The Conspiracy to Whitewash Hip-Hop

Why Iggy Azalea’s music is so popular and problematic.

Rapper Iggy Azalea performs at Irving Plaza on May 5, 2014, in New York.
Rapper Iggy Azalea performs at Irving Plaza on May 5, 2014, in New York. Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

Veteran emcee Scarface is using a gentrification analogy to describe a conspiracy to make “Elvis the face of hip-hop” within 20 years. In the musical equivalent of an urban renewal scam, white executives have turned the rap hood into an intellectual ghetto filled with buffoonery, violence and drugs. Once hip-hop is near death, they will bring in white hipster rappers to “revitalize” and “save” the culture. Black rappers, Scarface tweeted, could become the hip-hop generation’s Chuck Berrys.

If there is a conspiracy to whitewash hip-hop, Scarface is right to point the finger at the executives that ultimately profit from Macklemore being marketed as hip-hop’s Great White Hope, or New Zealand artist Lorde being allowed to sing that hip-hop is a bunch of black people ranting about gold teeth, Maybachs and diamonds. It is time to start “CEO beef” with the music executives and “culture vultures” behind the scenes, according to the outspoken Dame Dash.

Viewed within this broader history of whiteness and hip-hop, it should be no surprise that Iggy Azalea is being viewed with some distrust. We will know in 20 years if Scarface and other defenders of hip-hop are correct about the whitening of hip-hop and whether Iggy is really a carpetbagger intent on exploiting the culture.

Until then, the safest bet is that Iggy is the lighter counterpart to Nicki Minaj, an artist with an uncanny gift to make infectious “hip-pop” anthems for the summer and to profit from the racism and sexism of the music industry. Like Nicki, she will be laughing all the way to the bank. Depending on your point of view, that makes Iggy either the essence of real hip-hop hustle or more proof that hip-hop as meaningful black music is almost dead. 

Travis L. Gosa, Ph.D., is assistant professor of Africana studies at Cornell University, where his research focuses on racial inequality and African-American youths. He has written for Ebony, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Fox News and a number of academic journals.

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