If there is anything you’d hope Australian rap star Iggy Azalea would have learned from the last four bumpy years of her career, it’s that she should probably stop trying to defend herself. Yet here she is, once again making the attempt to clear the air surrounding her missteps and trying to wrest control of the narrative from the social media mob with a comeback album titled, fittingly, In My Defense.
In doing so, she crafts an album — her first in four years — that does finally work to recenter the discussion on her music, if imperfectly. However, the album is likely to deliver as much ammunition for her detractors as it does comprehensive mea culpas for her various cultural faux pas of the last several years.
By now, the rise and fall of Iggy Azalea should be a tale from the annals of recent hip-hop history that anyone could recite, the quintessential cautionary tale about privilege, appropriation, keeping it real, and when to sit there and eat one’s food. After making a splashy debut with the 2011 mixtape Ignorant Art, Iggy’s path seemed set; after all, a blog-favorite, pretty, blonde white woman who could actually rap seemed like it should be gold.
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, as the road to stardom turned out to be paved with obstacles from horrible beat choices (arguably determined by Iggy’s handlers at Sony, as Iggy insists she wanted to make a straightforward rap album and their tastes leaned more pop), criticism of her “blaccent” from the similarly-named fellow rising star Azealia Banks, and a market that turned out to be less receptive than initially anticipated. Eventually, through repeated trials — and plenty of errors — Iggy got a hit, the DJ Mustard-aping, Charli XCX-featuring “Fancy.”
Things pretty much went off the rails from there. Despite the success of “Fancy,” the exposure level proved to be more detrimental than beneficial, as the criticisms against her went wide. Then, she made the fatal error of trying very, very hard to defend herself. In the process, she put her foot in her mouth more times than anyone could count, simultaneously irking legends of rap and alienating her own benefactor, T.I., who was her final shield. Eventually, she was declared persona non grata in the hip-hop world, her sophomore album shelved, and all her endeavors met with disdain, her failures similarly greeted by condescending mirth.
Intriguingly, In My Defense sounds like the album Iggy always wanted to make and perhaps should have made. Rather than experimenting with jock jams and EDM, here, she sticks to rugged, trunk-rattling, strip-club-and/or-trap-house-ready beats that provide a sturdier backdrop to her Dirty South-influenced flow. Whether or not the “blaccent” was strictly necessary, Iggy’s tendency to sound like Gangsta Boo and Jacki-O means her delivery lends itself far more naturally to the ratchet rap purveyed by Three 6 Mafia than the dubstep provided by Diplo on TrapGold.
With the sonic part of the ship righted, Iggy also sets about renewing her relationship with hip-hop through her collaborations with other rappers, rather than pop stars. Juicy J, one of her earliest benefactors, makes a trademark appearance on “Freak Of The Week,” while rising star rapper Kash Doll brings Iggy back into the fold of the rising wave of mainstream female rappers on “F*ck It Up,” a “gas up your girls at the club” anthem that sees the two trading tightly constructed, boastful verses with a hook built on that familiar refrain of “f*ck it up, sis.” There’s also an appearance from Lil Yachty, whose own standing in hip-hop seems to waver from moment to moment but who might be on the up thanks to his contribution to City Girls’ “Act Up.”
While nothing Iggy says here is mind-blowingly original content-wise and her punchlines range from middle-school mean girl to 2000s-era throwback jersey-clad battle rapper, she proves more than serviceable on tracks like her triumphant comeback single “Sally Walker,” the strutting “Spend It,” and the coquettish “Pussy Pop.” It’s on songs like “Clap Back” that her unfortunate tendency to do too much resurfaces to her detriment.
In the hook on the latter, she croons, “’Cause I talk like this and my ass fat / They be saying Iggy tryna act Black.” Just as the listener recovers from the cringe induced by such a tone-deaf reading of the last four years, she leads off the second verse with “They call me racist / Only thing I like is green and blue faces.” Yikes. It’s not exactly “I’m a runaway slave master,” but it’s a prime example of Iggy playing off hip-hop tropes — how many times have we heard this exact line uttered by rappers of such stature as Kanye West? — without understanding how they sound in context coming from someone who is, no doubt, a huge fan but an even bigger outsider.
The fact is, Iggy doesn’t need to clap back at critics and probably shouldn’t. Truth be told, for every valid point Azealia Banks ever had about Iggy, her criticisms were just as likely fueled by her own jealousy and inability to not be the center of attention — just look at her reactions to Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, and Angel Haze. A simple acknowledgement of the instruction of rap elders like Snoop Dogg, Q-Tip, and Talib Kweli could have resulted in co-signs from respected vets — they may not have changed the narrative on her completely but perhaps could have inoculated her to some of its negative effects.
“Clap Back” and its unfortunate placement at the very beginning of the album aside, In My Defense doesn’t really work to defend Iggy, because at its best, it’s about the Australian rapper’s self-contained world where she gets to flex on haters and steal your man. Even if it’s just rap cosplay for the blonde from Down Under, it’s effective rap cosplay. Almost none of the songs would be out of place on a Megan Thee Stallion or City Girls album. It’s just that they’re on Iggy Azalea’s album, not quite justifying her place in hip-hop yet, but maybe making a stronger case for it when they stop trying to.
In My Defense is out now via Bad Dreams Records / EMPIRE. Get it here.