t even a per­son any­more. I just be­came this thing that ev­ery­one laughed at and would write aw­ful things about—I think peo­ple for­got I was a per­son. Peo­ple don’t have to like me, but I would ap­pre­ci­ate it if they would still con­sider the fact that I’m a hu­man be­ing. You think Nick likes to hear that his fi­ancée doesn’t care about Black Lives Mat­ter? Trust me, it was not fun last year in this house. No one wants to be told that they should kill them­selves and that they’re like Hitler a hun­dred times a day; it’s not nice. At that point it goes be­yond crit­i­cism, and, trust me, I can han­dle crit­i­cism; if I couldn’t, I wouldn’t be here with a se­cond al­bum, still stand­ing. I think af­ter what I went through, most peo­ple would quit, and I def­i­nitely con­sid­ered it, but I re­ally love rap mu­sic and I’m not go­ing to stop mak­ing it.” nw


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