Exclusive: Talking with Iggy Azalea

Iggy Azalea

Iggy Azalea

22-year-old Australian rapper Iggy Azalea may not have an album out yet, but she’s easily one of the busiest players in the industry.

Following the viral success of her debut single, “Pu$$y,” Iggy released her inaugural mixtape, Ignorant Art, last fall. Since then, she’s been hard at work recording two new mixtapes (the first of which, Glory, was released earlier this summer, download it for free off her website) and her first full album, The New Classic.

I chatted with Iggy about all of her various music projects, her side career as a model, her feud with Interscope Records and fellow rapstress Azealia Banks, how she responds to critics who are offended by her music, and more.

How do you feel the sound of Glory is different from Ignorant Art or The New Classic

Well, it kind of experiments with the kind of feel that I think Ignorant Art and The New Classic are naturally. I just started working on a new project called Trap Gold, and that’s really experimental. But Glory is all about trying to make songs that have traditional song structure and exploring and collaborating with other artists. I wanted to try to see if I could write the kinds of songs that I always hear on the radio, and that’s not really what I usually do. It’s a little bit more mainstream than a traditional hip-hop record. It’s not really experimental with sound, but I had a lot of fun making it. I’m proud of it and I think I did a good job with it.

But I’m going fairly extreme in making Trap Gold. It’s kind of like I walk in the studio and start making crazy shit that sounds like nothing at all that’s on the radio, or that any kid would probably ever want to listen to. I feel like I’ve been all the way left and now I want to go all the way right. I just really want to be able to do that, and I really want to be able to explore the two extremes before releasing The New Classic, and hopefully I can find some kind of a middle ground.

So Trap Gold is going to come out before The New Classic?

Yeah, Trap Gold is coming out really soon. Like, way sooner than anybody would think. But we all decided I wasn’t going to say when it’s coming out, because I wanted some identity with Glory. Because of my label mishap situation, a lot of the music I recorded earlier in the year kind of got stuck. Stuck in a hole is what it felt like. There were so many people involved in the project production-wise, and people that I was working with label-wise kept pressuring me to try to get the music out. It became like I felt like this mixtape was held hostage.

Now with Trap Gold, we all said the only people working on it are me, my friend Christian who I do absolutely everything with, and Diplo and that’s it.  Nobody else is working on it.  We’re going to put it out, and nobody can fucking stop us. We have this timeline of when we’re getting it done, and it’s really quick, but it’s already August, so I’m working on it every single day. So all I can really think about is I just need to get it done. I loved Glory, but I didn’t feel the same creative kind of freedom as what I did with Trap Gold. With Trap Gold, I just kind of tried to make it, and I don’t want to think about who is expecting it or what anybody is going to think about it.

That’s what I did with Ignorant Art. I put it out when it was ready. There wasn’t a countdown or a release date, or collaboration with a website to put it out, or signing off, or any of that shit. I’m not doing it.  I’m just going to put it out, and you’ll learn the date it’s out, but I’m not going to tell anybody until it’s just out.

Is that label pressure you mentioned part of why you switched from Interscope to Grand Hustle?

Yeah, definitely. I mean, even when I was with Interscope I was still with Grand Hustle, but that’s why I left the whole Interscope situation. Grand Hustle is more like a family. Eventually I will get a major distribution deal through Grand Hustle, and I will release my album like that.

Ever since I started having all these meetings and it became all about dates and getting this done, and then all of a sudden you’ll find – and I’m sure other artists can relate to this – that you’re kind of in a room full of strangers. They didn’t work on anything with you, and you haven’t known them for any time at all, but they pretend that they know everything about your project, and sometimes they convince you that they really do know what’s best. There are so many people that just all of a sudden come down out of a spaceship and they try to control all your creativity. All of the deadlines and stuff – it can really take the spark away from what you’re doing. I felt like I lost the spark, and I felt really lost in what I was doing. All of a sudden I was in these big, fancy studios, with people that I didn’t know, and producers that I didn’t know, and it wasn’t the way that I was used to making songs.

