Aussie rapper Iggy Azalea made waves in 2014 with her debut, The New Classic, proving her crossover potential with the pop hit “Fancy” with Charli XCX, and her spirited collaborations with stars like Ariana Grande and Rita Ora. Her 2019, however, is dedicated to getting back to the dirty South-inspired mixtape roots that die-hard Azaleans came to love before her mainstream introduction. Enter her first full-length project in five years, In My Defense.
“I do mix those [pop] elements, but I don't consider myself a pop star — I consider myself a rapper; that's how I came in,” she tells Billboard. The striking 29-year-old sits cross-legged on a plush, ash-colored couch while admiring Times Square just outside the window. “With In My Defense, I wanted to hit back sonically and say, ‘Well, in my defense: I am a rapper, this is my rap project,’ and ‘In my defense: these are my roots, this is my sound, and it's not what [mainstream] thinks.’ It's not supposed to be so literal.”
While she admits that she expects criticism for what some may perceive as a misleading title, Azalea remains unbothered (a theme across the 12-song album). On In My Defense, fans can find tracks such as the piano-heavy viral sensation “Sally Walker,” as well as “Started,” which finds her talking her shit as she details her rise from underdog to Best in Show. “Organic” assists from Lil Yachty, Juicy J, Bad Dreams records signee Stini and the “underrated” Kash Doll help to whet the voracious appetite of her fans, who have been waiting for years for a new album from the 5’10” fireball.
“All of the mixtape fans have something new that they can love as much as they loved the earlier stuff,” she says of her latest project, which was largely produced by frequent collaborator J. White Did It. She says the album should bring back memories of her mixtapes, 2011’s Ignorant Art and 2012’s TrapGold. “A lot of those [fans] really still rode for me and were happy for my mainstream success, but I don't think that they really felt satisfied with [The New Classic]. In My Defense is a little more polished, but this sounds like the same girl from those tapes. That's what I wanted, and I'm really happy with it.”
The road to In My Defense was bumpy, but in the grand scheme of Azalea’s story, worth the struggle. Issues with her former label Def Jam prohibited her from releasing a proper album — her highly-anticipated album Digital Distortion was shelved after being teased for years. However, no one puts Iggy in a corner. She left her then-label Island Records in November 2018 and signed a multi-year partnership with EMPIRE shortly after, where she was given the power to own her masters, create her own label (Bad Dreams Records), and be the boss she long wanted to be.
“I never thought I would have my own record company,” she says with a laugh. “I never really aspired to do that — I just always thought of myself as a creative person. But as I got older, I think I realized, 'Actually… you're getting fucked. Why aren't you your own boss?’ If you don't have control of your business, it means you don't have control of your art, you don't have freedom in that.” Through Bad Dreams, Azalea is excited to collaborate with Stini and her other signees, and is most eager to empower other women to make intelligent business and career decisions.
“I don't wanna pigeonhole [Bad Dreams] as a ‘girl's label,’ because it's not,” she says, “but I really want to give women that opportunity to find their voice, because we so often feel like we go and get these deals, and we are in a room full of men. There’s a generational gap, and I don't think they're understanding what we're communicating or the point of it…. These are young girls, and they have ideas that are new and fresh — even to me — and perspectives that should be fucking heard.”
She’s equally hands-on when it comes to the creative direction of her music videos. Throughout the years, Azalea has gifted fans with memorable visuals, which often include nostalgia-driven homages to pop culture; the video for her early track “Murda Bizness” found her acting as a Go Go Juice touting, Toddlers & Tiaras-esque stage mother, and her latest video “F**k It Up” features her and Kash Doll showing out on their peers a la Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.
“I think ‘Fancy’ was a hit because of the video,” she says of the Clueless-themed visual. “Without that video, I don't even think I would have had a Top 40 song. I always really believed in the power of the visual — they drive a song nowadays. That's how we consume everything, and it's also another element of explanation for what your intention is. When there's a good visual attached to [a song], it has the functionality that makes you fall in love with the song more.”
In this era, Iggy is also using her videos to highlight some of her talented friends. Both “Sally Walker” and “Started” feature cameos from some of the stars of the hit show RuPaul’s Drag Race, including Mayhem Miller, Trixie Mattel, and Vanessa Vanjie Mateo. While it appears there’s been a trend of putting queer artists and entertainers in music videos as of late, Azalea — who acknowledges her fan base is “like 90 percent” LGBTQIA+ — has been including them to highlight a community very dear to her heart.
“I've always been friends with so many members of the community — I feel welcomed by them, they know that I fuck with them,” she says, smiling. “I've known the [Drag Race] queens and a lot of people like them. I want more people to discover [queer artists] because they should have more platforms. They should have more credit, and they should be taken more [seriously] than what they are, because they're awesome, and I love them.” Her allyship doesn’t end there. During this year’s Chicago Pride Music Festival, she paused her set to read statistics regarding transgender inequality and to bring awareness about the trans women of color who have been murdered in 2019 (“I don't wanna say the wrong thing or say something that offends anybody, but I don't wanna say nothing,” she recalls of the moment).
Fans of Azalea can sleep well knowing that the Grammy nominee isn't finished with them just yet. She says she’ll be going on a “mini-tour” to promote In My Defense, and in August, she’ll start working on her next album, which will feature production from J. White.
“The thing I love so much about before I was signed was that I would put out a project, like, every six to eight months,” she says. “I wanna be one step ahead of it like I used to be, and I don't want this to die down and have to think about what's next for me, or what's the next sound.”
Regardless of the headlines and controversies that have followed her, Iggy Azalea is standing tall. While she says her growth in the five years leading up to her album wasn’t “a smooth transition,” the rapper is working on letting negativity roll off her shoulders in order to live and work on her terms.
“I fought [the negativity] for so many years, until there was nowhere for it to be trapped or contained anymore,” she says. “I still get frustrated — I'm a person — but I think I've just accepted [the stuff that I see] more now, that it is what it is. The more I get back out there and go out in the world, having shows, seeing my fans and the people that the shit that I do does resonate with, it makes all of that stuff matter so much less.”
“It hasn't stopped or gotten better, I don't think there's anything I can do to combat those things,” she continues. “But there are things that I can do to make my reactions [to criticism] something that isn't just wasted energy.”