She’s white, she’s blonde, she’s Australian, she models, and she raps like she grew up in an Atlanta trap. Like it or not, Iggy Azalea has planted her Louboutins in American hip-hop and has no intention of going back to the Land Down Under.
This feature appears in Complex's October/November 2013 issue.
Midsummer heat can make a person do strange things, and at Hollywood’s Conway Recording Studios in late July, Iggy Azalea is ready to get into some “weird shit.” Having already turned in conventional, label-pleasing hip-hop and hip-pop songs for The New Classic, her debut album for UK-based Mercury Records (distributed in the States by Island Def Jam), the 23-year-old rapper is now experimenting with unexpected sounds that would have freaked out her label bosses.
Today she’s recording a track with moombahton, trap, and dubstep producer Bro Safari, a.k.a. Knick (Nick Weiller) from the drum-and-bass outfit Evol Intent, who previously worked with Iggy on her 2012 mixtape TrapGold. He’s delivered a left-of-center beat that keeps speeding up. Iggy, dressed for comfort in Nike running shoes, gray-and-white printed leggings, and a vintage L.A. Raiders jersey, says the music makes her envision monkeys rapping in the jungle. “Weird shit” indeed.
On the hook to “Work,” the album’s infectious and decidedly less weird first single, Iggy says she’s “working on my sheeeeit,” in the divisive southern U.S. accent she adopts when rapping. It’s clear from her discography that the tall blonde with fair skin and model looks is still evolving and finding herself as an artist. From her sample-heavy 2011 mixtape debut, Ignorant Art, to TrapGold and her 2012 mainstream rap EP, Glory, she’s popped a lot of shit but not revealed much about herself on songs. Although she’s candid in interviews, “Work,” a celebration of how far she’s come, is the first song to actually give listeners a sense of the woman who was born Amethyst Amelia Kelly in Sydney, Australia and raised in tiny, rural Mullumbimby (population: 3,129). She scrubbed floors with her mom to fund a trip at age 16 to Miami, from which she’s never really returned.
Conway’s studios are set back from the street with gates and a lush tropical garden that big-name artists like Mary J. Blige (reportedly also doing a session this day) can hide behind, but Iggy isn’t dodging anyone or any topic, be it the complicated role that race plays in her career, her struggles with record companies, or her relationships with A$AP Rocky and Nas. She’s opinionated and unapologetic, so either you’re “on her sheeeeit” too or you can fuck off.
When I was 13 I got a fake ID. I’d go out, get hammered off my face in nightclubs because I thought that made me an adult, meet older guys who thought I was older, and go f*** them.
COMPLEX: “Work” gave listeners a little taste of the red dirt and back lanes of Mullumbimby. What else can you tell us about your hometown?
IGGY AZALEA: There’s one of everything: one hairdresser, one supermarket, one florist, one bakery. You know everybody that’s owned the stores and they’ve owned them for generations. The population’s 3,000 but it seems smaller because most people live in the hills. They’ll come down to the supermarket to get food and that’s the only time you’re hanging around or seeing people. My dad’s a surfer. My mother had me when she and my dad were 19. They were hippies and built their own house. They wanted to do self-sustained living. My parents split up when I was 8 or 9 and my mom got a teaching degree and would clean houses and substitute teach. That made her a bit more straight up and down.
What do kids do for fun in Mullumbimby?
If you don’t play sport, you probably get stoned all the time. In elementary, we called the kids that liked rap and smoked “The Homies” or “FUBUs” and the surfers “The Surfies.” They had brawls that the police would break up, and that was the biggest thing in my town at the time, to fight with kids from other towns.
What sort of trouble did you get into as a kid?
When I was 13 I got a fake ID. I’d go out, get hammered off my face in nightclubs because I thought that made me an adult, meet older guys who thought I was older, and go fuck them. I’d do that all the time. Hitchhiking was something I would do all the time as a kid. When I was 14 I used to go to the red light district called Kings Cross and go to strip clubs.
We would hang out there so late that the train would stop working, and then we would walk back into the city on the sides of the road, three or four drunk 14-year-old girls with fake IDs. One time, after going to a nightclub with my friend, a guy followed us through all the carriages. Every station, we’d get out and switch a carriage and he would find the carriage we were in. When we got to the station in Sydney he started to chase us and was like, “Come here, you little sluts!” We ran and locked ourselves in the disabled bathroom and we stayed in there for like four hours until the sun came up and people were out for work again. That’s the only time I’ve ever felt scared doing something dumb.
You’ve described the people of Mullumbimby as ignorant. How so?
My friend Roland, a breakdancer from Sydney who is black and had cornrows, was walking down the street with me and one of the kids around my age screamed out the car, “What up, nigga! Yo! Yo! Rap music!” They thought it was hilarious. I was like, “I’m so embarrassed that I’m from here.”
