To save money for the music career she wanted to pursue in America, she ditched high school and began cleaning houses and holiday retreats with her mother.
"For four years I did that, all kinds of maid services, says Azalea, who appears in The City today to promote her album "The New Classic," which debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard chart.
The mantra-like bridge in "Work" paints a harsh picture of where she initially wound up: "No money, no family/ 16 in the middle of Miami." And the track's trailer-trashy video, inspired by Quentin Tarantino's slasher film "Death Proof," fills in the rest of the hardscrabble picture.
Yet things have changed for Azalea, 22, who was born Amethyst Amelia Kelly. After living in Florida, she moved to Houston, Atlanta, and eventually Los Angeles, where she now resides.
Now dating Los Angeles Lakers Nick Young, she is signed to Wilhelmina Models, and has a New Face of Levi Jeans deal as well as a spring-summer campaign with online fashion portal Revolve Clothing.
And after several false starts with various imprints, "The New Classic" is out, and it has another hit, "Fancy," featuring Charli XCX, and a campy video based on the movie "Clueless."
"I definitely take a lot of inspiration from film," she says. "Like the way it's shot, or the colors in it, or even a character that makes sense for the song."
Azalea says it made sense to spend her savings on a plane ticket to the U.S. at age 16: "I think I most definitely was a wild child. I've always been pretty independent. I'd dropped out of high school a while before that, I wanted to have a career in rap. So why would I stay around and waste my days?"
She adds, "I do have multiple lives. Every time someone thinks I'm going to die, or thinks I'm not going to make it? My friends always say 'I don't know how, but everything just seems to end up working out for you!'"
IF YOU GO
Where: Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., S.F. When: 8 p.m. today Tickets: $25 Contact: (415) 346-6000; www.livenation.com