Iggy Azalea Speaks About Not Being Your Typical Rapper, Hip Hop Influences, And Modeling
Exclusive: Fresh off the "Glory EP," Iggy Azalea speaks on her first experiences in the US, fostering relationships with producers and artists, and playing tricks on record label executives.
Australia. What does the typical American think when Australia comes to mind? Fosters beers, kangaroos and over a day's worth of flying-time. However, the American view of Australia can be changed a bit now because a certain Hip Hop blond bombshell has landed by the name of Iggy Azalea.
When one hears the song "PU$$Y" from Iggy’s 2011 Ignorant Art mixtape, it’s impossible for the listener to shy away. The mere title of the song is enough to catch anyone’s interest, and catty content to match. For the last year, the Hip Hop community is still learning what to expect from Iggy Azalea. As the musical approach sorts itself out, Iggy has steadily provided raw power, mixed with a bit of “I don’t give a fuck." "PU$$Y" and a few other cuts were enough to have a huge co-sign from T.I himself and spawned the collaborative sensation “Murda Bizness." In less than a year, Iggy Azalea has fast become one of the female faces of Hip Hop, and a surprising one at that.
On the Glory EP, which released for free earlier this week, Iggy positions herself as a songwriter. Linked with the likes of Pusha T and Mike Posner, Iggy mapped out her latest sampling, that leaders towards her debut album, The New Classic. At this pivotal time in her career, Iggy Azalea opens up to HipHopDX about the risks she took as a teen to secure her place in music and art. She provides exclusive details about her next project, her first campaign, and some of the key figures that have helped her in her five-year journey.
HipHopDX: So your Glory EP came out. What is the difference between this EP and your other mixtapes and material. What do you want the world know about Iggy…?
Iggy Azalea: With the Glory EP, I was trying to make more traditional=sounding records. A lot of people look at making a traditional record as a bad thing. I am a songwriter and I wanted to be able to try and write songs that were more traditional and structured. That was harder than me than just to do whatever I felt like. It was more challenging to me. I wanted to try and make an EP where I had other people sing hooks, because I can’t sing. I wanted to see if I can make these kinds of records well. It was funny because last night we were talking about this next project that is coming out that is completely experimental and in the opposite direction of the Glory EP. I don’t like when people are like, “Oh, she has a record with B.o.B.," or "Oh, she is going mainstream." I am not. I just want to experiment and be great. Pusha T told me that people aren’t making records. Making a record is challenging. It’s not easy. Everyone acts like making a song for the radio or making that B.o.B. stuff is so easy, but when you actually sit down and do it, it’s fucking hard as hell. It’s so hard. That is just what I was trying to do and learn more about it. I put it on the Glory EP so people can hear. That’s why I did it.
DX: You make very sexually charged music like your song with Mike Posner, "Flash." A lot of female rappers do that now. Do you think there are any boundaries that should not be crossed?
Iggy Azalea: Um, I think it’s hard to be black and white about that type of thing. You can say anything and make it seem good, empowering or demeaning. I can say "pussy" and make it powerful and someone can say "pussy" and make it demeaning. It depends on the context. It really has to do what the message behind your song is. I heard a lot of people say to me that I should think less about what you are saying and more about how you are saying it. If you say it the right way, it doesn’t matter what the words are.
Now, about how I linked up with Mike Posner. I was in the studio and Mike and 2 Chainz were walking on songs together while I was downstairs working on my album. [T.I.] wanted me to come up and meet them. We were up there and talking about cameos and "Murda Bizness" because that just came out. I had this beat where I had a certain voice in mind for it and I either wanted Robin Thicke or Mike Posner - someone with a really specific voice. After I sent the beat, he sent it back, but changed it a bit to fit his voice and since then he has been in L.A. recording, and so have I. We have been trying to do more things together so I can get on his project. We are also brainstorming ideas of what we can do for the video. I do not want it to be predictable. I hate these videos where I am in cars, poppin’ bottles or making out and sexy and stuff. There are so many other ways where you can make a visual for a song. We are just brainstorming of what we can do for this video along with writing together. Like I said before, he is a songwriter and he has great melodies. He can lay down a track seven different ways and I would just do it one way so I am really learning a lot from him. He is teaching me about songwriting. It’s great watching him. He has written so many records that he doesn’t even get credit for.
DX: To switch subjects a bit, you have an interesting story. You do not see a lot of female rappers from Australia in the United States. You ran away from home when you where 16. You do not need to get into the specifics, but it’s a very mature and potentially dangerous thing to do. While you were flying here, what was going through your head? At 16, kids aren’t usually thinking about doing something like that...
