If you’re not familiar with the long standing feud between Azealia Banks and Iggy Azalea then you may be forgiven because it is a pretty odd one. In fact, the feud between the hip hop stars is probably the most unusual one in the history of music. It doesn’t centre on the accusation of stealing lyrics (which would be a fair criticism), stealing a tune (also understandable) but of the theft of an entire genre of music. In a recent interview on a New York Radio station Azealia criticised Iggy for a “cultural smudging” of black music. She continued by saying that “When they give these Grammys out, all it says to white kids is, ‘You’re great. You’re amazing. You can do whatever you put your mind to.’ And it says to black kids, ‘You don’t have s***. You don’t own s***, not even the s*** you created yourself.’ And it makes me upset.”
I must admit I’m not a massive fan of Hip Hop music or Iggy Azaelea (I didn’t even know she was Australian) but surely you can’t accuse someone of stealing a genre of music from a race? Music isn’t something owned by anyone, it’s way more than that, it is something which can cross the boundaries of race, colour, creed and even language. Good music does that even more than bad music of course, but even the worst of music is an expression of an individual (or group) and their thoughts; their emotions. How can Banks possibly say that these “black kids” she refers don’t own this music? And – in fact – why is this the only music they can own?
Banks shouldn’t really have a problem with Iggy Azalea but with an industry which is so caught up in making money that it forgets what it’s actually selling anymore. Is the music which tops the charts actually “Hip-Hop” anymore? Does it really bring home the cultural message that it was meant to when it began in Harlem in the 1970s? No. It has become a parody of itself, ever repeating the same music which made it successful in the first place. What Azealia Banks has done here is correctly assess that the industry is out to crush talented black artists and popularise untalented white artists (which is definitely true to an extent) but has assumed it is for reasons of race rather than money. Big businesses don’t care whether you’re black or white as long as they can sell something to you, and it is obvious that a white Female Hip-Hop artist would sell well.
When someone like Ms Banks makes the point that a “privileged white girl” is stealing black people’s music she is diverting people’s attention away from the issue at hand to a separate one altogether. She is also sending the wrong message to young black people who can be interested in any music they want to be, not pigeon holed into being Hip-Hop artists. Music is meant to be shared, and the fact that Hip Hop originated in Harlem doesn’t mean that it has to stay there. In fact, it shows that the music is doing its job by connecting to people from outside the New York district. Music is about the sharing of personal emotions not about possessively claiming a genre or artist for yourself. What would happen if tomorrow Austrians claimed that no-one outside of Austria could listen to Mozart? It would cause some very well mannered riots I’d imagine.
Is Iggy Azelea parodying black people’s music? I have no idea, it’s certainly possible considering the way she acts but to me she comes across more like a fan girl emulating her favourite artists. If music is to grow and spread – and equality with it – then it must be shared. These petty squabbles aren’t helping anyone and they certainly aren’t helping the art form.