Screw You All, I'm Still Rooting for Azealia Banks
Last year we published a piece titled Azealia Banks Needs to Sit The Fuck Down and Listen to Some Good Advice. Because it's important to be fair, here's Kele Okereke, singer for Bloc Party and one of the few remaining Azealia Banks fans, arguing the other side ahead of tomorrow's awaited "leak".
So this is it, crunch time for Azealia Banks. Broke With Expensive Taste, originally slated for release two years ago, is scheduled to be leaked on April 15th. Azealia seems to have finally lost patience with her label Universal after numerous release dates for the record were announced then scrapped. I know at the Noisey office there probably isn't much love to spare for Ms Banks, but I have to admit that I’m a little bit sad as to how all this is panning out.
Azealia Banks was supposed to be the new Lil Kim - the baddest bitch on the block, a strong sister, with a potty mouth that could rhyme and didn't give a fuck. When Baby C, my gay best friend from NY, sent me “212” in the autumn of 2011, I knew it was a moment. Who was this dark chocolate bitch in her Mickey Mouse sweater and her rapunzel weave? I literally gagged. He then sent the track to mutual friend Nick Grimshaw who played the song on his evening radio show and within weeks it became a worldwide smash. Played the world over from gay bars through to prime time radio, it was a bonafide modern day hit.
Fast-forward three years and it seems that goodwill for this girl has all but vanished. She's known more for her childish spats than her music. Everyday she receives a staggering amount of internet hate, from the frustrated pleas of "when is your album coming out?" to the downright racist comments on her skin tone. Admittedly this is not helped by her caustic attitude and temper tantrums, which have seen her start fights with everyone from Lily Allen to GLAAD. It seems like nobody is rooting for her. But I am.
There is still something about this girl that I dig: the early Vogue culture references in her music, the dexterity of her wordplay and, most of all, her attitude. For sure it may just be front, but it’s honest front. When she called out Perez Hilton for being "a messy faggot" I laughed out loud. Although her language was questionable, Perez Hilton is a bully who can be offended when someone mentions his sexuality but makes no bones about commenting on other people's as if it was his right, case in point his deplorable "outing" of Prison Break's Wentworth Miller. Although her "slave master" reasoning was somewhat skewed, I agreed with her when she beefed with Iggy Azalea - I too think it’s lame that the only way a female rap artist can break through these days is to be associated with a male crew. Check Iggy with T.I and Nicki Minaj's association with Young Money. What does that say about the inherent misogyny in rap culture?
Disclaimer time: I met Azealia once, the morning after a festival in Australia. I hadn't slept all night but she saw me in a cafe and bought me lunch. This was the summer of 2012 and I, like most of the world, was curious about her. I'd been following her output and I wanted to know what she was about.
She came across sweet, smart yet starry eyed. During the meal I politely asked her when her record was coming out. She said she didn't know, that making a record was hard. I left it there but I wondered if she already knew the tide was turning against her. What struck me about her the most was her ambition, we spoke about projects she wanted to achieve outside of music. She was worried about how so many female MCs don't make provisions for the future. That foresight impressed me. I often wonder how she must be dealing with this level of inactivity.
Purely from a personal perspective, musician to musician, I understand that it’s got to suck to be told you have to sit on music for over two years, while a "group of old white guys" who don't understand your craft, are making decisions about its commercial viability. Luckily I have never been in that situation, but it was a big part of the reason why we didn't sign Bloc Party to a major. It's a pretty simple equation, you take their money, you have to do what they say. Case in point, Klaxons apparently had to submit 2010's Surfing The Void three times before Polydor agreed to release it. From the artist's perspective it has to be hard. Each time you think you've got it nailed you are told to go back and start again. It's enough to make you lose your nerve.
That's why a big part of me is wondering what Azealia's arch nemesis Angel Haze is making of all of this. Having beefed spectacularly in 2012 there is clearly no love lost between the two. In a since deleted tweet Azealia stated -
"Obeying my label is the best decision I've ever made. My relationship with them is so good right now!"
Many viewed this as some not so subtle shade being thrown at Haze who had recently decided to leak her own debut album Dirty Gold. In a massive fuck you, Haze decided she was tired of being dicked about by her label, having been promised a 2013 release if she finished the album by summer's end, so when the record was pushed back to March, Haze decided she was tired of waiting. Within a few hours of the leak, Haze's label took Dirty Gold off SoundCloud but gave in to her demands, announcing a December 30 release date.
We don't know exactly what's happening with BWET being delayed as we only have Azealia's word for it, not Universal's, but I do think it's safe to assume that negotiations between Ms Banks and her record label must be frosty, at the least. Recently Azealia fired off a series of since deleted tweets "literally begging to be dropped from Universal." And as she has sacked about six managers and 10 PRs in that time, I don't think she's the easiest artist to work with. We can see that her leaking of Broke With Expensive Taste is probably her best chance to drum up interest in the record. If the turgid "ATM JAM" featuring "the lite skin comeback kid" Pharrell can't connect, then face it, that hit that the record label are waiting for probably isn't going to come. Azealia is smart, she must realize that this is all starting to look a little bit like the Lil Mama model. The mouthy female rapper was famously never able to follow up 2007 hit “Lip Gloss” with anything of note.
But all is not lost. Unlike Lil Mama, Azealia has a strong fan base across the world. She is a popular festival draw in Europe, Australia and Asia. If she has made a good record it is very possible that she can claw back a decent platform to make another record when the pressure is off.
Take Kanye West, after the infamous Taylor Swift incident everyone from Donald Trump through to President Obama were lining up to call him a "jackass". As his records stopped being played on the radio, even his peers thought he had gone too far this time. So what did he do? He hid himself and made 2010's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, a sprawling symphonic epic which many critics still believe is his best work.
Azealia Banks is in her own lane right now, her music still sounds like nothing else. So if you are reading this babes: get this record out, make these summer shows the best they can be and then get your head down and start again from scratch. Don't lose heart, you still have it in you.
Follow Kele on Twitter: @KeleOkereke