There aren’t many careers where being a statuesque blonde with model-level good looks and an exotic accent could count as a disadvantage, but “rapper” seems to be one of them. For the past few years Australian-born MC Iggy Azalea has been trying to break into the rap game, and despite co-signs from industry heavyweights like T.I. (who signed her to his Grand Hustle label), her technically formidable flow (which was apparent from her electro-tinged 2011 debut single “Pu$$y”), and the generous amount of good press she’s received (she made XXL magazine’s annual Freshman list), she’s had trouble holding onto a label deal and has had trouble establishing the more emphatically hip-hop audience that even rappers with mainstream ambitions need to get off the ground. (Landing a contract with Wilhelmina Models went much smoother.)
In a great new profile in Billboard by my friend Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, Azalea lays the bulk of the blame for her situation on industry sexism and pop audiences’ strict expectations for what a rapper should look or sound like, as well as a losing beef with Azealia Banks over a lyric intended to make light of her own whiteness that crashed and burned in the clumsily offensive way that’s typical of white Australians getting anywhere near the subject of race. It’s certainly hard to pin the blame on Azalea’s talents. Ironically, for the amount of ire that she’s provoked in hip-hop traditionalists, she has a more classical throwback flow than any other significant up-and-comer right now.
Azalea seems to have finally burned out on trying to win over hip-hop heads. Her long-awaited official debut, The New Classic, out today, has its sights set plainly on the wildly growing field of EDM-pop-rap crossover, and it seems to have found the ideal balance of her hardcore-leaning instincts as a rapper and big, clubby synth beats with big, clubby hooks. After warming up the market with a pair of singles, “Work” and “Bounce,” her new single, “Fancy,” featuring edgy British pop vocalist Charli XCX, has started to take off. The song’s DJ Mustard-esque beat and Iggy’s double-time rapping might actually win over some of the salty rap fans that have been giving her the cold shoulder, but its hook and overall Girl Party Anthem flavor have the young, female, radio-listening demographic so firmly in its sights that the opinions of rap fans seem beside the point. It seems to be working—”Fancy” is at number 37 on the Hot 100 and could have enough momentum behind it to put the Top 10 within reach.