Iggy Azalea is a hip hop anomaly, a rank outsider who gained acceptance in the world of urban music before conquering the pop mainstream. A sassy blonde white Australian who raps in an incongruous Southern drawl, she has nevertheless become one of the most successful rappers of recent times. In 2014 she followed in the footsteps of the Beatles as the only artist to rank at No. 1 and 2 simultaneously on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. That same year her debut album, The New Classic, went to No. 3, yielding four Grammy nominations. Since then Azalea has mostly made headlines for non-musical reasons — including her high-profile relationships, Instagram twerking clips and candid admissions of cosmetic surgery. But she is set to drop a new album in 2017 after two years of delays and setbacks that she has blamed on "personal changes."
Hip Hop Fan With Australian Beginnings
Iggy was born Amethyst Amelia Kelly on June 7, 1990, in Sydney, Australia. Her dad, Brendan, was an artist and children's book author; her mum, Tanya, a cleaner. She grew up in the New South Wales town of Mullumbimby (population 3,000). On an American road trip with her grandparents in 2001, Azalea visited Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and the idea of a life beyond the Australian countryside began to appeal to the young girl.
She got into hip hop around the age of 12 — her favorite artists included Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliott and especially Tupac, whose posthumous 1999 single with Outlawz, "Baby Don't Cry," "made me fall in love with rap music," she told Vogue in 2015. Being halfway around the world from where her favorite music was being made left Azalea feeling isolated, and she turned to the internet to bring her closer to the hip hop community.
Along the way, the aspiring rapper bonded online with another teenager, Derek, who was originally a native from the Bahamas, and whom she came to think of as her only friend. She would send Derek raps she had written and ask what he thought, seeking the opinion of someone much closer to the action. Before long, Azalea was planning another trip to the States.
Iggy Moves to America, Learns Southern Rap Style
Just before her 16th birthday, Azalea headed for the US for two weeks to visit Derek in person for the first time, having dropped out of school. He was living in Miami, and he picked her up at the airport on July 4th. It wasn’t long before she called her parents to tell them she wouldn’t be coming back to Australia, that simply being in the birthplace of hip hop was enough to make her feel at home.
Azalea moved from Miami to Houston before ending up in Atlanta and embedding herself in her cultural surroundings, drawl and all. In 2011 — right after she relocated once again, this time to Los Angeles — she released the mixtape Ignorant Art, its raw and brash sound infused with trap music, a descendant of Southern rap.
The following year she appeared on the cover of XXL magazine's 2012 Freshmen Class issue — the first female non-American rapper to make their Freshmen Class list. The cover sparked a social-media beef with rapper and near-namesake Azealia Banks, who tweeted: "How can you endorse a white woman who calls herself a runaway slave master?" This was a reference to the controversial lyrics in Iggy's song "DRUGS," which the Australian rapper would later apologize for as a "tacky and careless thing to say." To Banks, Azalea replied: "You should just be happy I'm on [the XXL cover] as a woman, for women. And if you want to have an achievement, work, and earn your own achievements."
That same year, Azalea also signed with Wilhelmina Models International, and was subsequently named the "new face of Levi's jeans."
Iggy's 'The New Classic' Album Soars, Grammy Nominations
Her exposure in XXL magazine enabled Azalea to enlist Diplo to produce her next mixtape, TrapGold, which came out in October 2012. The following year she signed to Island Def Jam in the US and Mercury in the UK. Her debut album, The New Classic, came out in April 2014. A chart-friendly blend of trap, dubstep, EDM and pop, it yielded five hit singles — "Work," "Bounce," "Change Your Life," "Fancy" and "Black Widow" — and debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 album chart. A month later, Azalea made music history by occupying both the No 1. and No. 2 positions on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. Her single "Fancy" (featuring British singer Charli XCX) reached the top spot, with Ariana Grande's "Problem," which featured Azalea as a guest, in second place. No act had achieved this since the Beatles in 1964. The New Classic won Azalea four Grammy nominations — for best new artist, best rap album, record of the year and best pop duo/group performance (for "Fancy"). In May 2015, Azalea teamed up with Britney Spears on the single "Pretty Girls."
Love Life, Plastic Surgery, and Her Next Album
Azalea began dating the rapper A$AP Rocky in 2011, getting the title of his mixtape — Live. Love. A$AP — tattooed on her fingers. She had the tattoo removed after splitting with Rocky in 2012. Azalea has been vocal about other cosmetic procedures she has undergone. In March 2015 she told Vogue that she'd had her breasts enlarged, explaining that she had initially shied away from speaking about it because she hadn't wanted other girls to feel bad about their bodies, before concluding that she "wasn't into secret-keeping." A few months later she told Seventeen magazine that she'd had a nose job. "Plastic surgery is an emotional journey," she said. "It's important to remember you can't change everything. You can never be perfect."
She announced her engagement to the LA Lakers basketball player, Nick Young, in June 2015, but ended the relationship 12 months later, citing his alleged infidelity. Her second album, Digital Distortion, was due in 2016 — its first single, "Team," came out in March that year — but the album has been delayed, to give Azalea "time to get my life in order" following the breakup with Young. She also spent time in 2016 as a judge on the eighth season of X Factor Australia.
In March 2016 Azalea announced she had started a company, Azalea Street Productions, which had bought the rights to a number of books and Australian TV shows. Months later in July, she announced a deal to create content — with a focus on social justice and empowering young women — for NBC Universal.
(Profile photo of Iggy Azalea by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
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