Iggy Azalea on chicken franchising, Australian rap, and learning from Beyonce: An EW Q&A
She’s still only 23, but it’s been a slow burn for Iggy Azalea. Born Amethyst Kelly, she left her home nation of Australia when she was 16 years old to pursue her hip-hop dreams. She’s been on the mix tape radar since 2011’s Ignorant Art, and has already teamed up with the likes of T.I., B.o.B, Mac Miller, Diplo, and Sean Paul.
Her proper debut album The New Classic has been in limbo for a while, but it’s finally hitting store shelves on April 18. Last week, EW caught up with Azalea in Manhattan Peruvian chicken emporium Pio Pio for a talk about art, nipples, and Katy Perry.
Entertainment Weekly: Is it true that you wanted to own your own chicken place?
Iggy Azalea: I still do. Pollo Tropical, in Florida. I wish it would come to L.A., and I’m prepared to franchise if I have to. It’s everywhere in Florida. They’re in Atlanta too, and this year they’re opening in Texas but they’re not in L.A. I mostly just tweet them and harass them—my plan is to harass until they build one. I would buy a franchise but you can’t, there’s some company that has the rights or something. I’d have to be an employee of Pollo Tropical, and I’m not up for that. I have other things to do. But I do like that place.
You grew up in Australia but spent the last seven years in the American South. Does your accent throw people off?
People tend to think I’m American for the first 30 minutes, and then I say something weird and they’ll be like, “Wait, are you from here?” I’ll tell people I’m from Australia and a lot of the time they’ll be like, “I didn’t even notice!” As though I’d be like, [Crocodile Dundee voice] “Oh yeeeeah, thanks for the riiiiide!” I was down south long enough, so it makes sense that there’s a little of that in there as well.
You got into hip-hop as a kid. Is there a hip-hop community in Australia, or were you mostly listening to American rappers?
It was all stuff from the States. There’s a really small scene, a few Australian artists, but I never liked them. There’s a reason why they don’t make it off the continent. A lot of the rappers in Australia that I would have heard then were so stereotypically Australianana that even I couldn’t identify with it. I think a lot of people thought that. It was trying so hard to be Australian that I can’t actually f—ing take it. That’s part of the problem. I don’t think countries are as cut and dry and stereotypical as you think. Not everyone is Crocodile Dundee. In terms of what’s flying up the charts in Australia, it’s American rap music.
So what did you hear that you really responded to?
I loved Tupac. I loved everyone in Death Row. I was obsessed with Death Row, and I hated Bad Boy Records. I took that seriously. I loved OutKast—I still do. Missy Elliott, Lil Kim. J Dilla and Slum Village. I like rap music, man. I like Common, I like Mike Jones. I like Soulja Boy and I like Jay Z. I like all of it.
And when did you start rapping?
I was always into writing. I started writing when I was younger, but not really rap songs, or even songs. I just liked to write. I would write poems and stories that would rhyme. I was into Limericks and poetry, and I loved rap music, and that led me to writing my own songs. I was probably 14 where I decided that’s what I could be writing. But I’ve always liked words.
Do you remember your first rap?
I don’t remember what it was, but I know the first rap song I had was for a guy I liked. I had a crush on him and I really wanted to impress him, so I wrote a rap for him so he could be impressed.
I think so. He seemed impressed. We had a thing going on. I’m sure it was terrible, but he seemed impressed.
You’ve already performed with the likes of T.I., Beyoncé, and Nas. Have you learned anything from being on the road with stars at that level?
Of course. It’s inevitable, unless you’re an idiot. I’ve learned a lot from all of them, and every tour is different. With Beyoncé, I learned a lot about showmanship. Her show surprised me, because I had seen Beyoncé performances with a lot of technology and video screens. But this tour was more of a traditional show. It wasn’t really based on wrapping herself in technology. You could tell watching Beyoncé that she doesn’t need that stuff. I don’t see so much showmanship in rap music. It’s usually a DJ and a rapper walking around. So how can I incorporate some classic showmanship in my own show? Watching Beyoncé’s show over and over again helped me contemplate that. With Nas, it’s almost the opposite, where he’s just focused on rapping. So in that scenario, it was like, “How do I make these people like me? What can I do that’s interesting? How can I be more spontaneous on stage? Can I freestyle? What can I do that’s more lyrical to entertain this audience?” I learned a lot about all that. Touring with him helped me be less structured. I changed my set list up every night. I learned about balance. And with Tip, he’s just so intellectual, more than people would think. He’s always the one who teaches me about business, or being patient. He’s an advisor like that. He’s very well read, he’s very smart, and he could have a conversation with a drug dealer and a scholar. He’s very knowledgeable.
