What justifies appropriation?

As described in this article, there was a significant uproar when Macklemore, a white artist, won the 2014 best rap album but not when Eminem won the same award in 2015. The difference in reaction seems confusing.

In the article linked above, Ben Westhoff explains the difference in terms of competition and cultural appreciation. His claims about competition is more credible than his claims about appreciation, because Macklemore and Eminem both recognize the privilege of their race.
Westhoff writes that there was a profound relief when Eminem beat Iggy Azalea in 2015, because Iggy is deeply problematic as we’ve discussed in class. She appropriates without any acknowledgement of the culture she is borrowing from and expresses racist sentiments. In a race with Iggy, anyone is better so no one was going to complain about Eminem winning. In contrast, Macklemore beat Kendrick Lamar, whose album was reviewed as one of the best rap albums ever. Lamar’s album is considered dramatically better. In terms of competition, Eminem was a decent option in a bad field, whereas Macklemore beat a better artist.
Westhoff also says people accepted Eminem’s victory more readily because he has acknowledged the role of race in his success. See the post by EKMEL11, called “A NEW SHAD(Y) ON CULTURAL APPROPRIATION” for a detailed analysis, but in brief, Eminem admits he would have probably sold half as many albums if he was black. Eminem has acknowledged the role of race in his success and seems to be aware of the advantages of his race.
What’s interesting is that Macklemore seems to have a similar awareness, but was still condemned. Macklemore sent Lamar a message after his Grammy win and shared publicly that “”You [Lamar] got robbed. I wanted you to win. You should have. It’s weird and it sucks that I robbed you.” Macklemore has been outspoken about the role of race in his success. He recognizes his advantages, admitting that “just because there’s been more successful white rappers, you cannot disregard where this culture came from and our place in it as white people. This is not my culture to begin with. As much as I have honed my craft…I do believe that I need to know my place.” He is as aware as Eminem of his unfair advantages and regularly communicates that in the media. However, he still faces backlash for appropriation and unfairly winning the 2014 Grammy for best rap album.
It seems like being aware of the culture one is borrowing from is insufficient to escape appropriating. Being vocal about the advantages of being white in America are still not enough. So, that leaves me with the question I started with: what justifies appropriation? It seems that a deep cultural appreciation is insufficient, though it lessens the blow of appropriation. If anyone could help me, I would love to try to build a criteria for what distinguishes appropriation from positive melding of cultures. It seems like cultural appreciation alone is insufficient.

One thought on “What justifies appropriation?

  1. Please excuse some of the language in the following link about Iggy Azalea and Azalea Bank’s feud; although, I suppose that comes with the contentious territory of race relations. http://www.buzzfeed.com/tanyachen/azealia-azalea#.pu66MP5rw8

    Though I am not huge a Eminem fan, his success as a rap artist rests heavily on his lyrical skills and incomparable voice and tone, which makes his production his own brand. Maybe “The Monster” wasn’t his best track, but he is a notable artist.

    I was as shocked as anyone to see that Macklemore’s “The Heist” stole what was–to me–undoubtedly Kendrick’s award. As the article mentioned, “Good Kid, M.a.a.d. City” was a rare flash of genius that comes “once-in-a-generation.” Macklemore’s production was great. It was very popular at college’s across the country and on pop-crossover/Top 20 Hits radio, but it was not the same level of masterpiece as the Compton-grown lyricist. Macklemore delved into sensitive aspects of American culture that rap seldom mentions–same-sex marriage and gay rights. Kendrick made an album that sounded like nothing before it.

    Eminem, Macklemore and Kendrick Lamar are unquestionably great artists (though, I would never rank Macklemore as a better rapper than Kendrick). I don’t think anyone in her right mind would defend Iggy Azalea as a great artist, certainly not a good rapper following her viral rap freestyle video (for your entertainment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkjbGRNggVs). When you combine her lack of talent with a then inexplicable success as a white female rap artist, the next logical question is how?

    Eminem and Kendrick grew up in the birthplace of hip-hop–the authentically downtrodden and disenfranchised U.S. neighborhoods that most white people seldom visit. Macklemore, as he strays from classically hard-hitting rap, presents his own brand as an American kid that fell in love with hip-hop and had his fair share of struggles with drug and alcohol-abuse. Iggy, on the other hand, is a white Australian who grew up in the countryside.

    Her attempts to assimilate black culture into her music are perceived as inauthentic because they are based in recently learned imitation. Justin Bieber underwent similar criticism for trying to “act black,” even though he was a pop artist for teenage girls. Part of the thing that I think helped Justin’s navigation of those attacks was (number one, his ability to actually make audibly pleasing sounds with his mouth) his entourage.

    Justin held a comedy roast with Snoop Dogg, Kevin Hart, Hannibal Burress, and Ludacris, to name a few. He’s made efforts to authenticate his place as a lovable kid, raised by a single, teen mom, who is respected by different greats in many facets of Black culture. Plus, he was signed by Usher who is a likable character in American music culture.

    I’m not saying that Justin is less guilty of appropriation than Iggy, but I don’t think Iggy’s connections to T.I. help her case as figure who is questionably belittling a sect of the American populous. Having a well-known, Atlanta rapper to defend your credentials? Probably helpful. To have that rapper support you while spewing misogynistic terms towards black women? Not so much.

    I do not believe that Iggy Azalea means to insult Black culture. I think the strongest argument for deeming her particular type of appropriation is the distance of her upbringing from the attitudes and actions she’s trying to perform for money. If she sought to learn more of the breadth of hip-hop culture from a better teacher who doesn’t confidently denigrate women, she might be cut more slack.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s