Iggy Azalea’s song “Work” is her version the oft-required struggle narrative for rappers. Moving up from nothing (or starting from the bottom. Sorry, couldn’t help it!) and paying homage to that is a standard trope in hip-hop, though there are varying degrees of sincerity in the execution of that.
Iggy does have a very captivating origin story, earning money through labor jobs to move from Australia to the United States when she was a teenager. Her desire to be a part of the hip-hop community was what solidified her decision to live in the U.S., and she spent time in cities that have a prominent hip-hop scene like Houston, Atlanta, and Miami, before eventually moving to L.A. Her inspiration and connections in the hip-hop industry are decidedly southern rap, noted by association with T.I. and Grand Hustle Records. She eventually decided to move on from Grand Hustle, (it’s not 100% clear why, besides differing views on how her debut album should sound), but for a rapper of Australian origin, she takes a lot from southern sound and imagery.
Her video for “Work” is a Coyote Ugly-esque rags to slightly better rags story that’s prominent in southern mythology. Iggy says the video is a reflection of her life and story, but the video for “Work” clearly depicts a desolate, American southland, and not her hometown of Mullumbimby. The mobile homes, honky tonks, and semi trucks are all symbols of the south, and it’s interesting that Iggy co-opts them to show her own struggle. When people think of the south they don’t think of the gentrification of Austin or the upper class in Dallas, but the poverty and rural despair of unnamed southern towns. Strangely, Iggy depicts the south as a place to escape from, even though it was her first destination after she crossed the ocean.
A lot of it has to do with class. Rising from the rural south to move to Hollywood (as she does in the end of the video), has implications beyond the literal. Iggy “works her way up” to a place of higher living and finery, wearing iconic red-backed Louboutins while she’s at it. While there maybe be some truth in there (Iggy did have to work her way to Hollywood), it’s largely obscured by the common trope of the desolate, dirty south, which, as a prominent symbol of the struggle, is useful for Iggy’s image.
This isn’t the only video where Iggy references the American South. In “Murda Bizness” she and T.I. are parenting a very southern beauty pageant competition.
Iggy adopts a faux-genteel southern accent while pumping a kid full of sugar in order to do well in the competition. The reference is to Honey Boo Boo, the southern girl on Toddlers and Tiaras who later got her own show, having gained recognition from being an unapologetically uncouth oddball.
There’s a reason why Iggy regularly references the south, but it’s not particularly pleasant. The way she uses “lower class” and “southern” as interchangable is a continuation of many southern stereotypes, particularly those that paint southern lifestyles as uncivilized. In the video for “Work” she uses it to her advantage to gain credibility, but in “Murda Bizness” it’s used more for comedic relief. Either way, it doesn’t ring true, particularly when coming from an Australian rapper.