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Azealia Banks has what every young artist dreams of: buzz. Late last year, the 20 year old rapper released her debut single ‘212,’ which rocket-launched the Harlem singer from total unknown, to industry up and comer. Although her debut album isn’t expected out until September, she’s already managed to top NME’s 2011 ‘Cool List’ and ended up third in the BBC’s ‘Sound of 2012,’ one spot ahead of dubstep king, Skrillex.
Since her ascendency, critics have been quick to draw comparisons between Banks and other female rappers, which in current terms, means Nicki Minaj. The connection is there, and at times Banks definitely seems to channel Minaj’s patented rap-shout vocals. Yet she also harks back to some of the early female rappers of the past decade, women like Missy Elliot who not only produced infectious hip hop hooks, but could spit a rhyme better than any male artist in the industry. ‘212’ is a great example of her style. The song went huge here in Australia after it was featured as the soundtrack to this year’s Splendour promo video, but it just as likely would have erupted on its own. It’s an incredibly gutsy track that mixes million mile an hour rap with a thumping electro beat courtesy of Lazy Jay. The song is absolutely filthy (no seriously, it’s disgusting.) But the smut-factor isn’t even what makes the track interesting. It’s the way Banks works her way around a single rhyme, skipping in and out of the beat, delivering each line with an unmistakeable badass NYC attitude. Even more impressive is that she does it in pigtails and a Mickey Mouse jumper. The exciting thing however is that Banks isn’t committed to one sound. Where ‘212’ is an unashamed club track, her most recent release, ‘Jumanji,’ opens with the flourishing of a harp, leading into a gritty rap recorded over a background of calypso drums. In other words, the girl’s not afraid to mix things up.
She’s no lightweight in the vocals department either. As a teenager Banks attended the famous LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts (or, ‘the Fame school’) which consistently churns out a crazy list of high profile alumni along the lines of Kelis, Al Pacino and, coincidentally, Nicki Minaj. One of her early releases, a stripped-back cover of Interpol’s ‘Slow Hands’ gives her a chance to show off what are some impressive vocal chops, reminiscent of an early Lauryn Hill or Mary J Blige.
Most recently Banks has received attention for her various beefs with the rest of the hip hop world. The list of people she’s directly or indirectly offended includes T.I, Lil’ Kim and Aus’s own Iggy Azalea. This seems to be a rookie move for someone who should really be courting her industry elders if she wants to get ahead. But Banks couldn’t seem to care less. She’s out for herself and as far as she’s concerned, the rest of the industry can either get in line or fall behind. Whether this is a good move remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure – either way, Banks probably doesn’t give a damn.