It’s wholly appropriate that the beginning of Iggy Azalea’s debut album, The New Classic, announces itself with the spoken-word verse, “yeah, we don’t wannna scare your children/That’s the last thing we want to do/We don’t want to scare anybody.” While it was probably meant ironically–“this album’s about to change the game, man!”–anyone who listens to it could take it literally: The New Classic is, unfortunately, a staid, paint-by-the-numbers affair that plays off all the tropes that market leading emcees nowadays. Female or otherwise. It won’t scare anybody because it’s just like every other pop-rap album that’s come before it.
Which is a shame, considering Iggy’s actually got an interesting backstory, as she explains in a recent–and now controversial–Complex profile. Azalea’s as modern a Hip-Hop creation as her former beaux A$AP Rocky is, in that her far-flung upbringing brought about a melding of different influences to eventually dictate who she is today. Whereas Rocky and the A$AP Mob channel those disparate tastes into something that not only pays homage but creates a new Harlem World, Azalea’s seems disingenuous.
The disingenuousness would be offset if we got her backstory, something that leaves listeners with a sense of who this woman is, where she’s from and how her history lead her to her current persona. In what plays like a motif of the album, the most anyone gets is the line–used throughout the album and on the single “Work” as a sort of anthemic calling card–“no money, no family/16 in the middle of Miami,” which alludes to her days as a model before she became a rapper. But that’s it. The rest of the album she spends dropping cliched high-fashion brags (“No Michael Kors just Tom Ford/Saint Tropez I’m like bonjour” from “100”) and ripping detractors in the most general sense possible (“Can’t stand no haters, and honest, the truth is/My flow retarded” off “Fancy”).
What probably complicates a lot of those lines into sounding even worse than they are–other than just being trite–is the voice in which she raps them. A lot has been made on this point, the fact that she sounds akin to a Jersey girl trying to emulate what a Southern African-American woman’s supposed to sound like, but it isn’t a detractor’s panacea. Again, this is another co-opted personality extension, which Azalea admits since she feels unnatural rhyming in her native Australian accent, but it’s how it’s utilized that becomes grating. There’s a sort of recalcitrant nastiness to it, a “bad b*tch” disguised as, the title of “New B*tch” implies, wanting nothing more than to be some dude’s girlfriend: “she’s no housewife, just desperate.” She barks, but should leave female emcees–who use Hip-Hop as a way to stake their independence in a notoriously patriarchal genre–shaking their heads at how flinty her substance is.
The thing is, her persona and sound–lead primarily by U.K. producers The Invisible Men–will find mainstream success. The vast majority of the project is buoyed by EDM influences, despite a DJ Mustard-esque beat on the Charli XCX-featuring “Fancy,” and she’s quickly sold 75,000 copies of the album since it dropped. “Work” will appear all over the radio. Tour dates are selling out quick, too, as evidenced by a quick browse of Ticketmaster. Her product is easily digestible; although, it’s later tracks like the dancehall-tinged “Lady Patra” (which sounds like a good Major Lazer track) and the triumphant “Goddess” that stick out as the album’s lone high points, as Azalea finds herself rhyming more for the sake of it than trying to fill some sort of generic lane or identity.
We can’t be surprised when an album like this–at least in the critical community–fails because, probably, we never asked for more. For a woman who’s been most prized for her body rather than her art, a project as “meh” as The New Classic is what happens when a rapper like Azalea is forced to sell a preconceived image that’s brought down even good emcees like Nicki Minaj. No, this album won’t scare anyone, and perhaps Azalea will begin to reveal who she is in her music more than interviews as her career progresses. But “the new classic” this is not–more like “the new archetype.”