Speaking of patience, your debut album The New Classic has been delayed a few times. How much have you changed the album along the way? Is the version coming out next week the same as the version that was supposed to come out last year?
I think the misconception is that I’ve had an album sitting in a box for two years. But it hasn’t. I started working on my album after Ignorant Art, and that ended up being the Glory mixtape, but that was stuff I worked on for my album. Trap Gold was stuff that began as stuff for my album. I had to put some content out and do a little trial and error. My point is, there’s not stuff from two years ago on the album. I wrote a lot of the material in December 2012 and January 2013. That’s when I wrote most of the songs. “Rolex,” “Work,” “Change Your Life,” those were all done then. Then I came back in 2013 and did a few more tracks in June or July after I got off the Nas tour. I thought I was done then. So it was really only four months of recording. It wasn’t seven years in the making. It’s not a Detox situation. I finished it in June and July on a label budget, and I was supposed to put it out but didn’t because I went on the Beyoncé tour in Australia. When I came back off that, they wanted a Christmas release date, but once I came off the tour I felt like I learned a lot and wanted to make changes to it. So I went back to recording in January. Some songs I tweaked, I changed the hooks or the features or the verses. I added some features, took some away. Just a few small things like that. I met Katy Perry and she gave me “Black Widow,” which she wrote the hook to, and that didn’t even exist until after the EMAs in Europe last fall. The way that it is now, it only got to be like that at the end of January.
How did you end up working with Katy Perry?
We used to have the same A&R, a guy named Chris Anokute. He used to be at her label and now works at my label. I’ve known Chris for years. He used to work in the same building as Interscope in Los Angeles, and I used to go into Interscope and harass him. Like, “I’ll be your intern, I’ll do anything.” So he said, “OK, you can do my expense receipts.” So I would go in once a month and tape his receipts to a piece of paper and photocopy them and scan them into his computer. That’s how I met Chris. Even though I got signed out of the UK, they were still kind of unsure about it in America, but he was like, “No, this girl deserves the chance. She has a story to tell.” He really fought for me, and I feel like he’s the reason why Def Jam decided to give it a try. He has always maintained a friendship with Katy, and he told me Katy liked my music. I was nominated for the Best New Artist video for the EMAs, and he asked her to help me get votes, so she tweeted about how much she loved me and my music. It sparked a bit of a friendship, and I asked Chris if he thought she would do a feature. We tried to find the right record. We worked with Dr. Luke but couldn’t find anything that was right. All the while, everybody would talk about this record called “Black Widow” that was like a legend. Like, it was a Katy Perry record, but somebody else might get it. It was this mysterious record. No one would ever send it over, and I never heard it. So I finally met her in person when I opened for her at the iTunes Festival in London, and she’s really cool. She was finally like, “I have this song called ‘Black Widow’ and I know you’ll be great on it.” She invited me to her after party and she got my number, and she sent me the record. It was just a hook on a beat, but it was so great.
Between that story and your hanging in with the release of your record, you seem very tenacious. Has that always been how you operated, or is that something you had to learn in the music business?
I suppose it’s something I’ve always been. I don’t know why, but things have always been like that for me. I’ve just always felt like whatever I was doing was set in stone and that it was going to happen, no matter what it is. I don’t know why. People around me say I’m a lucky person, and I think I am. I don’t know why, though. Some people just have bad luck in life, and I don’t know why. I don’t know if it’s perception or what. But I always just seem to have good luck. It makes me feel assured. Believing that I have good luck always makes me feel confident.
A lot has been made of your personal style, which is definitely unique but also doesn’t feel so self-consciously curated. Do you have any style icons or role models?
Different days I want to be different people. Today, I wanted to be Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous. That’s how I was feeling, and I think I did that. I love movie characters. Cruella De Vil, she’s my style icon. I like bold women who can be masculine but also seductresses. A power bitch, in other words. Anybody who Helmut Newton photographed. He basically invented the power bitch. I terms of thinking about art direction, or how contrived you make it, I don’t have a team of people I do that with. I think that’s weird. I try to be more relaxed about it. My dad is an artist, and so is my aunt, so growing up I was constantly looking at new stuff. It’s not a high-end thing for me. I don’t think I need to make it an expedition to soak in culture. That’s why for some people it really feels contrived, because it’s something they seek out. I feel like we’re in it, and I’m always in it. It’s an always thing. It’s not like, “Oh, we’re going to go to see blah blah blah,” that seems like such a task. I think that’s why people get scared of art.
