Photos by Louie Banks
If you’re unfamiliar with the likes of Iggy Azalea, brace yourself for impact. This Aussie native has already burst onto the hip-hop scene and is currently poised to enter the mainstream charts with a solid album of rhymes in tow.
“Work,” the lead single from Azalea’s about-to-be-released debut album The New Classic (watch it below), spins the tale of a teen from the Australian countryside who travels to America with a dream of making it big. The dream itself may not be particularly rare, but the fact that the dreamer has achieved it shows a sense of determination and talent with which few could argue.
To flee a life of cleaning hotel rooms, Azalea fled to the States as a teenager, settling first in Miami, then Houston, then Atlanta, eventually trekking to Los Angeles, where she has set up shop for a few years now. The rapper told Wow magazine in January, “I was drawn to America because I felt like an outsider in my own country. I was in love with hip-hop, and America is the birthplace of that, so I figured the closer I was to the music, the happier I’d be. I was right.”
Videos thrown on YouTube of Azalea’s freestyling skills led to people learning her name rather quickly, and it wasn’t long before she was recognized as an up-and-comer among new music cognoscenti. Controversial tracks “Pu$$y” and “Two Times” went viral. Gracing the cover of XXL’s 2012 “Freshman Class” list made her one of the few female rappers (and the first non-American female) to do so. Last year she was even the face of Levi Jeans, a result of being repped by Wilhelmina Models.
Iggy Azalea is more than a pretty face, though she definitely has that going for her. Backed by an army of gay fans who clamor for artists with her edgy look and attitude, it’s safe to expect big things from this hard-working girl of hip-hop. Frontiers caught up with Azalea via telephone amid her hectic schedule in the days leading up to The New Classic’s release.
You’re from Australia, and you kinda hopped around the Southern U.S. for a while when you came over here. Is that because you were searching out hip-hop music, or was there something else drawing you to cities like Miami, Atlanta and Houston?
It’s really just where I went, honestly. One thing kinda led to another. It wasn’t necessarily a plan to stay in the South, but it was where I felt comfortable. I’m from the country in Australia, and the South is the ‘country’ of America.
So it wasn’t much a culture shock?
Oh, of course it was a culture shock, coming from Australia. [Laughs]
Your single “Work” deals with your moving out to the U.S. at a young age and your struggles to make it. It seems like you’re a pretty fearless person. Is that an accurate assessment?
Yeah, I suppose so.
I saw you perform a three-song set out here in L.A. a month or so ago, and you killed it. What kind of feedback have you been receiving about your live performances?
You know, I don’t ever want to brag [Laughs], but I feel like I’m very confident in my live shows, and I seem to get really positive feedback, which just makes me more confident in what I’m doing. I feel like I hear a lot that makes me happy.
Is live performance the primary passion, or does that take a backseat to the creative process—the writing and recording?
I love all those things for different reasons. I love performing, and I love to put on a show. I’m an entertainer, and I think of my shows in the same way I think of a music video—like with stage design—I still design it all, and it’s all a creative process for me. Live shows are definitely a creative outlet. But I love different aspects of all of them.
Who were some of your influences as a young girl enamored with hip-hop?
Andre 3000 and Outkast as a group really influenced me. I love Tupac. I really like Missy Elliott a lot as well—I really look up to her as a female artist. I think she’s amazing.
What about influences outside of hip-hop?
I really like Salvador Dalí. I think he’s an influence. David LaChapelle. I like what he does—making art in a commercial medium, and he has a great balance of the two.
Have you gotten to work with David yet?
No, I haven’t.
Well I’m sure it’s just a matter of time. He probably loves you.
I know he likes me. He invited me to his gallery in Paris. I’ve had dealings with middle-men [Laughs] but I haven’t gotten a chance to meet him yet or work with him. I’m sure it’s something that could potentially happen, and I’d love that.
You must be aware that you have a pretty strong gay fan base. Have you given any thought to what may draw your gay fans to you?
