|Photo by Richard Johnson, NME|
Often artists come around in a flurry of disproportionate excitement. I want to like them. Oh, how I want to like them. In the naughty and foul-mouthed Azealia Banks, who plans on rapping her way to a singing career, the music world sees a teenager who is "challenging the conventions of hip-hop" and "moving rap forward." I see a buffoon.
After listening to the verse “I guess that cunt gettin’ eaten” for the umpteenth time on her viral hit 212, I couldn’t help but yank at my hair & wonder why the hell is this exciting? Am I the only one who ever listened to Amanda Blank, Kid Sister, or Santigold? Electropop star Peaches was just as explicit in her tracks - and she actually had something to say. Amanda Blank, the Philly-reppin' multi-talented muse of my college-years, rapped on Spank Rock's tracks "my pussy's tastin' the best." Even Pitbull, lord of the dancefloor, rapped "I'll give you a lick of this mighty tongue" back in 2004. I hate to break it to you, but rapping about cunnilingus is not new.
But when Azealia Banks spits "now she wanna lick my plum in the evening/ & fit that tongue deep in" in a cute Mickey Mouse sweater and pigtails... it's supposed to rev our engines.
It is worth noting that Azealia's Harlem roots certainly work in her favor. Since the early 20th century Harlem has carried an almost mythical musical and artistic quality. As a result, artists who hail from Harlem are usually automatically considered textured and authentic. The UK, Azealia's new-found homebase, is not above being believing the urban myth of the unsung Harlem superstar.
I cannot help but ask myself an uncomfortable question: are listeners truly excited by Azealia or are they enamored with the idea of a pretty, trash-talking black girl from Harlem who raps? It seems to me that the consumer world is imposing an identity on her- and Azealia, hungry for fame, is gobbling it up. Peeling away at the layers of filth, hype and self-promotion reveals an immature teenager who used the oldest trick in the book: slamming out promiscuous lyrics to grab international attention. Now sporting a top position on the NME Cool List & an honorable mention by the BBC Sound of 2012, Azealia will be inescapable in 2012.
There is no denying that Azealia is very gifted. Her years as a devotee of musical theater served her voice very well. Liquorice, her most recent release, features a combination of sung melodies and rapped verses and is very well-produced. But even Liquorice features Azealia's favorite topic - you guessed it - oral sex ("stimulate her /take a lick up on my genital / then sit to savor").
Many music critics have readily acknowledged that Azealia is not entirely original, but claim that her youthful energy and spunk make her fresh. They write that Azealia's gritty lyrics and promiscuous word-play make her inventive, witty, and clever. On the contrary, I find female MCs who don’t rap about sex to be far more “inventive." And guess what? They are probably more marketable, too.
So what is the real future of Azealia Banks? The Telegraph UK aptly points out the hipsters who originally hyped her will probably be put off by her obvious mainstream ambitions (the girl had the nerve to laugh off the idea of releasing a free mixtape in her Pitchfork interview). Azealia evidently never considered going the independent route. Since she wants to be a commercial chart topper, working with Paul Epworth is certainly the way to go. But is the UK really craving a Top 40 hit by a teenager whose devilish image is brattier than that of Ke$ha and Christina Aguilera combined?
Sorry, but I am not banking on Azealia.