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Will the real hip-hop artists please stand up?


The game is the game.

Whether you were a fledgling Marlo Stanfield, sitting in a steel visitor’s room seat, responding to a question about the state of affairs on the drug permeated streets of West Baltimore, delivering the line to Avon Barksdale through a plate glass partition, or media executive and Hot 97 “Morning Show” co-host, Ebro Darden, intimating as much to an emotionally charged, visibly frustrated Azealia Banks about the misappropriation of Black culture (specifically, Black music) the message appeared to be the same: Things are happening as one should expect — it’s the status quo.

In an interview with Darden and the Hot 97 “Morning Show,” Banks was asked “how things went sideways” with Grammy-nominated Australian artist Iggy Azalea. The “212” rapper responded with an insightful criticism of the culture of capitalism in America and how its roots in slave labor are still being exploited by corporations, most notably, the music industry. “Everybody knows that the basis of modern capitalism is slave labor,” she contended. “There are still huge corporations caking off that slave money.”

One source of Banks’ frustration was the multiple hip-hop Grammy nominations for Grand Hustle’s most lauded artist, Iggy Azalea. Banks’ opinion is that Azalea should be judged against pop artists like Katy Perry or Miley Cyrus. “I have a problem when you’re trying to say that it’s hip-hop or trying to put it up against Black culture,” Banks protested.”The Grammys are supposed to be accolades for artistic excellence. Iggy Azalea is not excellent.”

Hot 97’s other co-host, Peter Rosenburg, then issued an apology of sorts. He had previously criticized Nicki Minaj for her pop song “Starship” but embraced Azalea’s segue into hip-hop with her multiplatinum single “Fancy.”

“There is something here … that makes me feel somewhat guilty,” stated Rosenburg. “I attacked Nicki’s pop record … I didn’t attack Iggy’s record. I didn’t know the level of cultural appropriation we were watching at the time.” Rosenburg went on to say, “In terms of her then being embraced and ‘Fancy’ becoming the quintessential rap song, that sucks.”

“But this ain’t the first time,” argued Darden,”so what I say to this and what I always look at it is — don’t y’all know the drill?”

Banks’ frustration brimmed over and she launched into a tearful polemic about the public outcry against two grand juries’ failure to indict police officers involved deaths of unarmed Black men.  Ferguson, Missouri, teen Mike Brown; and choking victim Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York both died at the hands of police officers who were later absolved of any charges. She questioned the timing of the recently publicized accusations against Bill Cosby, and the “smudging” of Black culture while these issues are in the forefront..

“Until y’all m———ers are ready to talk about what y’all owe me, whether the number is seven trillion or eight trillion or nine trillion, at the very f—ing least, y’all owe me the right to my f—ing identity and to not exploit that s—. You get what I’m saying? That’s all we’re holding on to,” she whispered in angst, “hip-hop and rap.”

Grammy award winning hip-hop artists Macklemore and Eminem.

I have to be honest. Prior to that interview, I knew almost nothing about Banks. Now, I feel like I know the most relevant things about her. She’s conscious. She’s intelligent. She’s passionate. She loves herself and Black culture. And she’s fearless. but, herein lies the rub: who is hip-hop’s gatekeeper? How do we pick and choose who to let in? Who decides which nonblack artist gets to call him or herself a rapper and who gets labeled as an encroacher? Can we really embrace Eminem but shun Macklemore? Is the outrage about cultural appropriation in hip-hop actually about social class and culture or is it about race? If Iggy Azalea speaks out on #handsupdontshoot, dons an #ICantBreathe T-shirt, or posts a #Blacklivesmatter declaration on Twitter, will that grant her license to market herself as a hip-hop artist? There are no easy  answers to these questions and I don’t profess to have any because as one might imagine, hip-hop really isn’t as simple as Black or White.