A Close Reading Of Azealia Banks

I’d never heard of Harlem-bred rapper Azealia Banks until one of my students did a presentation on her buzzworthy and cunnilingus-focused single “212” in a class I taught on dance music and club culture in New York. I told the class they could bring in a song from any era, just so long as they could show how it advanced some type of argument about dance music. “212,” where we’re oh-so casually informed that a cunt is getting eaten (!), was the perfect song to talk about because it opens up so many questions, like the relationship between hip hop and house, and music and sampling in the digital era.

Music heads know that Banks’ first single, where she sings and raps in this “Valley Girl” voice, unapologetically samples “Float My Boat” by Lazy Jay. Samples it as in… makes virtually no changes to it at all. This, of course, gets everybody thinking about music and authenticity, originality, and even how legal it is to just steal somebody else’s beat, throw some rhymes on top of it and call it your own.

This time last year, Banks was so fresh, so new and so full of subcultural capital — this hot new black hipster rapper with a blue weave alllllll the way down to her booty — but she wasn’t even signed to a record label yet. Still, you couldn’t open up a music magazine or read a blog without hearing something about Banks. For all the praise and attention it received from music critics, Banks wrote “212” to prove herself to her label so she wouldn’t get dropped. They dropped her anyway. Now, it’s the song that made her fast BFFs with fashion designer Alexander Wang. It’s the song that Karl Lagerfeld heard and invited her to come play in his house. It’s the song that made her famous.

Why is it that when we produce an art that one single person in a position of power says blows, says is a failure, 20 seconds later it’s ultimately that art that makes us famous?

Banks, who graduated from LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts, the “Fame” school, is a freakishly talented rapper. She can really jiggle the puns, as she tells us on “Fuck Up the Fun” from her recent mixtape Fantasea. Her talent for flow doesn’t come across as easily on “212.” But on the playful “Jumanji,” where it sounds like a Velociraptor or perhaps a Tyrannosaurus Rex is going to come eat you, her rhymes are fierce and drop like nails spitting out of a nail gun. With “1991,” a biographical joint that will tell you everything you need to know about Azealia Banks, she serves a 1990s house party vibe that will get you dancing, no matter the time, wherever you are.

Azealia Banks is one of the first rappers, in my generation anyway, to link the hard edge of hip-hop and the overt fabulousness black gay culture, two cultures that go together like oil and water. This is ultimately what makes her interesting. Until Frank Ocean came out, black music has done whatever it could to disassociate itself from gay culture — no homo and all that. But Banks goes after us black fags, using drag ball culture as a blatant inspiration for her beats and lyrics. This past summer she had a drag ball at the Highline Ballroom. Can you imagine Kanye ever hosting a drag ball? And on her recent, deliciously long mixtape Fantasea, there are several songs that pay homage to black gay culture, including Paris Is Burning. I can’t think of a single mainstream rap artist who has done this as openly as she has.

In the past year Azealia Banks has blown up. Since “212” she’s thrown a whole lot at us: the four song EP 1991, the 19-song mixtape Fantasea, music videos, and cover stories on Dazed and Confused, Paper, and the current issue of Spin. A debut full length album, which she’s calling Broke With Expensive Taste, is out sometime this fall.

For all she’s doing to inject some newness into old school hip hop, Banks still seems like a “hipster’s” rapper — more art school than bitches and hoes. And I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing. This is an artist who draws from the gritty underground subcultures of New York, and few artists are doing that. Nicki Minaj surely isn’t going to take us there in her Starship.

To me, Azealia Banks is the antidote to the ultra-image focused Gaga/Minaj/Katy Perry era of pop music, where everything is a spectacle meant to distract you from the actual music. Banks manages to give us talent, image, and can bridge disparate cultural worlds, and isn’t that what art is supposed to be all about? TC mark

image – 1991 EP [Explicit]

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    […] Banks is everything, serving you hip hop and black gay culture all at once. But she’s also a lyrical genius. I […]

  • https://thoughtcatalog.com/2012/what-it-feels-like-to-get-a-rim-job/ What It Feels Like To Get A Rim Job | Thought Catalog

    […] want to lick my WHAT? I mean, why would you lick an ass? We already know what to do with P’s and V’s because they go where they’re supposed to go. But butts are taboo, off-limits, and that’s […]

