53 min • www.azealiabanks.com • July 12, 2012
Dancing can be a hard life. When I left college in 2000, I would go to audition after audition, usually for the same shows, desperate to land a job in the West End (which never happened). Maybe, instead of moving to London to “work on my music” and getting a day job, I might have have taken to filthy rap … if I had been a hot, black girl living in Harlem and trying too break Broadway, like rap-dance goddess Azealia Banks.
Azealia started off rapping for herself, because she “didn’t know if I was any good” – then, when friends told her she was, she rapped over ‘Seventeen’ by Ladytron and released it on the internet under the moniker Miss Bank$. After a couple of YouTube video’s (one being the awesome “L8R”, featured on this mixtape) she unleashed ’212′ on the world, and the rest is history. Set to electro house track ‘Float My Boat’ by Lazy Jay, this dirty tale of the 212, where Banks grew up, and a girl coming on to her (she’s openly bisexual) got to number 7 in the UK charts and set the club world alight. With its raw lyrics and vocal (Banks has one of the filthiest mouths I’ve ever heard on record – which is a good thing), and its accompanying black and white video, the former Miss Bank$ had the coolest single around, and was quickly signed to XL Recordings, who she parted company with almost as quickly. Her version of their split is amusing to say the least -
Richard [Russell] was cool, but as soon as I didn’t want to use his beats, it got real sour. He wound up calling me ‘amateur’ and the XL interns started talking shit about me. It just got real fucking funny. I was like, “I didn’t come here for a date. I came here to cut some fucking records”.
After that she quickly lost interest in the music “business”. Though not completely, luckily, or I wouldn’t be listening to the best free mix tape so far this year, the ‘WITCH-HOP’ Mermaid themed Fantasea.
After hearing ’212′ and its follow up ‘Liquorice’, then lapping up the other 1990s inspired dance tracks on debut EP 1991, I wasn’t sure what form Fantasea would take – every track I heard was different. There was hardcore hip hop to dance, and there were even rumours of a Prodigy cover, so when I pressed play and ‘Out Of Space’ by the Prodigy blasted through my speakers I knew to throw my preconceptions out. Azealia’s vocal planted over the original track almost sounds like it’s been recorded on an answering machine. In parts it is, for want of a better phrase, cool as fuck. ‘Neptune’, featuring amazing UK femcee Shystie and produced by dubstep and garage goddess Ikonika is a grimy, under water grind that develops into a garage conclusion and with the British pedigrees at the helm, sounds as far away from the American music scene as possible. ‘Atlantis’, one of the many tracks produced by American producers O/W/W/W/L/S, is a hot slice of bleepy dancehall and the Machinedrum produced title track ‘Fantasea’, with its frantic drum and sped up chorus vocal, recalls the pirate radio stations I listened to with my room mate at college.
In fact, listening to much of this mix tape, it’s hard to believe that Azealia was only born in 1991, as so much of the music harks back to the British rave and underground garage scenes, which were only blowing up when she was an infant. The retro style shifts with the Diplo produced ‘Fuck Up The Fun’ which, despite being a great track, is Diplo by numbers. Brazilian drums make up the majority of the backing, and it would be a stand out track if the standard wasn’t so high elsewhere. ‘Fierce’ finds us on familiar territory, with a house beat that is every “waackers” dream, and a spoken male vocal that sounds straight out of Paris Is Burning. ‘Jumanji’ (presumably named after the 1995 kids film and produced by Glaswegian producer Hudson Mohawke – another genius ’90s reference) give us steel drums and stuttering beats, and ‘Luxury’ with possibly the best bass line on display here, is the perfect mix of all the styles keeping me right on the dance floor.
The aforementioned L8R is here too (finally) and, with its sharp lyrics’
s fishier than a chip shop!
I’m so glad to have it on my iPod.
Whilst there’s nothing revolutionary about this mixtape, I lap up everything Azealia does. Her flow is more interesting and exciting than most female Femcee’s (as well as being dirtier) and she’s authentically diverse in her taste and style. Having worked with Indie producer Paul Epworth on her album Broke With Expensive Taste, it’ll be interesting to see if she stays on her retro-rave-rap path, or if she follows through with her Twitter threat of giving up the “rap game” and becoming a “vocalist”. I was nervous hearing this mix tape, as like a lot of people I had wondered if she had been a one trick pony with ’212′. Whilst none of the music on here strays very far from what we’ve come to expect from Banks, it has an authentic, underground, raw sound that separates it from the other American hiphop mix tapes flooding the internet. With interludes, this is 19 tracks of fun, brutally spit rap that takes no prisoners and doesn’t try and conform with anything. Indeed, any negative press Azealia gets will probably stem from the fact that debut track ’212′ was just so damn good, it lead us to expect too much. There is nothing on here as classic as that, but there are also a few standouts – the whole thing is just so bloody good that it’s impossible to pick favourites.
If you grew up with Lil’ Kim and Missy Elliot and have a taste for filthy, feisty Femcees then you should love Azealia Banks. She’s Nicki Minaj without the commercial kookiness – the Lady Gaga inspired eccentricity that whilst giving artists astonishing creative freedom, also occasionally makes them look like they’ve gone on stage in the clothes they’ve been painting their house in. In fact, there’s something intrinsically New York about Banks (she holds Mermaid Balls in New York for her creative friends, which is partly where the sea element of Fantasea comes from) and it’s that New York feeling that reminds me of a young Gaga – before she had the budget to wear animated dresses and clothes made of meat. When she was young, broke and edgy.
All I can hope is that in a years time I’m not reviewing Azealia Banks and saying, “I liked her more when she was broke” – but for now, she’s raw and real, and I love it.
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