Monday, January 23, 2012

Life After "212": How Azealia Banks Became the Most Exciting Pop Star of 2012

Posted By on Mon, Jan 23, 2012 at 1:31 PM

azealia-banks.jpg
Though the breaking actually started in late 2011, there's no question that the break-out pop star of early 2012 is 20-year-old Harlem rapper Azealia Banks. Last week she signed the majorest of major label deals with Universal, and is still likely in the middle of drinking a million bottles of champagne and doing a million bell kicks about it. She's also been unleashing a minor torrent of odd new material, which should quickly cease the wondering about "212"s possible one-hit wonder status. (Also, we note that any wondering about Universal extending our current "too much, too soon" Lana Del ray moment should be mitigated by the fact that her debut record will have fucking "212" on it.)

So, now that she's previewed a range of modes her upcoming debut record might work in, let's add 'em up, see what shakes out...

"Liquorice"
LIQUORICE by Azealia Banks

"Liquorice" was released at the end of 2011, when most of Azealia's press was coming in the form of "best songs of the year" curtain calls for "212." Rapped over UK house producer Lone's 10" single "Pineapple Crush" in its entirety, it's more of a deeply narcotized club cut than "212"'s readymade block party. (Her preference for European thump extends so deep that she's even in gone with a British spelling.) The house beats accentuate her even-faster flow nicely, especially at the start. It's as blunt as you'd expect her to be, though not as gleefully so as her star-making debut single. No c-bombs this time, but a frank playing with/up to white guys' black girl fantasies, with a continued lyrical interest in cunnilingus. As earworms go, "I'm the liquorice bitch, you know I'm looking for these niggas if these niggas is rich" isn't the most empowering. But it is memorable enough, especially when followed by "I make hits motherfucker!" What lets this one down slightly is the sung hook, which is more aptly described as killing time than building anticipation for the rhymes to resume. (The video, being made now in collaboration with Lady Gaga stylist Nicola Formichetti will probably further distract from that flaw.)

"NEEDSUMLUV"

"NEEDSUMLUV" which hit the 'net last week, is a futuristic R&B jam that finds Azealia talking game to an otherwise attached gentleman. "Forget your bride, let me free your mind." Homewrecker! (This is the point where we should mention that despite the exciting prospect of her even existing from a hero-worship standpoint, her songs still play into a lot of antagonistic female-on-female competition stuff that's a bit problematic from a feminist point of view.) Produced by Machinedrum from NYC's buzzy bass-music duo Sepalcure, it's got the consistent European production focus (if not the accordant country code). This one is interesting test-case in relation to the overwhelming Nicki Minaj comparisons Banks has garnered, as it gives us a picture of where she's interested in going when not focused on rapping. Minaj, as you'll remember, caused some music crit hand-wringing last year for loading her record with semi-bland, pop-chart ready cuts that sidelined her inherent weirdo ferocity (a strategy also known, IRL, as being a high-selling musician). Signs point to Banks staying weirder, more insular, for a while longer.

"Bambi"

But can she do European club music??? Kidding. But she can, she really can. This track, the second new song unveiled last week, is a real thumper initially used to pace handsome dude strides in a Thierry Mugler fashion show (with suit designs from the aforementioned Formichetti). It's the first recorded evidence of her previously reported work with UK producer Paul Epworth, whose credits include Cee-Lo, Adele, The Rapture, Florence and the Machine, etc. No big deal. Although she's promised on Twitter to extend the song's verse, the restraint required to use her rapid-spit flow so sparingly helps cement "Bambi"'s status as the most intriguing post-"212" tidbit. Its mocking target, young girls getting plied with drugs by E-d up lounge lizards, isn't the most stock American dilemma, either. It's creepy, it bangs, and it's different enough from her other stuff to earn its disdainful mantra: "the repetition kills you."

Some questions: Why is this edited? Are the sensibilities of a fashion show crowd really that delicate? What censored drug slang is she even using? "Do you girls do _________"? It'd be awesome if was exactly the same as that old blurred out Tom Petty on MTV example, and it was "joints." "Do you girls do joints" is a semi-hilarious thing for a creepy club dude to say.

So, What Did We Learn?

Azealia is a decent singer, but still a much more exciting rapper. Her tastes run towards British electronic music (even when collaborating with Americans). That sonic focus, plus raw sexual language less intellectually insulting but more abrasive than Rihanna's dumb double (single?) entendres, might make crossing over into actual American radio mainstream a tricky prospect, no matter how much the Internet loves her. Club music is making strides in popularity, though, especially among young people. And she is awfully charismatic, so who knows?

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