I like a female rapper the same way I like piano, the particular sound effortlessly hitting a predetermined sweet spot in my brain. And I like a dirty female rapper best of all, spitting out cooly metered filth to the beat. Princess Superstar, Azealia Banks, Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliott, Nicki Minaj when she’s being an MC rather than a pop star, the superbly fluent and criminally unknown Amanda Blank. So when I heard of Iggy Azalea I was immediately interested and, in this mixtape era, soon had a bunch of her material for free.
I was primed to like it. First time through I may even have thought I did like it. But songs failed to resolve, none of the hooks hooked me, and my enthusiasm took a step back. And it stayed there, roughly, even though when Work came along as the first single from the first proper album and impressed me enough to buy it and put it in fourth place on this compilation. That’s traditional placing for the deep cuts, the songs that rather than hitting immediately invite you in, let you settle before making their impression. Which is not necessarily what you want your big impact first single to be.
It’s trap, and taught me what trap is: the synths, the phased descent of the rhythm, and the rap which is more about attitude than skill, about blowing the fucking doors off. Iggy kicks it, doing her Australian immigrant version of Started From The Bottom, establishing that realness that hip hop still asks for, but less assiduously than it used to. It’s a triumphal song about the obstacles overcome to the point where this song was recorded and is rocking you, another standard of the genre but played out with conviction and power. In tracks based on samples the voice has to crush the song into shape, create the verses and the choruses and the space between. Here everything’s orchestrated behind Iggy’s build but then seems to run out of control, a machine she’s brought roaring into life and then clings onto, heels no longer touching the floor.
To go industry for a minute; this was the soft launch for Iggy, expensive as it was. The second single, Bounce, was the big crossover pop-rap hit that put her on everyone’s radar. Except it didn’t break the top ten in the UK. The next single, Change Your Life, is way softer and feels like backpedalling, like the Nicki Minaj reverse from Massive Attack to Super Bass. Which is matters because it changes the artist, it changes the music, it changes the future. The Nicki Minaj of Monster and Hold Yuh, the one I watched and waited for, now appears only in interludes between the continuum of her pop career. If the same happens to Iggy then this, a brief dirty bloom which is a showing of potential more than anything completely realised, might be it. That’s why it’s hard liking pop. Powers beyond your control make choices you can’t understand, and music gets stamped on.
Artist: Iggy Azalea
Compilation: Coyote Summer