Sitting down for the first time to listen to what feels like the longest awaited album of the twenty-first century is comparative to my five year old self come Christmas day. And, I have to say, it does not disappoint!
Azealia Banks burst onto the music scene back in 2012, which kicked off with her punchy single, 212; a song that was to become the soundtrack of the summer to many urban dwellers, clubbers and hip-hop fans. The expletive lyrics were the stimulant for what felt like a mini musical revolution. Had anyone ever heard the word ‘cunt’ rapped so many times in one three-minute track? This sense of rebellion is prominent in Banks’s debut album Broke with Expensive Taste, as the rapper-come-vocalist perfectly mixes the urban grit of the New York City hip-hop scene with Spanish, Latin and Jazz vibes, whilst jarred beats refuse to abide by any predictable rhythm. Here we have a musical demonstration of the rebellious attitude she became so well known for. Reportedly sacking her record label before letting the album loose on iTunes, Banks is the Ice Princess, demonstrating power both over the sound she wants to promote and in her feisty lyrics: “competition I’ma beat ‘em so relentless / I’ma be legendary when I end this / They rise when I arrive in this / All hail the supreme Ice Princess!”
The writing and production team lays a beautiful web of the freshest and most current names in house, including Britain’s own MJ Cole, Pearson Sound and Boddika; incorporating a distinctly house-orientated undercurrent to the LP. But, aside from the electronic foundations of this record, Banks incorporates a wealth of genres, using her voice as an instrument as much as any of her notable instrumental elements. When asked in interview, Banks has admitted she prefers singing to rapping. However, the ease with which her poetry flows, skips and dances to its own untamable rhythm gives none of that away.
The blend of Banks’ wide-ranged and incredibly varied voices is perfectly exhibited in Miss Amor, with its contrast of Spanish vocals and Harlem rap. Nude Beach a Go-Go is extremely nostalgic in its psychedelic Beach Boys-esque feel, while Chasing Time is refreshingly modern in comparison (and a suitably safe choice for her latest single). While some may take the mix of genres as a loss of cohesion, it establishes the diverse talent that Banks holds under that seemingly unthinking, Twitter-feud attitude. Stand out tracks are Wallace with its rhythmic percussion, flutes and stylistically beautiful blend of hard and hypnotic vocals; Desperado and its garage tones, with haunting wind instrumentals that drift over Banks’ pulsing lyrical-flow; and the electro-come-soul-come-Latin track Gimme a Chance that’s perfect to dance to. Like the woman herself, Broke with Expensive Taste will split the crowds, but I firmly believe Azealia Banks has succeeded in producing a debut collection that is impressive, versatile, and a delight to listen to. If two years is the waiting time for an album this good, I’m not complaining!