Iggy Azalea’s ‘Survive the Summer’ Is All Southern Slurring and Sample Snatching
Aussie rapper Iggy Azalea is an outrageous, polarizing figure, provoking both love and hate, and more than anything, confusion. She raps in the tradition of Lil Kim and Foxy Brown, sets heads nodding and bodies twerking, and inspires heated debates about the line between novelty music and authentic art. She was all the rage in 2014, upon the release of her debut studio album, “The New Classic,” but disappeared completely from the spotlight. While she is still best known for her hit singles with Charlie XCX and Ariana Grande, her new EP, “Survive the Summer,” has a markedly less pop focus, jettisoning the sparkling sing-along choruses. That said, it’s still on the pop end of the hip-hop spectrum — slick, sharp, glossy productions, accessible tunes, the typical lyrical fodder. But it’s more straight-up hip-hop than hip-hop-flavored bubblegum.
As anyone who has heard Azalea before would expect, the new record is extremely Southern and extremely hood. How exactly an Australian manages to make these sounds might forever remain a mystery. It seems like it involves a lot of lip curling, something like grunting, and other mouth gymnastics. This is clearly a highly specialized art form, and there are times when things can go awry and sound awkward, for instance in the opening bars, when Azalea comes across somehow sounding a bit like Aesop Rock, out of all people. In moments, however, she’s settled comfortably into character, and remains in top form for the rest of the record.
Azalea has been mercilessly vilified for “cultural appropriation,” as she is a blonde Australian who sounds like a black girl from the dirty south. If this concerns you, perhaps you should ask yourself whether you point your finger at Mick Jagger, who has consistently designed his vocals to sound not only American, but specifically Southern African American, in the style of the Mississippi Delta Blues. In fact, the vast majority of pop singers from foreign countries who sing in English are imitating American accents — some considerably better than others. And if you feel that singing is only authentic if done in a singer’s natural voice, you might be very displeased to find that death metal vocalists who growl and shriek on stage do not do so when conversing. They have appropriated the culture of fictional demons and witches, and the fictional creatures are deeply upset about it.
While coming from a background doesn’t give you exclusive rights to a certain sound, it does give you more of an excuse for saying certain things. This brings us to a quality of Azalea’s music that is, arguably, more cringeworthy than her accent mimicry and vocal stylings. Consider her new song “Kream,” which samples a segment from Wu Tang’s seminal ‘90s hit, “C.R.E.A.M.” Granted, hip-hop is a sampling sport, and sampling, itself, is not an issue. But Azalea samples the key line of another song’s chorus for her own chorus. And all she adds to it are the words “cash,” “ass,” and “bags,” repeated a couple times. This is a new low in creativity. What makes this worse yet is that the sample is of the lyric, “Cash rules everything around me.” Considered objectively, this is a rather obnoxious thing to say — to brag about being so narrow minded, materialistic and superficial that everything else takes a backseat to the dollar bill. Method Man, who penned the lyric, grew up in the housing projects of Staten Island. Coming from him, the words are understandable. They express the motivation of an actually realized rags to riches story. Coming from someone with a middle class background, however, it doesn’t have the same allure. It can still be badass in an Ayn Rand-aspirations sort of way, but it comes across as a little tacky. Then again, this style of music purports to be nothing except tacky, so maybe it’s a badge of honor after all.
On “Hey Iggy,” Azalea once again steals a chorus from another song, Tony Basil’s 1981 cheerleading ditty “Hey Mickey.” This time, she sings the chorus herself, and substitutes the name “Iggy” for “Mickey,” but still, seriously, WTF? Even in a genre of music that prides itself on the virtue of shamelessness, such comfortably blatant copying, for two tracks back-to-back, is an unprecedented feat. That said, there is a lot to enjoy on this album. In fact, apart from the aforementioned quibbles, everything is quite outstanding. Azalia has what she does down. She’s a master of her craft, if you will. Regardless of how you feel about what she does, she does it well. On each of the new songs, she sounds consistently confident, always hardcore and full of attitude. The production is flawless, and the instrumentals suit Azalea well. “Tokyo Snow Trip” is an exciting flurry of stops and starts, with growling bass and cowbells, over which Azalea alternates between somewhat scary whispering and bawdy baller talk. “Kream” is built on a bassline with a vaguely UK garage quality, with occasional cash register chimes that make all the difference. “Kawasaki” has a killer beat, with offset clicks and clanks panned and spaced like shifting gears, creating an exhilaratingly raw rhythm that really brings out the edge and grit in Azalea’s delivery.
On the whole, “Survive the Summer” is utterly unoriginal, but otherwise flawless. It’s a tired, played-out sound from beginning to end, but it’s a sound that Azalea has nailed. It’s crude, crass, vulgar, and gaudy, which is to say it’s overwhelmingly a success. It can be a bit of a cringefest, so the faint of heart should proceed with caution, but anyone who enjoys the sound of dirty south hip-hop will find thrilling moments. The beats are harder, Azalea sounds rawer, and it’s all a bit of fun.
“Survive the Summer” is available Aug. 3 on Apple Music.