  • http://www.itmakesmestronger.com/2012/09/what-it-feels-like-to-get-a-rim-job-2/ Only L<3Ve @ ItMakesMeStronger.com

    […] want to lick my WHAT? I mean, why would you lick an ass? We already know what to do with P’s and V’s because they go where they’re supposed to go. But butts are taboo, off-limits, and that’s […]

  • https://thoughtcatalog.com/2012/5-awesome-new-songs-you-should-be-listening-to-right-now/ 5 Awesome New Songs You Should Be Listening To Right Now | Thought Catalog

    […] Azealia Banks is kind of sickening. “Luxury,” which is available for free on her new mixtape Fantasea, shows the multi-faceted Ms. Banks singing and rapping over an infectious hip-house beat. In terms of flow, “Luxury” is really different from her break out hit “212,” but it’s certainly a change of pace I’m into. Who knows what’s in store for her upcoming full-length LP, but here’s hoping for lots of songs like this. […]

  • http://www.itmakesmestronger.com/2012/09/5-awesome-new-songs-you-should-be-listening-to-right-now/ Only L<3Ve @ ItMakesMeStronger.com

    […] Azealia Banks is kind of sickening. “Luxury,” which is available for free on her new mixtape Fantasea, shows the multi-faceted Ms. Banks singing and rapping over an infectious hip-house beat. In terms of flow, “Luxury” is really different from her break out hit “212,” but it’s certainly a change of pace I’m into. Who knows what’s in store for her upcoming full-length LP, but here’s hoping for lots of songs like this. […]

  • https://thoughtcatalog.com/2013/the-10-most-exciting-records-of-2013/ The 10 Most Exciting Records Of 2013 | Thought Catalog

    […] Azealia Banks is buzz-worthy performer who has taken the fashion and blog scenes by storm since her viral video hit “212,” teasing us with mixtapes, an EP, music videos, and songs that aren’t even ON her record. Known for her sound which incorporates a variety of electronic genres, rapping and singing, Banks feels a lot more authentic than some of her peers. And despite her brash personality, the Twitter feuds with other female rappers and her big ass mouth, Banks is probably the hottest, most closely watched new artist of 2013. Curious about what it’s going to sound like? “It’s gonna to be about all that ratchet shit, like having your MetroCard and your cell phone and feeling like you’re alive. It might sound artsy but it’ll have some real n*a shit.” #YAASS […]

  • http://www.itmakesmestronger.com/2013/01/the-10-most-exciting-records-of-2013/ Only L<3Ve @ ItMakesMeStronger.com

    […] Azealia Banks is buzz-worthy performer who has taken the fashion and blog scenes by storm since her viral video hit “212,” teasing us with mixtapes, an EP, music videos, and songs that aren’t even ON her record. Known for her sound which incorporates a variety of electronic genres, rapping and singing, Banks feels a lot more authentic than some of her peers. And despite her brash personality, the Twitter feuds with other female rappers and her big ass mouth, Banks is probably the hottest, most closely watched new artist of 2013. Curious about what it’s going to sound like? “It’s gonna to be about all that ratchet shit, like having your MetroCard and your cell phone and feeling like you’re alive. It might sound artsy but it’ll have some real n*a shit.” #YAASS […]

  • https://thoughtcatalog.com/2013/has-azealia-banks-ruined-her-career/ Has Azealia Banks Ruined Her Career? | Thought Catalog

    […] I first heard “212″—the monster smash single from rapper/singer Azealia Banks—I was in a hotel room in Montreal, Canada, and could hardly believe my ears. The beats, her […]

  • http://www.itmakesmestronger.com/2013/01/has-azealia-banks-ruined-her-career/ Only L<3Ve @ ItMakesMeStronger.com

    […] I first heard “212″—the monster smash single from rapper/singer Azealia Banks—I was in a hotel room in Montreal, Canada, and could hardly believe my ears. The beats, her […]

  • http://instable-monalena.fr/azealia-banks-faux-seins-faux-cheveux-mais-vrai-rap-et-vraie-emmerdeuse-ils-sont-2/ Instable Mona-Lena | Azealia Banks – faux seins, faux cheveux mais vrai rap et vraie emmerdeuse. Iels sont #2

    […] Thoughtcatalog (EXCELLENT article) […]

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