by Jasmine Bhatt
Censorship is something that we perceive as being imposed upon a person by an external force or authority; an explicit restriction on the freedom of expression. We see this in journalism, film, the internet and even pornography. The recent list of banned sex acts in British pornography is an example of this, a direct list of things that are now censored. Yet what about censorship that isn’t overtly imposed? What about the censorship that comes about through cultural and social ideals, insidiously “smudging” out the freedom of expression of a certain body of people?
Recently, in an emotional interview with Hot 97, Azealia Banks brought up the issue of what she terms “cultural smudging”. By discussing the issue of Rap and Hip Hop, which originated within African American youth, Banks uncovers a sinister form of censorship that can be seen in the music industry, and the gradual appropriation of these genres by white artists. To illustrate, she uses the examples of Iggy Azalea and Nicki Minaj, and the difference in reception not only from the public, but also from high up institutions such as The Grammys. Banks is infamous for her twitter feuds, which have included both Azalea and Minaj in the past, yet what she says in this interview surpasses all pettiness and actually brings up a sad and worrying truth.
A main point of focus was Azalea’s song “Fancy” becoming “the quintessential rap record”, and the reductive impact this has upon how black rappers are perceived. Banks states that
“I feel, just like in this country, whenever it comes to our things, like black issues or black politics or black music or whatever, there’s always this undercurrent of kind of like a, ‘fuck you…y’all don’t have shit.”
She thus implies that what was once an outlet for expression and identification for black people has been appropriated to the point that they have been “smudged” out; censored in “the shit [they] created for [themselves].” By Iggy Azalea being nominated for The Grammy’s, and Macklemore beating Drake, black people in Hip Hop are starting to be overshadowed by new white artists. Breaking down in tears Banks talks of her identity being exploited, as what she’s “holding on to: Hip Hop and Rap” are slowly being taken away from her. She is not explicitly being stripped of her freedom of expression; but really, what is freedom of expression when no one is listening?
As if this wasn’t enough, Perez Hilton reported the interview as being “a racially charged rant”, completely reducing everything Banks brought up as trivial, petty nonsense – essentially making an issue where one doesn’t exist. She is made into “the bitter black bitch” as she calls it, purely because she has “something to say.” Not only is her expression and cultural genre being taken away from her, but she is shut down and labelled “crazy” whenever she talks about it. She is not censored in terms of her speech being blatantly restricted but if whatever she says is discredited then her power be taken seriously is restricted. It is not the means of her expression but the meaning of her expression that is being denied.
Now of course, no one is saying that Hip Hop should be a solely black genre, but when the winning white artists themselves admit that they are not as good as their black counterparts, it is obvious that there is a problem. For someone such as Minaj to be totally appropriated by Azalea – who then gets recognised by institutions that “are supposed to be accolades for artistic excellence” is worrying, and shows just how at risk black Hip Hop artists are of being “smudged out”.
Jasmine Bhatt is an English and Related Literature student at the University of York