I’m used to making songs in my friend’s garage at the back of his sister’s house. I was used to writing with the same guys every day, and it became routine, and it got taken away, and I didn’t really know how to find my feet. I lost the vibe of it, and made it kind of weird, because I didn’t really know what to do. I didn’t have the team that I made Ignorant Art with because Interscope kind of fucked them over, and they didn’t want to work with Interscope, so I couldn’t work with them on Glory or any of that project.  Now that I ended my relationship with that label, I’m back working with them in L.A., and things feel normal again. I just felt like I got taken so far out of my element, and it made me lose what I felt was kind of special about my music, and I just I didn’t really know what to do. I had to find it and I felt like I was just floating around. Now with Trap Gold and also with The New Classic, I feel like I’m back to kind of what I know, and I’ve learned a lot as well in the last couple of months to where I can progress with my song writing and stuff like that.

You’ve already worked with some really big names in the industry like T.I., B.o.B., Cee Lo, Mike Posner, Pusha T and Diplo. Which of these people has given you the best career advice so far?

Probably T.I. and Pusha T. Pusha T and I have been friends for around two years now, and I really owe him a lot because I’m a really unorganized person. I do things on a whim and I’m just spontaneous. I never really see a lot of things from start to finish because I’ll get distracted and I’ll start something new. Then I met Pusha, and he really pushed me on through, seriously. “You really have to put a project out. Everybody else is putting projects out, and they’re getting recognition for it, and you still don’t have a project. What are you doing? You’re a good rapper, get it together.” It really motivated me to give my all on a project. I had somebody to report back to, whereas before I wasn’t really accountable to anybody. It made me finish. Believe it or not, I finished it, and I feel like he was a big part of why I finished it, to kind of prove to him I can do it. So he taught me a lot, and I kind of feel like if he hadn’t have – if I hadn’t had the friendship with him, I don’t even know that I’d be Iggy or not. There would probably just be a lot of random songs floating around. I’ll always have love for him.

T.I.’s a veteran. He came into my life at a really pivotal point where I feel like I was kind of losing my balance, not really knowing what the hell was going on. I didn’t really recognize any of my surroundings, and it was like, “Ugh, what the hell? Everybody’s talking about me and everybody wants to talk about other things, not music-related,” and I really had a hard time handling all that. He really helped me kind of navigate through that time where now I feel like I can deal with it and that’s thanks to him.

Speaking of T.I., where did the Toddlers & Tiaras feel of the music video for your duet “Murda Bizness” come from?

Well, I just think everybody heard the song “Murda Bizness” and thought it’d be an aggressive song. But I don’t think people really listened to the lyrics, because I had so many people on social media say, “What do you know about killing people?” I thought to myself, “What do you know about the song lyrics? Have you listened to them?”

“Murda Bizness” is just supposed to be about when you’re doing shit. When you go out, and you’re like, “Oh, man, I killed it! I killed it with my outfit, or we just went out and killed it, and everybody else was wack.” Especially when you’re a girl. You’re like that all the time. That’s what it’s about.

I know it sounds like chopping up bodies or killing people or having guns, and I just feel like people heard the word “murder” and they thought that, but I wanted to kind of combat that and show that it’s actually kind of a light-hearted song. It’s actually one that can get at your soul. It’s a silly song. It’s a stupid, nonsensical song, and that’s why I put it out first.

I kind of have an obsession with Toddlers & Tiaras actually, and I watch it all the time, and I think, “Whoa, this is actually the fiercest competition.” Beauty pageants are the fiercest competitions. Their dresses are flashy. They dress flashy just like I do. I want to get flashy and loud and covered in diamonds. All the things that we do in rap and hip-hop, they do it all in beauty pageants. There are a lot of similarities and they take the competition so seriously. They have their little beef with the different toddlers and tiaras, and it’s crazy. I just like that whole idea of it, and involving and addressing competition, which the song is really about.

