Appropriate Appropriation

Iggy Azalea, most notably known for her single “Fancy”, recently released a statement regarding the cancellation of her “Great Escape” Tour. Jumping from theatres to arenas is no small feat, and it seems that Iggy’s lacklustre ticket sales lead to the cancellation of the tour, though the artist argues against these rumours. While Iggy has been all over the radio with chart toppers galore, she’s also been held under a virtual knife for dissection- how did a young Australian find herself under T.I.’s wing, with the accent of an Atlanta female? Cries of cultural appropriation abound in the greater hip hop community, and they aren’t just targeting Iggy.

Julianne Hough later apologized for donning black face in her Halloween Costume.
Julianne Hough later apologized for donning black face in her Halloween Costume.

Black culture has been the victim of cultural appropriation for years on years on years. When it wasn’t “cool” to be black, there was minstrelsy. White people stereotyped black people, creating caricatures of an entire race while in black face. This may not seem like something relevant to modern society, but it remains a problem that the black community contends with. Black face hasn’t ended, and I mean that in a very literal sense- take a look at Julianne Hough.  “Dear White People”, a film about black students navigating their white college campus, tackles these issues with cunning satire, but also leaves the question of what is right and what is wrong open for the viewer:

Hip Hop itself has been a target of accusations- who controls the black artists we see, and do they further promote the stereotypes that they’ve already been labelled with? Is hip hop music a form of black face? This is an issue slowly changing, with hip hop music increasingly tackling broader issues of being and living as a person of colour, with multiple lifestyles. The questions that are currently being asked deal with appropriation. Why is it okay for [mainly white] artists to exploit other cultures for monetary gain, when people within those cultures are still discriminated against for those very same traditions and lifestyles? The answer is that cultural appropriation isn’t okay- and Iggy might have to add that to one of the reasons her sales weren’t doing so well. Just ask the Huffington Post.  As hip hop becomes increasingly diverse, questions of how to appropriate appropriately come up.

White artists can navigate a black art form with respect, as argued by Brittany Cooper in her article for Salon.com, entitled Iggy Azalea’s post-racial mess: America’s oldest race tale, remixed. She argues,

“Though rap music is a Black and Brown art form, one does not need to mimic Blackness to be good at it. Ask the Beastie Boys, or Eminem, or Macklemore. These are just a smattering of the white men who’ve been successful in rap in the last 30 years and generally they don’t have to appropriate Blackness to do it. In the case of Southern rappers like Bubba Sparxx or Paul Wall, who do “sound Black” as it were, at least it is clear that they also have the accents of the places and communities in which they grew up.”

Macklemore, also criticized for popularity in rap because of his whiteness, at least understands where he is coming from, and whose world he is entering, as he raps on his song White Privilege:

Hiphop started off in a block that I’ve never been to

To counter act a struggle that I’ve never even been through

If I think I understand just because I flow too

That means I’m not keeping it true, I’m not keeping it true

Now I don’t rap about guns so they label me conscious

But I don’t rap about guns cause I wasn’t forced into the projects

See I was put in the position where I could chose my options

Blessed with the privilege that my parent’s could send me to college

Macklemore’s success is largely outside the hip hop sphere, with a fan base who isn’t really into rap. As far as Eminem is concerned, Talib Kweli argues that he’s one of the greatest rappers of all time. Eminem hasn’t entertained racist thoughts, and has never used the n word. He just focuses on being good at what he does. This is in contrast to Iggy Azalea’s slew of racist tweets targeting Mexicans, Asians, and more.

White artists are infiltrating black spaces as hip hop becomes increasingly globalized; just ask J Cole on his song Fire Squad:

There is a right way to do it, and a wrong way to do it- it just entails a bit of respectfor the people and artform that you’re engaging with. As Iggy takes a break to rebrand, she hopefully will find out how to engage with hip hop without stepping over coloured bodies.

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4 thoughts on “Appropriate Appropriation

  1. Bhumika, I totally agree with your opinion. Cultural appropriation can’t be okay not just in hip-hop, but I believe in any field of our lives. Artists who are really passionate about what are they doing and working hard to achieve it simply can’t be unsuccessful and we see those examples. I actually want to believe that almost all people will select the right way of doing things and hope it will happen almost in all spheres, not just within hip-hop community.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Tati! I hope you’re right- I love listening to different artists, but I like it when they respect the art that they are using. I think that’s the best way to create equality, and make sure you’re welcome in the field you want to be a part of.

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  2. Wow, excellent blog post and thoughts you’ve presented here, Bhumika! Especially love your question posed to the readers: “Is hip hop music a form of black face?” While this is a very contentious topic, you nail a great tip for today’s rising, mainly White hip hop/rap artists: be transparent, humble, and honest about your true roots to your audiences, or you’ll be backlash.

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