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Broke With Expensive Taste
Azealia Banks / Prospect Park / Caroline
Broke With Expensive Taste
Azealia Banks / Prospect Park / Caroline
“I can be the answer,” raps 23 year old hip hop artist, Azealia Banks on her debut single “212” back in 2012. After the release of her premier album, Broke With Expensive Taste in November, she just might be.“I’ve been waiting for Azealia Banks,” says Hot 97’s Peter Rosenberg at the introduction of “Desperado,” the third track off of BWET. Quite frankly, we’ve all been waiting. For a while, fans were living the chorus lines off BWET single “Chasing Time,” where Banks sings, “Am I chasing time? / ‘Cause I wasted all mine on you.” It’s been nearly three years since Banks busted out on the scene and left us hanging out to dry waiting on an album. But she finally quenched our thirst with the surprise release. No promotion, no warnings, just a tweet. It was well worth the wait.
It’s been a rocky road for the Harlem artist these past few years. The quarrel with her record label, Interscope, who eventually dropped her midway through the creation of her album, the celebrity clashes, the internet arguments—severing more industry connections than it seemed she was making—was an all-around up-and-coming artist faux pas.
The delay, label drama, twitter beef, and incendiary radio interviews aside, three years and 2 million dollars later, Banks puts forth a solid album.
Because some of the material is old—“212, “Yung Rapunxel,” “Heavy Metal and Reflective”—it can be argued that there is a slight rift in the flow of the album. Her earlier sounds are meshed with her newer sounds, yes, but it isn’t a drastic enough sonic schism to make the transitions uncomfortable. The mixing of old and new material allows for the album to read as sort of a music anthology for Banks. Listeners can hear her transformation from being weird and dope three years ago, to becoming even weirder and more dope now.
Despite all of these obstacles, Banks has been able to navigate through the music industry’s muddy waters with a clear sense of direction.
The album is a delightfully disruptive force in the rap world right now. It sounds like nothing we’ve heard from hip hop’s biggest names this year. Banks has her own unapologetic style; effortlessly blending genres—rap, house, EDM, Caribbean music— while staying true to what separates NY rap from the rest—lyrical finesse. The Morgan Page and Angela McCluskey “In the Air” sample for Banks’ “Ice Princess” chillingly lends itself to the sonic aesthetic of the record. “Ice Princess” is homage to every single literary technique you learned about in high school Advanced Placement Literature. She raps, “I’m polarizing ya profits/ I freeze ‘em, flip ‘em, and rock it/ Cocoa a-la mode, who’s frozen from head to toe/ Ice-grillin’ the status quo / Cold-killer so now you know.” Banks inundates listeners with metaphors, alliteration, vivid verbs, imagery, and pretty much everything the inner literary wordsmith geek could dream of.
On other tracks such as “Gimme a Chance” Banks’ talents just keep on unraveling. She shifts from lavish-living ice princess, to primadonna rap diva, to Harlem girl off the block with a simple, signature east coast flow, then switches seamlessly to rapping in Spanish (with a perfect accent, I must say).
The album is a crossroads for the sounds of the city and much more, with production quality so diverse it’s enough to stimulate the most restless of music minds. With the eclectic styling and mixture of sounds, her record label’s trepidation is understandable. Azealia Banks is an acquired taste; how does one get the masses to support something that isn’t easy to digest?
At 15 tracks, the album is just the right length—not upsettingly short, and not uncomfortably long. Aside from Lazy Jay on “212,” and Stink Pink on “Nude Beach a Go-Go,” the only other feature on the album, is from fellow New York rapper Theophilus London on “JFK,” a sultry sounding lyrical masterpiece.
After one listen, it’s apparent that some tracks are good. After two and a half months’ worth of listens, with arguably no shippable tracks, and years’ worth of replay value it’s solidified as one of the best albums of 2014.
BWET reveals just how frighteningly talented the young star is. She raps, she’s been taken in by the fashion world as somewhat of a new icon, and she sings. Not that forced singing we’ve seen with J. Cole, Drake, and Nicki Minaj (no shade) that makes you want to fast-forward to the rapping. She can actually sing. And to top off the young art school graduate’s creative escapades, Banks is also writing a fable, with BWET as the soundtrack.
Lately Banks’ twitter reads like an African diaspora cultural reference book rather than a promotional page for her work. But it works for her because, music aside, she has a message.
During her Hot 97 interview in December, Ebro encouraged Banks to take the passion she has towards black history, and addressing cultural appropriation and “put it in the music” rather than on twitter. Banks insisted that she’d rather have her music represent the feel-good vibes of an art form that can release blacks from the crippling forces of everyday oppression. She manages to do this, while still incorporating some of that passionate message into the album with the song “Nude Beach a Go-Go.” This song is the least appealing sound wise—as it differs a little too much from the rest of the album’s vibe—but the most poignant in terms of content. Here she sings, “Black girls’ attraction/ all the white girls join in the action” a subtle allusion to the ceaseless cultural appropriation throughout American history.
Azealia Banks is a force to be reckoned with. But BWET seems like the type of album that won’t be appreciated until years after its time. Hopefully the masses will catch up.