On Sunday night, there is a decent chance that Iggy Azalea will become the first solo female artist to win the Grammy for Best Rap Album. She is only the fifth woman ever nominated in the category. Missy Elliott has been nominated four times, while Eve and Nicki Minaj have each been nominated once. (Lauryn Hill is the only woman who has ever taken home a Rap Album statue, but for her work with the Fugees; the Grammys considered The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill an R&B album.) The Grammy rap categories are relatively new, and Best Rap Album dates back only to 1996 — but that’s still long enough for the category’s gender gap to become downright cavernous. Out of 102 total nominees in the category’s history, 94 have been men or all-male groups. To put it another way, there are as many Best Rap Album Grammys on Eminem’s mantle (he’s won five) as there are women who have even been nominated in the category.
These statistics are egregious, backwards-thinking, and infuriating. But not enough to make me root for Iggy.
It’s not that she’s white. The Beastie Boys were white. Eminem is white. Both garnered respect within the rap world partially because they never tried to hide that fact in their music — even when they risked sounding gawky, soulless, or square, they always seemed at peace with their identities. Their appeal hinged upon that sense of acceptance. Iggy is another story. A little while ago, a year-and-a-half-old clip of her appearance on “Sway in the Morning” went viral. Sway surprises her by laying down a beat and asking her to freestyle; for a second, before she’s composed herself, she makes a face like she’s just caught a whiff of stale milk. “I cannot give you a hot 16 to this hood-ass beat,” she says, looking around the studio nervously; she compromises by spitting a few rehearsed (and weak) a cappella bars of “New Bitch,” a song off her debut album The New Classic. This clip went viral not because Iggy Azalea can’t freestyle; plenty of other popular rappers would have refused in that context. (I can’t imagine someone putting Kanye on the spot like that and living to tell the tale.) The clip went viral because of how ill at ease she looked in her own skin, in that moment that she was asked to go off-script. It went viral because it starkly illustrates the difference between her speaking voice and her rapping voice. It’s not that she’s white — it’s that she’s a white girl turning her “blaccent” on and off with a disturbing ease.
So it’s especially troubling to think that the Grammys might honor this kind of “artistry” in a year when so much of our larger cultural conversations have concerned the erasure of black voices and the devaluing of black lives. Iggy is still young, and she didn’t grow up in America, but at every opportunity she’s had to redeem herself by owning up to her ignorance, she’s only dug herself into a deeper hole. When people ask her questions about race, she gets defensive, doesn’t want to listen. After Azealia Banks called her out for her silence over Ferguson and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Iggy tweeted, “Now! rant, Make it racial! make it political! Make it whatever but I guarantee it won’t make you likable.” Ironically, this tweet did not make Iggy any more likable either.
The main reason that The New Classic should not win a Grammy, though, is that it is a total slog. Listening to it bums me out. Iggy’s flow is joyless; her lyrics feel shapelessly one-size-fits-all, like inspirational quotes copied from a high-school guidance counselor’s bulletin board (“Impossible Is Nothing”), perhaps with an au courant “bitch” added on the end for good measure. There is something dour, empty, and unforgivably generic about this album. I can’t get a feel for the human at its center, but she also hasn’t crafted a persona intriguing enough to distract me from its lack.
In a Jezebel piece brilliantly titled “Iggy Azalea: Dumb Or Evil? A Brief Investigation,” Kara Brown addressed the argument that it is un-feminist to criticize Iggy — after all, she’s a wildly successful woman in a genre where female voices have been all too rare. “[I]t would be far less reasonable to give powerful women a pass on their behavior just because they are women,” she wrote. “Supporting women means taking them seriously enough to call out patterns of racism that draws from and influences an insidious, larger racism that still infects American culture.” We can’t grade Iggy on a curve just because the industry has been slow to honor the achievements of other, more talented women. It’s far more feminist to hold her to the same standards of artistry as her male peers.
I believe we’re finally on the cusp of a moment in which female rappers are commanding unprecedented respect, and I would love a Rap Album win that feels in step with this shift. But the thought of Iggy Azalea being the first woman to reap the rewards of this transformation fills me with the same kind of dread I had in the darker days of the 2008 presidential campaign; Iggy Azalea is basically the Sarah Palin of rap. Next year’s list of eligible nominees is already looking promising and more female-friendly: Nicki Minaj’s Pinkprint and Azealia Banks’s Broke With Expensive Taste both deserve to be serious contenders — and how perfect would it be if Missy Elliott’s hopefully forthcoming comeback album nabbed the award? I’ve got my fingers crossed that a woman will finally win that golden shotglass soon. Just not this year.