White and Female: The Face of Mainstream Hip-Hop

26 Feb

In 2014, Iggy Azalea, this 24 year-old white rapper and model from rural Australia, took both the number one and two spots with rap songs on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. What makes this impressive is the fact that these were rap songs, she’s white, and a female. Considering 2013 was a year where white artists claimed the top spot eighty-four percent of the time on the Hip Hop chart, Azalea’s success showcased that more commercial rappers are now white. In fact, white female rappers will continue to rise in mainstream popularity when they appropriate black culture, collaborate with or include pop music in their songs, and when they use sex appeal to their advantage.

Despite being lampooned in the press for her fake black accent, this has not affected Azalea’s album sales or popularity.  Langston Wilkins, in an article for the Washington Post summarizes the global rhetoric that “her style is ripped from a culture born half-a-world away” using a “distinctly inner-city African-American female vocal style.” (2015). Furthermore, she came to America at age 16 mentored by hip-hop artist T.I. in the southern style of hip-hop. In a nutshell, businessmen “saw the commercial possibilities of a thin, blonde-haired Australian woman with adequate rapping skills.” (2015). In Azalea’s case, her affectation may have been drawn from inspiration by her short time in the south, but it’s still mimicry given she had no real connection to this culture. Actually, from jazz to blues to hip-hop, in America, whites have adopted music that began in black cultures as their own (Ainsley, n.d.). Benny Goodman, Elvis, and Eminem, each hold recognized titles claiming the thrones in genres rooted deeply in black culture. They commercialized these genres, appealing to a wider buying audience that could relate to them, because in fact, they looked like them. Lucien Flores (2012) described the reality that top record labels have catered and advertised to white consumers because it’s whites who were buying 70% of hip-hop (as cited in Hurt, 2006). It is also a commonly held belief that young, suburban white teens are the ones actually buying hip-hop. “…Hip-hop’s cultural movement has helped equate “black” with “cool” for the younger generation of white Americans.” (Kitwana 15). Thus, success is dependent on two things: blending in and being cool. For example, in 2013 when Miley Cyrus popularized twerking, a dance move from New Orleans’ bounce music scene, a sub-genre of hip hop, she took a facet of hip-hop culture in order to be seen as outrageous. For Iggy Azalea, her appeal was not just because she is white and therefore relatable, her rapping style made her seem hip, edgy and cool. The audience did not mind that she was not black, or that she couldn’t directly relate to the black culture – they still bought her music.

Besides the cultural appropriation, one way an artist can sell more records is to dip their toe into another genre’s pool to create something new or refresh something old. In 1981, the song “Rapture” by Blondie topped the charts on Billboard’s Top 100. A review at the time by Isler (1981) posited that “…”Rapture,” seems to be doing for rapping music what “Heart of Glass” did for disco…serving a black/esoteric musical form to a white/mass market.” Since then, we’ve seen other successes emerge by blending genres. In 1994, alternative rocker Beck reached success with his rap song “Loser”, and in 1997, Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize”, reached number one with his remake of Herb Alpert’s jazz hit “Rise”. Of course, another way a rapper can sell more records is through collaboration. In 1986, Run D.M.C. covered “Walk This Way” with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry guest starring. Not only did this revitalize Aerosmith’s career, it catapulted Run D.M.C. into the mainstream (Effron, 2013). This landmark collaboration paved the way for many more successes including Rihanna and Eminem on both “Monster” and “Love The Way You Lie”. Each of these songs reached the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, proving that combining forces between pop and rap equals commercial wins. In fact, Iggy Azalea reached the number one and two spots by collaborating with pop stars: Charlie XCX on “Fancy” and Ariana Grande on “Problem.”