I read that you’re working with Missy Elliott on The New Classic.  How did the two of you first get in touch and decide to work together?

Well, I don’t even know when it’s going to happen, but I got a friend to sort that out for me actually. He said, “Are there any artists that you’d want to work with?  It would be cool for you to work with some other singers in the industry.” I said, “I love Missy Elliott. I love her videos and she’s so talented.” So he said, “Oh, I’m really good friends with her. I’ll call her and ask her.” He did, and she said “yeah,” but we haven’t been able to work yet because she’s always in a different place than me. It’s hard to find days when you’re kind of working in the same studio, or you can both make it out. She’s also been really busy because she’s working on her own album and a lot of different people’s projects, but working with her is definitely something that I’m going to try to do before I put The New Classic out. That would be awesome.

While we’re on the topic of other female rappers, I have to ask – what sparked the feud between you and Azealia Banks?

I don’t know. She did? It’s not just me – it’s also Lil’ Kim, Nicki Minaj, it’s whoever. B.o.B. told me something about her just the other day. I don’t know. I know with me it started because she just went out one day and said, “I’m better than Nicki Minaj, I had a song about being a Barbie before she ever said she was a Barbie, here’s the link.” Then she said, “I’m better than Iggy Azalea. I wrote a song called ‘Pussy’ when I was 17, way before she ever had one, here’s the link.”  Basically she was saying she was way ahead of all these other girl rappers.

I tweeted her back, and I said, “You know, you should humble yourself because there’s always going to be somebody that’s going to do it better than you.”  There will.  Just like there’s going to be another girl that’s going to do another song called “Pussy.” I’m not the first girl to make up a song about my vagina and neither is she. It’s been done a million times. It’s just about who does it differently, and it’s about really being the first to do that. She wrote back to me, and was like, “Beef!” and ever since then, she just kind of talks shit about me. People will ask me why, and I’ll say, “I don’t really know. I don’t really know what it’s about.” But it’s just how it’s kind of been for a while now.

Earlier this year you signed a contract with Wilhelmina Models, and next month, you’ll be walking in New York Fashion Week.  What has that training process been like for you?

Oh God, I haven’t even really started yet when it comes to the runway stuff. I’ve been shooting a lot, and I’ve been learning a lot about modeling and photography. It’s really hard! I shot a new campaign a few weeks ago and I felt so out of my element. I was in all denim, had no makeup on, no eyeliner, and no lipstick.  It was just all really natural looking. I had my hair down and it was curly, and I looked like a girl. I looked in the mirror and was like, “who the fuck is this person?” and they kept saying, “stop working so hard at being pretty!” It was really difficult but I enjoyed it!

But if I do this, I want to do it properly. I don’t think a lot of people realize that even though I signed to Wilhelmina as an artist, I signed to the women’s division as well. I am working as just a model, not as Iggy Azalea. I’m just a girl, like all the other girls, and I have to go to the casting calls like all the other girls do. There’s no special treatment in that world and I wouldn’t want there to be anyway. They’ll teach me how to walk, and they’re so awesome, because Coco Rocha, who’s my favorite supermodel ever, is signed to Wilhemina. She’s going to help me learn to walk.  She’s the best. I’m really excited for that but I’m also nervous because I’m such a big fan of hers! Hopefully I won’t disappoint her, and hopefully I’ll get all the skills I need.

I’m excited to see it!

Yeah, me too! I’m nervous. Whenever you’re a beginner at something, at least for me, I’ve got to really practice behind closed doors. I’m brand new. At first I thought, “Oh, I’ve experienced it. I’ve done so many photo shoots!” But it’s not the same. No. I learned that when I was in New York. All the movements, having to try to jump up and down and do all this stuff to make clothes look cool … it’s hard.