Iggy Azalea: There are lots of things that kids do that make them feel invincible. Driving drunk, going to parties and doing stupid shit. I just think that I coming to America was such a dream and fantasy and I wanted to make it happen. It didn’t dawn on me on how big of a deal it was until when I was about to leave for the airport and I was lying in bed the entire night before. I couldn’t sleep thinking maybe I shouldn’t go or what if I die, what would happen to my family. I didn’t want to go. I woke up in the morning and my mom was crying and I wanted to cry too. She said, “Please don’t let anything happen to you or people will think I am a bad mom." I said, “Okay, I promise I won’t." As I was on the plane I kind of shat myself the whole way there until I finally got to Miami. Customs had to escort me as a child because I didn’t know how to do anything. It was overwhelming and exciting at the same time. Once I got to Miami it was nothing like I thought it would be. I thought it would be like CSI Miami with all bright colors and fancy drinks. It was not like that at all. I remember getting to Miami and it was the 4th of July. People were setting of fireworks and I was like, “Oh, my gosh where the fuck am I? What did I get myself into." I ended up liking it for different reasons. I loved the grittiness about it. The part of Miami you don’t get to see with all of the different cultures. I didn’t think it was going to be like that. People speak Spanish before English. It made me grow up a lot quicker than I would have had otherwise.
DX: While in the U.S., you spent time in Houston and time in L.A. What did you take from both experiences that come out in your music? What did you realize about both places in how they approached Hip Hop?
Iggy Azalea: Houston was a big influence on me. It was at the time when the [Swishahouse movement] was starting to die down a bit, but it was still a big deal for me along with the ATL Snap music. I was [in Houston] in 2008. Houston was huge in the media and Hip Hop was the popular thing. I learned a lot about writing songs in Houston and I didn’t think that was the place where I would learn that. Then, when I got to Atlanta I met up with this guy Backbone, who was a part of Dungeon Family. I met with Sleepy Brown and [Organized Noize], and they would go in the studio and I would try to record when I could. They would call me "the rappin’ Britney Spears.” [Laughs] They taught me so much. It’s just like this other world. It’s funny because I met up with all of them [again] earlier this year. I hadn’t seen them since I was 17 and they happen to be in the studio to play T.I some records and they remembered me. They gave me some beats that night too. It was funny that we were all back together again. I used to hang out with them when I was 17 and couldn’t drive. I would catch a ride in their cars and they would drive a Chrysler 300, which I thought was a Bentley; balllin'!. ATL has such a strong culture and it’s so flashy out there. I don’t know what it is with the south in general, but everything is big. Everything is a show and I think it’s so cool. I love it. All of the flashiness that you see in Southern music is how everyone really is out there. L.A. does not have that flashiness. It’s a bit grittier here. In Inglewood, on Slauson, they just dress different and it’s not as loud. There is some kind of like underlying thing where nobody really does what they do in Atlanta. Atlanta is truly unique.
DX: You have been signed as a rapper, had beef with another rapper and was romantically linked with another, which experience taught you the most about America and how we are obsessed with the celebrity?
Iggy Azalea: Definitely the quote on quote “relationship,” because the media was very invasive.
DX: Well you were 16 years old and watching American celebs and thought “Oh, that could be cool." Now that you are 22 and here yourself, is it everything you thought it would be. What have you learned now that you are n the public eye?
Iggy Azalea: I don’t think that I realized that it would be something I would need to fight to do every single day as I wake up. I thought that you get popular and everything is kind of a breeze. I didn’t think I would have to get up every day to get my music out or fight for my image to be portrayed the right way or try to protect privacy or people saying rude shit to me. Everything is a battle, and there is a battle every day that people don’t see. I didn’t know it would just be so hard. It’s hard. It feels like you can lose everything at any moment. It feels like that all the time. You got to keep running and you can never stop. Once the gun goes off it’s like a fucking marathon and it never ends. You go to sleep running and you wake up running. You are like, "Oh wow, that was a nice little sleep," and then back to the fuckin’ chaos of it all. I never knew how much went into it. I thought you got a team and everyone does it for you - it’s not like that.
DX: Since you became popular you worked with a bunch of producers including Diplo and Steve Aoki. Did you find it necessary to link up with these two because of how EDM and Hip Hop are mixing and are you ever fearful of turning down a feature because of the way you may be portrayed?
