When 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 effortless delivery, the genius sampling of Lazy Jay’s “Float My Boat”: it all just came together in a package that was so unlike anything else I had been hearing on the radio. Later that night, I met up with some friends of mine for dinner and asked them if they had ever heard of Azealia before. All of a sudden, a weird hush fell over the table.
“Um, she used to live here!” My friend Laura said.
“Yeah, she was here working with a producer last summer and by the end of her stay, she had either fucked or gotten into a fight with everyone in Montreal,” another friend chimed in.
“She’s insane. Like truly a nightmare. She’s mean to everyone she meets.”
This was at the end of 2011—a time when Azealia’s star was about to shine bright and every publication would herald her as The Next Best Thing, a dirtier more alternative offering to the poppy Nicki Minaj. I had never liked Nicki. I’m not really sure why. Her music and lyrics just never did anything for me. Azealia’s music, on the other hand, was intoxicating. I liked the defiance in her voice and the stark contrast between her rough raps and sweet singing style. It seemed like she had everything: wit, strength, vulnerability, and solid producers who had a keen understanding of her sound. She had managed to practically be a superstar just off of one popular song, which is no small feat. The bet was that she was here to stay.
Well, a year has passed since I first heard “212” and a lot has changed for Miss Banks–both good and bad. As far as her music goes, she’s released the stellar EP, 1991, and a totally addictive mix tape, Fantasea. Although none of the offerings contained a nugget as golden as “212”, they were strong pieces of work that seemed to indicate that Azealia would make good on her buzz.
Then she put on a Mermaid Ball in New York and L.A. that was, by all accounts, an amazing performance. She became the darling of the fashion world, performing for Karl Lagerfeld at a private party and becoming the face for Alexander Wang. (Later, Banks admitted that “too much fashion attention as an artist can actually smother you and it can really, really distract from your music.”)
To a certain extent, Azealia seems right on schedule with her music and level of fame. But there have been some kinks. For starters, Banks has developed a reputation as being difficult, holding up photo shoots and generally treating people like shit. When doing one photo shoot for a magazine, people commented that she had behaved like more of a diva than Beyonce, which apparently is pretty bad?
Then there are the rows of burned bridges that trail behind her. Her initial development deal with XL Recordings that soured, her failed partnership with the producer Michael DeFreitas in Montreal who wrote in an email to Spin magazine that Azealia was “a bit of a sore spot for me.” Even though Banks is only 21, she’s been trying to be a star for four years so if it doesn’t happen this time, you can pretty much guarantee that it won’t ever come together.
Then there’s Azealia Banks’ Twitter account, which has been the star’s undoing in recent months. Besides getting in feuds with Lil’ Kim, Nicki Minaj, and Angel Haze, she also called Perez Hilton a faggot and outraged the whole blogosphere. (My official comment on Faggotgate is this: There are so many more important crusades to fight in the gay civil rights movement—gay marriage, hate crimes that, you know, result in actual death, bullying in schools—that a glib off-the-cuff response from a bisexual rapper seems like small potatoes in comparison. Banks has aligned herself with the gay community since the very beginning. Her comment was disappointing and stupid and we have a right to be angry but it would behoove us to focus on actual homophobes from now on.)
After Banks’ fiasco with Perez Hilton, Interscope, her current label, was rumored to have dropped her but that apparently isn’t true. Still, her debut album, Broke With Expensive Taste, has yet to have a definite release date, which is a bad sign. The longer it gets delayed, the less likely it ever is to see the light of day.
The future, which once seemed so promising, is now precarious for Azealia Banks. While I don’t think that her sparring with other celebrities should have a negative impact on her career, I believe that she should be mindful of how she treats people in the industry. If you treat people like shit before you officially are The Shit, you’re basically sabotaging yourself. Part of what I love about Azealia is that she just doesn’t give a fuccccckkkkkkk. Her brashness and brutal honesty are refreshing in this otherwise bland PC climate. But rules are still rules and the fact remains that if you piss off enough people, you could be shut out completely.
I, for one, want Azealia to stop getting in her own way because POP MUSIC NEEDS HER SO BAD. So please just sign off Twitter for a second and work on releasing that record. The world needs to hear it. The world needs to hear what you have to say outside of 140 characters or less.