In the introduction of Richard A. Rogers’ 2006 article, “From Cultural Exchange to Transculturation: A Review and Reconceptualization of Cultural Appropriation,” the author defines the concept cultural appropriation as, “the use of a culture’s symbols, artifacts, genres, rituals, or technologies by members of another culture” (p.474). This interpretation of cultural appropriation may appear similar to the concept of “cultural exchange”, but upon closer examination, these two phenomena are quite different from one another. The main difference between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange is their varying degrees of cultural reciprocity. That is to say, in the case of cultural exchange, the cultural groups in question exhibit a give-and-take of cultural elements. This process stands in stark contrast to that of cultural appropriation, in which one cultural group extracts certain elements of another group’s culture without reciprocation.
Rogers expounds on his definition of cultural appropriation by citing Merriam-Webster’s definition of “appropriation” as, “’to take or make use of without authority or right’ (p.61)” (Rogers, 2006, p.475). Rogers is asserting that cultural appropriation is an act that is performed without permission. It is within this context of cultural appropriation that we will examine the recent success of Caucasian hip-hop artist, Iggy Azalea. Is Iggy Azalea’s chart-topping album, The New Classic, a blatant appropriation of Black culture on her part, or is Azalea simply an artist and entertainer, trying to provide consumers with what they demand?
In the 2015 article, “White echoes: Rap, race and Iggy Azalea,” written by Chris Richards for The Washington Post, Richards opines that Iggy Azalea’s music is “an empty white echo,” merely imitating the style of Southern Black hip-hop artists (Richards, 2015). He goes on to say that the popularity of Azalea’s single, “Fancy,” begs the question: “Who does hip-hop belong to now?” Richards is suggesting that the recognition of Azalea’s work by the consumer public, as well as potentially the Grammy awards, signifies an appropriation of Black hip-hop culture on the part of Azalea. Richards points out that the Grammy awards, considered the gold standard for success in the American music industry, tend to correspond to sales trends (Richards, 2015). Richards argues that the commercial success of Azalea’s music goes beyond monetary value; it threatens to challenge the value of authentic hip-hop culture by celebrating an obvious and shameless imitation.
Some attribute the rise of Iggy Azalea to forces beyond her control, arguing that her ascent to stardom is not the product of a conscious cultural appropriation on Azalea’s part, but rather larger cultural forces have led to her success. The Guardian writer, Stephanie Convery, in her 2014 piece entitled, “In defense of Iggy Azalea: on racism, naivety and a twisted cluster of exploitation,” claims that “Iggy Azalea is the inevitable product of neoliberal capitalism” (Convery, 2014). Convery cites Azalea’s involvement with notable hip-hop star, T.I., an African-American male from Atlanta, as evidence that Azalea considers herself within the bounds of traditional hip-hop culture. As Convery puts it, “Azalea thinks she is making art,” while T.I. and the other producers behind the scenes of Azalea’s music “know they’re making money” (Convery, 2014). It’s not that Iggy Azalea is appropriating Black culture for her own benefit; rather, Azalea is being used and promoted (albeit willingly) to fill a particular demand, and therefore generate capital.
Personally, I find it hard to separate Iggy Azalea and her music from the idea of cultural appropriation. Hip-hop as an art form is firmly rooted in the Black American experience. Yes, it is true that certain white individuals have had life experiences that cause them to relate more to Black American culture than to their own, but the fact remains that Iggy Azalea is not one of those people. There is no reason why Iggy Azalea, or someone like her, cannot enjoy hip-hop music and appreciate its message, but there is a line between appreciation and appropriation. Iggy Azalea, while her intentions I believe are not malicious, is doing more harm than good to the art of hip-hop. All I know is, I’d hate to be sitting next to Kanye West when Iggy wins her first Grammy.
Rogers, R.A. (2006). From Cultural Exchange to Transculturation: A Review and Reconceptualization of Cultural Appropriation. Communication Theory, 16, 474-503.
Richards, C. (February 4, 2015). White echoes: Rap, race and Iggy Azalea. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/white-echoes-rap-race-and-iggy-azalea/2015/02/04/992a93d2-abe9-11e4-abe8-e1ef60ca26de_story.html
Convery, S. (October 3, 2014). In defense of Iggy Azalea: on racism, naivety and a twisted cluster of exploitation. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/03/-sp-in-defence-of-iggy-azalea-on-racism-naivety-and-a-twisted-cluster-of-exploitation