Iggy Azalea: I didn’t link up with them in the way like, “Oh, I want to put myself into their space." Steve [Aoki] liked my music and hit me up on Twitter and said that he was shooting a music video in L.A. and it was the video with Kid Cudi and Travis Barker. He asked if I could come by because they wanted to meet me. I met Steve, Yelawolf and Travis Barker there. They are all really cool. I don’t know much about EDM music, but Steve is a really cool guy and he asked me to do a song with him. I was hesitant because people kind of shit on you a bit if you go that route. I said for him to play me a beat and he played me a beat and I was like, “Oh wow, that sounds fuckin’ cool." If anything, it’s a challenge to write to it and a challenge is scary. This shit is hard and you just got to try to do it. After I recorded the song I sent it back to him in January and nothing really happened so I was like, “Oh, whatever." Then all of a sudden he put it out. I was nervous because I thought I would get a bad rap for it. I told him I wanted it to be him featuring me because if it was the other way around people would shit on me. I wanted to be in his world. In the end, it went really good and its one of my favorite records to perform.
Now with Diplo, he’s actually a good friend of mine and we have so many mutual friends that he hits me up all the time. He sends me beats constantly. We happened to do that record together because FKI, who is on the song with me, used to work with me all the time too. I have known FKI for years. They used to engineer for me in a little studio in Atlanta and we used to eat dollar tacos together because we were all so broke. Working with Diplo was a no-brainer. It was less to think about than working with Steve. Diplo and I are going to do more stuff. He is on the road now, but I want to work with him because I want to do a project called Trap Gold, which is like Electronic mixed with Trap music. It’s going to be very experimental and I want to get some shit from Diplo for that project. I have a date for Trap Gold, but I don’t want to tell anyone yet. I want to put it up on twitter one day and surprise everyone.
DX: The video you did with FKI and Diplo was the first “shoppable” music video. How did you choose the brands that you wore in the video and what about doing the video appealed to you?
Iggy Azalea: I just think it’s interesting to me to see how we can evolve with technology. For me, growing up and living where I lived I would watch these music videos and want to wear all the clothes the artists were wearing and I couldn’t get them. I didn’t know where the artists would get the clothes or where they came from. I thought to myself, “If I was a kid now, how could I know what the clothes are that the artists are wearing?." People hit me up all the time now asking me what type of shoes I am wearing and stuff like that. Doing this video was a good way for me to give everyone information or know where to get it and what is it. Even if you don’t buy it, you can make your own version or buy something that’s like it. It’s just a way to have that information and add another layer to a music video. There is nothing that appeals to that and I feel that an interactive or “shoppable” music video is a cool way to incorporate that. It was a cool idea and I want to see more people do it.
As far as picking brands, I wanted to pick high fashion: crisp and clean but also colorful and fun. It was hard working with FKI because they only wear black. I was like “Fuckin' hell, just wear green, it's fucking summer. You are killin' me right now." In the end we worked it out. I tried to get the clothes at a good price point so that everyone could afford them.
DX: Diplo didn’t do much; he was just standing there smoking something.
Iggy Azalea: [Laughs] Yeah, Diplo was at the Grammy’s that weekend. I was like “You jerk." We were downtown shooting the music video and he kept on saying “I’ll be there in five minutes, I'll be there in five minutes." In the end, he got down there and it went down really well.
DX: What are your visual inspirations?
Iggy Azalea: I really like pop art as a whole, because I think it’s really cool to take a part of culture that already means something and change the meaning of it. That, to me, is what pop art does. When you take a picture like the Coca-Cola sign that already means something in society and an artist like Andy Warhol changes it in to something else. Two people can say the same word and make you feel a different away and I feel that it’s the same thing with Image. I think it’s really cool and powerful for an artist that can take something that already means something and to change the meaning of it. It’s harder to do that. It's harder to change something that already exists than to just create something. That’s kind of like the "Murda Bizness" video. “Does it mean that? [Or] does it mean this? I like to think of videos like you would think of pop art.
DX: Speaking of the visual, you just signed on as a model. Are there any similarities between modeling and the Hip Hop world? Are people just as catty?
Iggy Azalea: In the Hip Hop world, I don’t necessarily fit the part. In the model world, I don’t fit all the way because I am still too fat compared to the other girls, but I can get away with it because I have some sort of celebrity attached. However, I fit the box more as a model than I do as a rapper, so I see less fighting in the model world. In that world they let me do whatever the fuck I want. People have to ask you to be in their photo shoot and they have to hire you. They want you there. In music, I have to ask people to put out music or ask people to shoot a music video. You don’t have to have a record label anymore to release these things. Not everyone that listens to it wants me to be there. It’s different.
DX: Lana Del Rey just signed on as a model for H&M. Can you touch on what you are doing in that regard?
Iggy Azalea: I have some different deals that I wish I could talk about. What I can talk about is the Levi’s campaign that we shot last week called “Go Forth." You put on your Levis jeans and you go forth throughout your day and inspire people and chase your dreams. That was the vibe of the campaign and I got to be the face of that which was pretty cool. Levi’s to me, is the classic, iconic jean brand that has been around for so long. I thought it was really cool to be involved with that.