When you’re taking pictures of yourself as an artist, you’re showing yourself, you’re not selling clothes. But when you’re modeling, you need to learn how to take pictures that sell clothes. But it’s really cool.  I’m having a good time.  I just want to blend in with the other girls. Whenever I go to Wilhelmina’s for model calls, there will be a bunch of models in the hallway, and I’ll always be like, “I don’t fit in with you guys! You’re like, six foot; I’m five-ten, and you have flawless skin, and you’re skinny as fuck,” and I don’t want to be skinny as fuck!

In the regular world, people will say, “you look like a model,” but when I stand in a row amongst models, I’m like “no I fucking don’t and I need to get this shit together.” I don’t want to be walking down the runway and not blend in. I want to blend in. I want to look like a real model.

What is your response to critics who have called your music too graphic and/or sexual?

Different strokes for different folks, I guess. But when did music become politics? When did music become charity? You know what I mean?

Music is art, and look at art, and look at what artists paint about. They paint about everything. Picasso painted about rape, right? Why are some topics off limits? Why am I always supposed to talk about what’s “good?” Why can’t I talk about sex, and why can’t this make you question why it’s not okay? Why is art allowed to talk about all these kinds of risqué subjects, but when it comes to music, apparently we have to be politically correct or along the lines of the authority? It’s still art, it’s still a canvas, and I think that you can talk about whatever the fuck you want in however the hell way you want to talk about it. And I think if you’re too sensitive for my music, then too bad.

Music is my art and I like to say stuff in it. I like to poke fun at society and the fact that people think it’s overtly sexual or crude – I just think that’s funny. Why do words have so much power?  I’ve always wondered that.

Why is it so hard for you to hear me say the word pussy, pussy, pussy? My mom can handle it. My dad thinks it’s my best work. Why is it so hard for some women to hear that word? Why is it that society has all of these different images associated with that word that it’s become so crass and taboo? I’ve never shied away from that type of thing. I would rather make you feel uncomfortable and reconsider it, and at least ask yourself why you feel that way. Because honestly, I think most people can’t answer why that is. I think it’s something that’s been told to us in media and society as we were growing up. I don’t even think we really know why we think that, we just do. It’s like, why don’t you question it, or at least reevaluate? Is this how it should be? I don’t know. I’m not saying that it necessarily is or isn’t, but I’m just saying, ask yourself the fucking question. That’s what art’s supposed to do, right? Make you think.

That’s a really good point.  So is there anything else you’d like to add about Glory or The New Classic before we end?

You know, I’ve had Glory finished since the start of May. It’s been done this whole time and I’m fucking over it now. I’m over it inside of myself, I’m just so over it. I’ve been over it. I like it for what it is, but I don’t think it – I just don’t think it pushes any boundaries, and I don’t think it does make you think, and I do think that’s what art is supposed to do. I’m trying to make something that makes you think, and Glory is just not that. I want to make shit that makes you wonder. I just want people to take stuff from it, and I don’t know what they’ll take from Glory. That’s fucked up that I would say that about my own project, but at least I’m honest.

I’m not afraid to say what’s wrong with what I create, because I’m an artist, and I’m not perfect. I know who Glory appeals to, and I’m sure they’ll be happy that I made it. And I’m happy I made it too. I love a lot of the songs. I especially love “Flash.” That’s my favorite one. I’m really proud of that record, and I’m really proud of “Murda Bizness.” I’m proud of the video and I’m proud that I did it. But I don’t want people to hear it and think, “is this what everything is going to sound like?”  You know? I just want people to know that it’s not, and it will go all the way left and all the way up and all the way down again before you get to The New Classic.

So I just hope people have their opinions, because there will be things that you hear that you probably will hate, that you’ll think is too corny or radio-friendly, and maybe that might be Glory for you. And then there will be some stuff in the middle that you’ll love, and I’m just trying to find the right balance. I’m just trying to share my journey of finding that balance, and when you get to The New Classic, you’ll see it’s called The New Classic for a reason.

Iggy Azalea

Alex has been writing for PopBytes since 2011. As the Theater Editor, he focuses on all aspects of Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regional Theater, and beyond. Alex lives in Western Massachusetts and can be found on Twitter at @AlexKNagorski.