Iggy Azalea Elevates Her Crude and Crass Hip-Hop Stylings on ‘In My Defense’

Iggy Azalea shot to fame with her 2014 debut “The New Classic.” She caused a commotion, and suffered some scathing backlash, raising questions about the meaning of authenticity and the parameters of free expression in mainstream hip-hop. Issues with Def Jam led to the shelving of a whole album, and Azalea’s eventual move to Island Records, under whom she released her “Survive the Summer” EP just under a year ago. As uncompromising as you might expect from her brash rapping delivery, she has now ditched labels altogether, and released her second album, “In My Defense,” independently. While self-aggrandizing and puffery is beyond tired subject matter in hip-hop, Alzalea has specifically described her new album as designed to “make you wanna say fuck you to your own reflection for ever doubting you.” In this respect, it certainly delivers. 

Azalea gets straight to business on opener “Thanks I Get.” A hard, hi hat-heavy beat drops, and she comes through guns blazing, taunting her critics, and boasting away in an effective statement of intent. She mentions having simultaneously occupied both numbers one and two on the Billboard charts in 2014 , for “Fancy” and “Problems” respectively, the first artist to do so since the Beatles. According to her, she’s “the one that made it possible for you to get a deal,” although that sounds a little more like, say, Nikki Minaj or Cardi B. “Clap Back,” like most of the album’s tracks, uses the tried-and-tested combination of crisp drum machine sounds and dark, minimal piano for its beat. It’s a sound that has floated around since the days when the “dirty south” sound was actually limited to the “dirty south,” making its first somewhat mainstream flashes in singles like Dirty’s 2001 “Hit Da Floe.” Azalea could hardly have adopted a more suitable style for her strain of rap, considering that she goes so far as to use words like “finna,” demonstrating a commitment to craft that marks only consummate hip-hop professionals of the highest rank. She seems to address this point, rapping, “They be saying Iggy tryna act black / Hatin’ broke hoes get laughed at.” To be accurate, she isn’t acting black, as much as acting hood — which is the way this music is generally meant to be delivered. 

Lead single “Sally Walker” repurposes the nursery rhyme of that name, and it’s fair to say Azalea’s version takes some liberties from Leadbelly’s rendition. In this case, “little Sally Walker” refers to rapper Bhad Bhabie, who, for some reason, accosted Azalea at a fashion party, by throwing water at her. To this, Azalea, explains, “She didn’t know what to do, so she jumped in front of me,” before going on to shrug it off, encouraging, “Go on, girl, do yo thang.” This encouragement escalates into full striptease fare, with Azalea calling out, “Bend it over, make it wobble,” simultaneously mocking Bhabie’s cries for attention, and condoning the whole display in good fun. After all, twerking and all its associated, bona fide trashiness is the name of the game with Azalea, as she proceeds to make clear on “Hoemita,” with refrains of “Drop it down low, then pop it.” The track is a standout for Lil Yachty’s appearance, with his hushed, monotone, half-awake verse setting a new standard for how chill a rapper can conceivably sound. 

If anything about Azalea calls for censure, it’s the obnoxiously lazy “borrowing” of phrases that characterizes her work. While dropping references to precedents in earlier songs is part of the art of hip-hop, there’s nothing too artful about the way Azalea does it. A song on her last album based its chorus on that of Wu-tang’s “C.R.E.A.M,” and another on Tony Basil’s “Hey Mickey.” Now, in “Started,” she starts her refrain saying that she “started from the bottom,” as did Drake in his 2013 single of that very name. In this case, it’s no egregious offense, as Azalea adopts merely the words, not the tune or particular phrasing. Still, the fact that she is yet again quick to present a key line from someone else’s single as a key line of her own song doesn’t speak too highly of her. Elsewhere, Azalea takes a slight jab at Eminem, claiming, “I’m just tryna get them M’s and I ain’t talkin’ Slim Shady.” Eminem has taken a few lighthearted shots at Azalea before, for instance on “The Ringer” from last year’s “Kamikaze,” in which he rapped, “MGK, Igg’ Azae’, Lil Pump, Lil Xax… I should aim at everybody in the game, pick a name.” It seems to all be done with relatively good sportsmanship, however.

 “Spend It” is a song about, well, spending. At this point, Azalea is turning out tracks ostensibly designed to be as silly and vapid as possible. It’s a winning formula, although it can get both funny and awkward when she throws in lines like “I bought a wedding ring / That’s ’cause I’m married to the game.” Rappers love to express their dedication to music by claiming to be “married to the game.” Kanye West’s used the exact phrase on 2007’s “The Glory,” as did Eminem on 2010’s “Not Afraid.” But Azalea? Her whole appeal stems largely from the fact that her whole act just seems like a bit of fun, as if she doesn’t take it all too seriously. If you need any further proof, just consider the third single, “Fuck It Up,” and the following track “Big Bag.” Both infectious cuts devoted to little more than the emphatic delivery of the titular phrases, they showcase Azalea at her best. 

It’s only time before this formula gets old, so Azalea makes sure to throw in slight variations, as on ““Comme des Garçons,” in which she delivers a considerable share of her lyrics in a raspy whisper, giving it a decidedly different, earthy feel. Finally, she devotes the ultimate triptych to the crassest strain of sex songs. “Freak of the Week” features rapper Juicy J, and samples one of J’s own most celebrated productions, Three Six Mafia’s 1999 single “Slob On My Knob.” Azalea keeps the tradition going, with a refrain of “Baby, give me brain.” This pales in comparison, however, to “Just Wanna,” which samples Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It,” and get’s, let’s just say, gratuitously explicit. For good measure, Azalea rounds it all off with closer “Pussy Pop.” She scrapped the original track slotted for the album’s closing spot, a relatively tender and motivational song called “I Know.” “Pussy Pop,” is needless to say, a far more appropriate choice.

“In My Defense” is an ideal album for strip clubs with an “urban” sensibility, ironic or otherwise. It’s also noteworthy for the unapologetic boldness with which it embraces and exalts all things crude and crass. Azalea struts in the intersection of a venn diagram involving gansta rap and barbie doll frivolity. Now that she’s an independent artist, she can take this as far as she likes, and there’s no telling how far she’ll go. Judging from this album, it might not be long before this gimmick fizzles out, as the act is already feeling the strain of its own weight. Azalea could use plenty more originality and variety in her music. As a performer and provocateur, however, the new album proves her an absolute master.   

In My Defense” is available July 19 on Apple Music