DX: Have you been back to Australia since coming to the United States?
Iggy Azalea: No I haven’t. Every time I want to go back, something comes up and it ends up not happening. My mom and little brother visited me out here because I can’t make it back there. It’s a long trip to make when you only have a few days free. I get deterred from it, because I do have it in my mind set that I don’t want to go back until I reached a certain point. I want to open for T.I.P. when he goes to shows out there in Australia later in the year. I want to come back and bring someone with me like I didn’t come back empty handed, I brought T.I.
DX: I see some of your studio sessions with T.I and you two seem like two school-children on the playground. What is your relationship like with him? It’s like a brother-sister type thing.
Iggy Azalea: [Laughs] He is super protective of me like a brother. Whenever we are in the studio there is always a big bottle of tequila. We work a lot, like 20 hours a day in the studio. We would do that every day for like a month so we are in the studio a lot. We are saying dumb shit and dumb jokes so by the time the cameras come in we have so many inside jokes that we are laughing at for days and days and days. I just spoke to T.I right before this and I have not spoken to him in a few weeks. He is filming a movie and I am recording this album so it was nice to speak again. I love him. I am so glad that I met him.
DX: Do you think you are truly making the music you want, or do you feel pressured that you are making the music that people expect of you?
Iggy Azalea: I definitely feel pressured to make music people expect me to. Some of the songs that have come out people have been saying that those were the songs T.I wanted me to make, and they weren’t. People hear a song I would do with Electronic music and be like, “Oh, this is Hip Hop, but it has some Electronic sample so that makes sense and it’s okay for her to do that," but on something that sounds completely Rap, "must be the Black guy that is making her do that." People say shit like that to me all the time. I honestly don’t think I am making the music I want to make yet because I am not done experimenting. Doing this Glory EP was a bit more mainstream and had some more structure. I wanted to do that to because I wanted to prove that I can make those records.
Now, I am going to make Trap Gold which is Electronic music mixed with Trap music and it’s not going to sound like any other shit. Hopefully my album The New Classic will be a mix of everything. I am really young - just turned 22, and I have not been making music for that long. There are a lot of things I have to go through and try before I have all of the ingredients and all the tools to make music I really want to make. I have a sound in my head and I don’t know how to get that yet. That is going to take practice and trial and error. I like to share my trials and errors with the rest of the world because sometimes the world loves your errors. Some songs you like and some you don’t. I will keep sharing the journey with everyone because you can’t have perfection in art.
DX: I doubt the labels have seen a lot of artists like you. Were there any experiences that you while meeting with labels in the U.S that may have turned you off to music in general?
Iggy Azalea: Um, yeah, like every single one. Luckily now people don’t realize that how the music industry truly works and how many of your rights are taken away. You don’t have much power. Just because you have a $1 million deal you still don’t earn anything really. I ended up getting in a situation where I have $500,000 right now and I earned all my music. I got all my publishing. In the end, my situation is better than a lot of people right now because I am not completely involved in the politics. I could sort of carve my own lane and if the politics get in the way, you can easily lose that spark. When I started to take all these meetings there were just a bunch of people that were trying to convince me about things I didn’t want to be convinced about. I started doing all of these tests to see if they were all just yes-men.
DX: What was the craziest shit that you said that the labels said yes too?
Iggy Azalea: The craziest shit that I ever said that they said yes to - and I am not fucking lying - we told them that for me to go on another meeting with them, my friend and I needed to go on pony rides because I told them I liked to ride ponies and I wanted to re-enact the Headless Horsemen. So I told the guy that “If we all go ride ponies together, I ride on the side like a lady and you ride like a guy with your suit jacket and you pull it over your head like a headless horsemen, would you do that?" They said yes. They would do that and it sounds “like so much fun and they would definitely do that." Unfortunately they didn’t do that, but another record label - not the same one - was talking to me and I told them I didn’t like fish while we were out to dinner. They asked “Why?” I said that I thought fish were aliens and I think that aliens live under water turned into fish. I gave them all these stupid conspiracy theories. They told me "yeah, that makes sense I don’t eat fish either." I said to myself “Do you really fucking believe that?” I sound like a crazy person, and you are going along with it. You can say anything to them and they will just go along with it to be your friend. It’s not good for them and it’s not good for me because at the end of the day they are signing someone that don’t want the same thing and that’s not good business.
DX: Well I am glad you made the right choice. Was it all worth it in the end?
Iggy Azalea: I will know in a couple of months if it was all worth it. At least if I don’t reach the goals I want to right now, I can blame me and it will be a poor choice that I made.
DX: Well this was an amazing interview and I think you for your time.
Iggy Azalea: I appreciate you actually asking cool questions and not the same stuff. This was great.