What was the racial makeup of Mullumbimby?
One of my best friends growing up was half Aboriginal, and I’d be around them a lot, but there was not a lot of diversity. It’s very white—a few Aboriginal kids, a few Asian kids, some Indian kids, and that’s it. The neighboring town Lismore was much more diverse because they had a refugee program where all the Sudanese refugees went, but it’s a much bigger city. They probably have 10,000 people. When I got into rap music and wanted to go do cyphers or open mics, that’s where I would take the bus. There were a lot of African kids who wanted to rap and breakdance and shit.
Race has been an issue since you first got noticed as the tall blonde who rapped. Did you understand that some people in the U.S. would think you were fake?
Yeah, but it’s retarded. The Rolling Stones go to America, play “black” blues music, and nobody has a fucking issue with it or thinks it’s weird. But here we are, 50 years later, in the 21st century, and people are like, “This is so weird that you’re white, from another country, and you like black music.” Why is it not weird for Keith Richards or Mick Jagger, but it’s so weird and taboo for me? Do you think a kid liking my music is gonna make rap music some other thing, or that all of a sudden nobody’s gonna like Scarface?
In a country where “speaking black” has been a hindrance in almost every profession but rap, do you see how a white person making money in rap by adopting this accent could ruffle feathers?
If you’re mad about it and you’re a black person then start a rap career and give it a go, too. I’m not taking anyone’s spot, so make yourself a mixtape. Or maybe if you’re black, start singing like a country singer and be a white person. I don’t know. Why is it such a big deal? This is the entertainment industry. It’s not politics. You should be more concerned about the message, not the voices saying it.
If you’re mad about [me rapping] and you’re a black person then start a rap career and give it a go, too. I’m not taking anyone’s spot, so make yourself a mixtape. Or maybe if you’re black, start singing like a country singer and be a white person. I don’t know. Why is it such a big deal?
Have you ever rapped with your Australian accent?
Never. It feels weird to me. It’s the inflection at the end of a sentence when I take a breath. Obviously there are people who rap in all kinds of accents. But for me, rapping is like singing: The breath patterns aren’t the same as when I’m talking, so it’s easier to change into whatever I want. I couldn’t talk in an American accent—I could, but it would sound very fake—but I can rap in one with no problem.
You were asked on Hot 97 if you’re an imposter, and you said, “Maybe I am.” Your friend and mentor T.I. immediately chimed in, “Nah. We don’t do those. She’s certified.”
Tip doesn’t ever get asked about it or have to think about it. What’s real? What’s fake? Of course I’ve asked myself, “Does that make me fake?” I don’t think the voice makes me fake; it makes me an artist. Voice is my medium. I should have creative rein to do whatever the fuck I want with it. For Tip, the word imposter seems like “she’s a mole, she’s a snake.” I look at words for what they mean. You seem to feel I’m imposing on you with what I’m doing, so maybe I am essentially an imposter. I don’t know, I think about things in a different way. A lot of people in the industry like to have any excuse in the world to throw a grenade at me.
Why do you say that?
Because I know it. Some people are supposed to be on your side and they’re not. Sometimes it’s not even that they’re against you, it’s that they don’t give a fuck about you and they just want a promotion. I can’t ever say to anyone, “You’re doing a shit job” because then they’ll tell everyone I’m crazy. I don’t go into detail or name names because it doesn’t help my cause. I know stuff is going on but I have to bite my tongue and keep pushing. I have a mental “fuck you” list of so many people that I know want to see me fail. I’m not going to say “fuck you” now but please believe if I ever get very successful, I will come to your house and come through your window. I wish I could suffocate them with a pillow, slowly.
What’s the biggest fight you’ve had since signing to a major label?
I have to fight about visuals all the time because they don’t understand why I would be sexual in some contexts but not in others. They’ll say, “But you twerked in ‘Work’ and had your ass out, so why won’t you show your butt in this magazine?” I went topless in my new video for “Change Your Life.” I painted my nipples red and I know that will fuck them up. I don’t consider it exploiting myself because everything I do is conceptual. It’s not just tits out for tits out. I consider it art. I’m only ever in a state of undress if it’s for my own project. I would never do it for your magazine because it doesn’t empower me to be naked in your magazine. [Ed. Note—except in Complex!]
What was the most challenging point in your career thus far?
The lowest point was the day I didn’t take my deal with Interscope. I’d broken up with my boyfriend the day before. Because I’m a sicko, I was still at his house, in his bed. He wasn’t there, and I was on the phone, saying I’m not taking the deal. Everybody thinks I’m a lunatic and I’m sitting there crying, like, What the fuck am I going to do? I have no deal. My management’s not on my side, and I have no boyfriend.
Having been in a public relationship with Rocky, would you ever date someone publicly again?