Beyond the clothing and talking shit, I think there’s something that we can empathize with—feeling ostracized for just being who you are, feeling like you don’t belong—those are things I definitely identify with. I’ve heard it for my love of hip-hop music—people bringing up what I look like, or it’s ‘just pretend,’ or I shouldn’t make hip-hop because I’m Australian. It’s one of those things in life where you just love something, you’re passionate about it—or you just can’t help but like it. I think with sexuality, we’re just naturally inclined, and we can’t explain it. I think [the gay community and I] experience that same frustration.
It seems like hip-hop in general, which has a reputation for being notoriously homophobic, is finally starting to broaden its scope and is becoming more inclusive. What have you noticed from your stance inside the industry?
For me, I notice that some of my guy friends sit around with my gay friends and hang out, and that probably wouldn’t have happened a few years ago. Beyond that, it’s hard for me to say the changes I’ve seen, because I think with females, we’ve always ... there’s no stigma, and there’s no ignorance attached to having a gay person around you. It’s different, I’m sure, for a male in hip-hop. With female rappers and pop stars, we’re always surrounded by our gays! [Laughs] I don’t really see a lot of men in hip-hop working with gay men. I think they still have a long way to go, and I still hear ignorant shit all the time, but I do think there’s a lot I don’t witness because I’m a female.
But I have friends who are gang-bangers who I‘d never think would sit down and have dinner with my hairstylist, who’s a 500-pound English gay man [Laughs]. I would never think they could sit down and actually have a conversation and be interested in each others’ lives. They walk away from that and my gang-banger friends are like, “You know, I really like your friend Sonny. He’s cool as f*ck.” I do notice things like that, and I see things are changing to where you feel like you can have a conversation with this person and connect with them and be interested in what they do on different levels, and not just be ignorant, like, “Oh, he’s gay” or “He’s a faggot” or whatever. Shit like that—beforehand, a few years ago, you couldn’t get those guys to sit in the same room as him. They’d think they were gay for it. I definitely see a change in mentality among my friends in the rap community.
It’s probably an understatement to say that you’re known as an artist to watch out for. People everywhere are awaiting your upcoming record. Does that weigh heavy on you, or is it just exciting?
It’s weird. It’s exciting, but I’m cautious of the excitement, because I don’t know what you’re excited for. I don’t know if you’re excited for me to make more of the style of music that I’ve already made, or are you excited for me to make big hits, and if I don’t, will that be disappointing to you?
Speaking of the new album, it’s currently scheduled to be released this September. What can your fans expect, and also those who aren’t yet familiar with you?
If you have listened to my music, it’s a really good combination of Ignorant Art and TrapGold [her first and second mixtapes, respectively]. If you haven’t listened to my music, I’d say it’s a lot of electronic dance music and Moombahton mixed with hip-hop and 808s.
Did you have a positive experience working on your first studio album?
Yeah, I think I did. I wish I had more time on the project. That’s one thing I will say. People hear that I’ve been working on the album since January, and it’s been a good eight months, but I’ve been on tour for most of that! [Laughs] I haven’t had a lot of time, and I wish I had more. I had just started feeling like I was really getting into the swing of things. I’m really happy and pleased with the album, but I’ll always wonder what it could have been—how much better it could have been if I’d had another two or three months. But I suppose that’s just the nature of the beast. You’re always gonna wish you could’ve kept painting.
Are we going to see you back onstage here in L.A. after the record drops?
Yes, you will. I feel like I’m doing a radio festival—a KISS FM show—in a couple weeks. As far as me doing my own show, I won’t be going out on my own until early January. I’m gonna do some radio shows, and I’ve got to go back overseas and start promoting my third single. And I’m actually going on tour with Beyoncé.
I was going to ask you about that! That has to be exciting—touring with Beyoncé—and it’s all back home in Australia, isn’t it?
Yeah, Australia and New Zealand. I’m really excited. I really wanted to do America with her, but I have to promote my record, so I have to get off the road. I love to tour so much. If I could, I’d just stay on-tour, but I have to do TV shows, I have to talk to radio, I have to do other things that are expected and required of me.
Maybe sometime in the future, since you’re about to become besties with Beyoncé, you guys can tour the States together.
Yeah, maybe. [Laughs] You never know.