As a born-and-raised Southern girl, who believes that lazy summer evenings are best spent with your top back or your sun roof open, bass-heavy music booming through nice speakers, while you slowly make a few blocks through the neighborhood, to see who’s out and what’s poppin,’ I resent Iggy Azalea for her co-optation and appropriation of sonic Southern Blackness, particularly the sonic Blackness of Southern Black women. Everytime she raps the line “tell me how you luv dat,” in her song “Fancy,” I want to scream “I don’t love dat!” I hate it. The line is offensive because this Australian born-and-raised white girl almost convincingly mimics the sonic register of a downhome Atlanta girl.
The question is why? Why is her mimicry of sonic Blackness okay? 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.
Not so with Iggy Azalea, who left Australia at age 16. To be clear, I know all of the problems with the phrases “sound Black” and “sonic Blackness.” As a kid, I was mercilessly teased for and accused of “talking white,” “acting white” and basically attempting to “be white.” I learned during those difficult days to dissent from social norms that suggested that the only English for Black people is a vernacular English that stands adjacent to “corporate,” “standard,” or white English. I balked at such suggestions and reveled in my ability to master “standard” English.
Still I knew that at home, around my family and especially around my Grandmother, my tongue got lazier, as I spoke of things I was “fin (fixing) to do,” as I yelled at my cousins about how “nary a one of them” (which sounded more like “nair one”) treated me right, as “th” sounds at the beginning of words easily became “d” sounds, and as the “g” sounds fell off the end of -ing words. At home, in the safety, comfort and cocoon of my Southern Black family, I talked how my people talked.
In the predominantly white classrooms of my school days though, proficient use of “standard” English showed those white folks that I had every right to be there, that I was just as good if not better. What I’m describing is what communications scholars have called for decades “code switching.” The kind of literacies necessary to master communicating with different communities of people is a hallmark of what it means to grow up as a minority subject with the U.S. and any other country with a history of colonization and slavery.
Iggy Azalea interlopes on this finely honed soundscape of Southern Blackness to tell us “how fancy” she is, and ask “how we love dat.” Her recklessness makes clear that that she does not understand the difference between code-switching and appropriation. She may get the science of it, but not the artistry. Appropriation is taking something that doesn’t belong to you and wasn’t made for you, that is not endemic to your experience, that is not necessary for your survival and using it to sound cool and make money. Code-switching is a tool for navigating a world hostile to Blackness and all things non-white. It allows one to move at will through all kinds of communities with as minimal damage as possible.
But it is also rooted in a love and respect for one’s culture and for the struggle. That kind of love and respect for sonic Southern Blackness made Zora Neale Hurston one of the greats. Hell, it made Mark Twain one of the greats. But Iggy is more like the Joel Chandler Harris of Hip Hop.”