Now that we’ve explored how rappers create product, exploiting their erotic capital is one of the best ways to sell it. Dr. Maestripieri (2012) explained that “Good-looking people are more appealing as potential sex partners” and that people wanted to buy products from people who are attractive. In an online interview, Kim Osorio, Editor In Chief at The Source, said that sex appeal made female artists stars and that we valued and praised the sex appeal (as cited in Victorian, 2014). Iggy Azalea used sexuality and provocative imagery in her videos. In “Booty”, a collaboration with Jennifer Lopez, she’s seen in a skimpy bathing suit bent over for most of the video. Nicki Minaj also showcases her curves and uses suggestive imagery like she did with the cover art for “Anaconda”. Artists who follow a traditional advertising model using sex to sell are proving it to be profitable.

To summarize, white female rappers are in a unique position today. They stand a greater chance for mainstream success that didn’t exist before now. Never before has a female rapper, black or not, reached the number one and two spots on the Hot 100 chart. The success story of Iggy Azalea showcased that capitalizing on her white model good looks and sexuality created the right amount of buzz to keep people talking about her. And catapulting her rise to fame was based on two ingenious, if not calculated, methods. The first was knowing her target audience would respond to her false portrayal of a sultry southern-styled rap vixen, and the second was serving it up with a one-two punch through collaborations with fellow female pop stars to deliver music that was catchy, danceable, and made you want to sing along. All of which lead to phenomenal mainstream success.

 References

Ainsley, S. (n.d.). Black Rhythm White Power. Morningside Review. 2007/2008. Retrieved from http://morningsidereview.org/essay/black-rhythm-white-power/

Effron, L. (2013, April 13). ABC News. Run-D.M.C’s Darryl ‘DMC’ McDaniels Reflects on ‘80s ‘Walk This Way’ Cover. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/entertainment/2013/04/run-d-m-cs-darryl-dmc-mcdaniels-reflects-on-80s-walk-this-way-cover/

Flores, L. J. (2012). “Hip-Hop is for Everybody: Examining the Roots and Growth of Hip-Hop.” Student Pulse4(05). Retrieved from http://www.studentpulse.com/a?id=639

Hurt, B. (2006). Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes. Retrieved from http://www.bhurt.com/films/view/hip_hop_beyeond_beatsand_rhymes

Isler, S. (1981, June). Blondie: State of the Union 1981. Trouser Press. p. 19.

Kitwana, B. (2006). Why White Kids Love Hip Hop: Wankstas, Wiggers, Wannabes, And The New Reality Of Race In America [e-book]. Retrieved from eds.a.ebscohost.com.vlib.excelsior.edu

Maestripieri, D. (2012, March 8). Psychology Today. The Truth About Why Beautiful People Are More Successful. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/games-primates-play/201203/the-truth-about-why-beautiful-people-are-more-successful

Victorian, B. (2014, April 11). Madame Noir. Kim Osorio on Women in Rap. Retrieved from http://madamenoire.com/419202/kim-osorio-2/

Wilkins, L. (2015, February 7). Stop hating on Iggy Azalea’s ‘blaccent.’ She’s no hip-hop’s real problem. Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/02/07/stop-hating-on-iggy-azaleas-blaccent-shes-not-hip-hops-real-problem/

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5 Responses to “White and Female: The Face of Mainstream Hip-Hop”

  1. ladykindred February 27, 2015 at 10:04 am #

    Wow!

    • Lisa February 27, 2015 at 10:52 am #

      “Wow” – that’s all you got for me? LOL! Glad you enjoyed it period!

      • ladykindred February 27, 2015 at 11:34 am #

        You said it all! Plus I felt a little dumb. I would write: I like her music. It makes me dance.

      • Lisa February 27, 2015 at 12:47 pm #

        I know what you mean – it felt like I was bashing her in my earlier drafts. I seriously wrote this 7 times, taking different positions, I enjoy her music – even if she is a white girl 😉

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  1. Back to school… | Rinse and/or Repeat - February 26, 2015

    […] However, I think I did pretty well, in fact, I score a 94 on the paper. You can find it here and share a giggle with me. The topic I chose was Hip Hop. Yep, this 49 year old, white, suburban […]

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