You’ve performed a lot on television. Why does doing TV seem so weird for rappers?
I think the instrumentation in rap music is so naturally sampled, and when it’s played by a live band it instantly sounds different. Not that different is bad, but you lose the familiarity with the song that’s popular because it sounds like weird version. And it’s not melodic most of the time, and if you don’t know the words, you can at least love the melody. I think that’s hard for people. When you’re hearing something live, you don’t really hear the words live. Every time I hear a rap song live that I don’t know, I don’t know what the f— they’re saying. I don’t know if I like it or I hate it, because I don’t even know what the f— it is. It really has to be done clearly and crisply. It gets very messy when you don’t know it. At least when you sing, there’s a melody you can grasp on to.
So what’s your plan for your appearance on Good Morning America on April 22?
It will be weird. I can guarantee you that. My approach that I’ve had this round for live performances on TV is to create vignettes of the [“Fancy”] video, because it’s something people can at least relate to visually. If they can’t sonically relate to the song, then what can be familiar to the person watching? So I think doing the vignette of the video for each performance is a cool way to do it. It gives them something to associate with. Like, “Remember this video you saw? Here it is live!” Plus people recognize Clueless, so that gives them another thing to hold on to.
A lot of pop stars have trouble with the transition to morning television.
It’s just so weird, right? That sort of thing shouldn’t be happening that early. Like, “Here’s a nipple!” And I’m like, “I’m eating my breakfast.” I won’t be doing that.
You did a track with Steve Aoki called “Beat Down.” What’s your interest in dance music?
I think it’s different on its own, but I think when I rap over dance music, that’s hip-hop. Anything can be sampled, and sampling is one of the core things of musically producing hip-hop, and that could be anything. It could be this restaurant, a car running past, soul music. But why can’t it be EDM? Diplo has proven you can sample EDM and still make it sound really rappy. Half the time I think people don’t even realize that Diplo songs sample dance music. You can’t hate electronic music but also like Diplo. It just depends on how you create it. If there’s a dance beat that you’re rapping over the top of, you’re not really curating something. But taking it apart and figuring out certain elements of it, it can be rap music.
With your album coming out, do you feel pressure to plan the next thing? Do you have a five year diversification plan?
Ah yes, “diversification.” That thing. I have goals, but that’s not me caring to be diversified. The problem with people knowing who you are is it turns you into a big cartoon who wears the same outfit and says the same punch lines every day. One thing that appeals to me is the ability to be another character for a minute. So I kind of am interested in other things, not because I want to be mega famous and be in movies and have an album and a fashion line of shoes. Not for that reason, but purely for the perspective of, “Wouldn’t it be fun to play a different version of yourself?” I’m interested in that. But I don’t know what my immediate plans are. I know I’ll put out another album. I said to myself earlier this year that I didn’t want to rush into another album because I needed to live some life before doing it again. But I’m sitting here thinking,” What will I do after July?” And the answer is I’ll probably record my album.
“Iggy” is the name of a childhood pet and “Azalea” is the street your mother lives on. Did you consciously use the Porn Name Formula to create your stage name?
I did not. I didn’t know that was a porn name. I guess it’s a happy accident. People like pornos, so hey, I suppose it’s a good thing. But I never heard of that until I explained the name to people. I know now. But my porno name wouldn’t even be Iggy Azalea. It would be Ed Myocum, actually. I didn’t grow up on Azalea Street, it’s just where my mom lives now. I grew up on Mayocum Downs. And my first pet was Ed. Ed Mayocum just doesn’t have the same ring to it. I always thought that if you’re giving yourself a nickname, it should be relevant to you. Iggy actually has something to do with me.
It’s not like, “Oh, my name is Lil Cocaine.” It’s always something like that. Like, what does cocaine have anything to do with you, really? Or like, “I’m Tiffany Santana.” Like, can we name ourselves after anything but a drug or a gangster? I wanted to have something that was relevant to my family and where I’m from. So I picked Azalea because it’s femine, and it’s got a Z in it. Letters matter. I hate Y’s and G’s, they look horrible. Azalea, that’s nice. It helped me fix it up. But now I know I’m a porn star.