Going back all the way to when L.A. Sunshine fat shamed Santa Claus ("Listen bloato in your big fat suit") and even before, hip-hop has gleefully leveraged various prejudices for humor, rhymes, and profit. It's not very surprising, then, that the recent Twitter beef between Snoop Dogg and Iggy Azalea moved instantly into sexist and racist insults. As anyone from Eminem to Nicki Minaj ("All these bitches is my sons…If I had a dick, I would pull it out and piss on 'em") could tell you, that's how you play the dozens.
Here’s what happened. Snoop initially posted a picture of an albino African-American woman with cornrows saying it was "Iggy Azalea No Make Up." Iggy posted a picture of Snoop titled, "When your drug addict aunt gets clean" (she later deleted it). Snoop posted pictures comparing Azalea to Marlon Wayans passing as a white girl in the film White Chicks. As things escalated, some commenters called Snoop out for sexism while Snoop himself posted a default-gangsta threatening instagram video (which is not even a little bit safe for work).
Many articles about the Snoop/Iggy altercation have emphasized its triviality and stupidity. "Nicky Young [a professional basketball player and Azalea's boyfriend], Iggy Azalea and Snoop Dog are Engaged in an Enormously Dumb Beef," Bleacher Report trumpeted, before meticulously detailing every back and forth. In some senses, observers are right—the beef is enormously dumb. But insults, inventive or otherwise, are an integral part of hip-hop, and they can often be revealing.
Snoop's side of the exchange, in particular, unpleasant as it is, is infused with some of the same laid-back, casually vicious intelligence as his raps. The initial picture that started the beef is, again, an albino African-American woman with cornrows. Snoop isn't just dinging Azalea for being "ugly"—he's using a picture of a black woman who looks white to sneer at Iggy, a white woman, for adopting black mannerisms. Iggie "without make-up" is Iggie without blackface. That's the point of comparing her to Wayan too. Just as Wayans is pretending to be white, Iggy is pretending to be black—but, Snoop's saying, she ends up looking like Wayan's stereotypical portrayal of whiteness. Snoop's bottom line is pretty clear: Iggy is not authentic. She's wearing black drag to make herself seem cool—while simultaneously retaining the benefits that come from looking white.
Azalea's response was a good bit more low key, but still was remarkably pointed (especially if you, like me, aren’t much impressed by her rap skills). "Women are supposed to sit back and let men shit on them," she wrote. "If we question it, we are 'emotional', 'butt hurt', or just a BITCH. nothing new tho." A number of writers picked up on that feminist analysis. Shawn Setaro at Forbes, for example, argued that as soon as "Snoop dropped the c-word … the discussion about Iggy Azalea" had to focus on "ugly, unbridled sexism." Setaro argues further that the focus on sexism unfortunately, but rightly, supersedes any question about race and Azalea's position as a phenomenally successful white woman in hip-hop.
But that analysis ignores the fact that discussions of sexism in hip-hop are, and have long been, inseparable from discussions of race. As Anna Saini discussed recently at Black Girl Dangerous, there's a long tradition of white feminist criticism of hip-hop, from Tipper Gore through Emma Watson's recent comments on Beyoncé—a tradition that can be seen as presenting black people, and black sexuality (male or female) as a danger to white women. "White Feminism couldn’t understand why I was convinced It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back had anything to do with my seven-year-old self and my Punjabi immigrant family," Saini writes. The accusation of misogyny against white women has consistently been used as a way to dismiss hip-hop's criticism of, and anger at, racism. The cries of sexism on behalf of Azalea just seem to replicate a familiar script—and only moreso when Nick Young defends his white girlfriend by tweeting that "these old heads turin' into suckas." In other words, the black people who started hip-hop are irrelevant now that white women have taken over. Iggy has arrived with her appropriated black Southern accent, and Snoop Lion and the rest of aging black hip-hop can just crawl off and die in obscurity.
The Snoop/Iggy beef, then, restages a long-standing dynamic in which black men and white women confront each other with accusations of racism and sexism—with black women as the displaced, ignored center of the discussion. In this case in particular, the misogyny directed against Azalea is visible in no small part because of the shock of seeing abuse that is usually reserved for black women suddenly turned on someone who is white. The women who Snoop calls out as "hos" or "beeatch" throughout his career are, typically, black women. In packaging herself (accent and all) as black, Azalea puts herself in the firing line for hip-hop's particular brand of racialized misogyny—though her whiteness means that that racialized misogyny is seen as particularly heinous, and that she is seen as particularly worthy of defenders and protection.
The feud is officially over; T.I., who has worked with Iggy, interceded, and Snoop apologized. That may be a calmer resolution than some folks anticipated. Hip-hop is often called out for its misogyny and violence and even its racism, and as the Snoop/Iggy back and forth shows, it does have issues with all of those things—as does much of the rest of society. But at the same time, the quick resolution suggests that hip-hop, as a community, has often under-acknowledged resources for dealing with those issues. Certainly, compared to the ongoing monstrosity that is #gamergate, Snoop, Azalea, and T.I. come off looking like functional adults. The stupid trivial feud and its resolution are a reminder that hip-hop can think about prejudice, criticize it, and in big ways and small, confront it. Which isn't stupid or trivial at all.