No. I’d date somebody in the industry again, but the number one thing I regret saying publicly is that I fucking loved Rakim [A$AP Rocky]. These are the things that happen when you say you love somebody in the media: Every person that person’s ever had sex with, who would still like to have sex with them, will say what a lame bitch you are. Every person who’s ever had sex with me, who wants to have sex with me still, will say how wack the guy is. Then, everybody who has an ulterior motive business-wise is gonna come at us and tell us every reason why we shouldn’t fuck with each other. Little seeds get planted. “Does she really love you? Did she say that because she’s using you for attention? You should be dating a black girl.” Blogs do voting polls: “Do you think they’re a good couple or not?” I fucking hated that. It’s not a song. It’s a relationship, and you’re not in it, by the way. It’s so sick to me. Also, you can never go out because people will take pictures of you or talk about what you’re doing, or if you’re having a fight. You’ll never be able to enjoy yourself in the capacity of a normal fucking human being ever again.
The number one thing I regret saying publicly is that I loved Rakim [A$AP Rocky]. When you say you love somebody in the media, every person that person’s ever had sex with, who would still like to have sex with them, will say what a lame b*tch you are.
How badly did things end with you and Rocky?
I definitely hated his guts and he hated my guts for a few months. [Laughs.] It was a legit “Fuck you!” “Fuck you!” peace out. But once you’ve had a few months to look at things in retrospect you realize maybe you don’t hate that person, you hate whatever caused the breakup, and you both failed in the relationship. I don’t call him up and have conversations and I wouldn’t say Rocky is my friend, but there are times I’ve congratulated him on things he’s achieved and he occasionally congratulates me on shit that he’s proud of. We’re cordial and I respect him, but there’s a separation.
Have you ever regretted getting your A$AP tattoo?
I’ve never regretted it. I fucking loved him. I know he loved me, too. I felt like he was somebody I could count on who loved me for being me, and I don’t want to forget that. I would sacrifice a quarter of a pinky for those memories. That’s why I didn’t cross it out all the way, because if I’d covered it up all the way, that says I’m embarrassed. You shouldn’t be ashamed of the trials of becoming an adult. I wanted people to know I’m free for more possible love interests, but also not ashamed.
Do people have the same affinity for your curvaceous body type in Australia as they do here?
I feel more adored in this country, for sure. In Australia they’re big on having a tan and an athletic body type. I used to have a tan, but my family always had skin cancer. When I hit 15, and my grandfather started to get a lot of shit chopped off his face and scooped out of his body, I was like, “Oh, shit, everyone in my family older than 50 has skin cancer! Maybe I should stop rubbing baby oil all over myself and laying in the sun after school.” It was beaten in my head since I was a kid: “You should be as brown as you can be; it’s healthy to look brown.” When I moved to Miami, I wanted to look like a Spanish girl so bad because guys would only talk to you if you were tan and had curly brown hair.
Seriously? Guys wouldn’t talk to you in Miami?
Well, they did once I started to have a fake tan. But then I realized that shit sucks. It makes your bed sheets brown, you can’t buy any nice clothes because the underarms will be ruined forever, and when you’re having sex and get sweaty, you smell like fake tan, which stinks like shit.
You’ve been fortunate to be around veterans like T.I. at Grand Hustle Records and Nas, who you toured with. What are the greatest lessons they’ve taught you?
Nas encourages me to take risks. He’s made me be less afraid and even more unapologetic. Even with “Bounce,” I was like, “It’s a pop record. I don’t know.” He was like, “Just fucking do it. It’s something different. It’s one song, what’s the big deal?” I couldn’t believe Nas was telling me to do a hip-pop record. The thing that I learned from both of them is to be unaffected by everything. There were a lot of sad days in that studio, and T.I. would be like, “Look, shawty...” and give me a spiel about how he went to prison and if something’s not going to send you to prison or kill you, you shouldn’t worry about it. Career-wise, I used to compete with certain other people I had issues with. He sat me down and said, “You run your own race, like you’re a horse and you have blinders on. Don’t look at who’s on either side of you or who’s coming up.” That’s helped me a lot because even last year a lot of people would have chalked me up and said I was a wrap. I sometimes feel like I’m the turtle and other people are the hare. They win their race and finish or burn out and I just slowly run my own race. It works out in the end.
ADDITIONAL CREDITS: (STYLING) Alejandra Hernandaz. (PROP STYLING) Andy Kennedy. (HAIR) Sami Knight. (MAKEUP) Priscilla Ono. (CLOTHING) FIRST SPREAD, SECOND SPREAD, THIS PAGE: All clothing vintage. THIRD SPREAD: Swimsuit Iggy's own. Shoes by Jimmy Choo.
WATCH OUR EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW WITH IGGY AZALEA: