Straight outta ‘212’: Rapper Azealia Banks
Azealia Banks was not the only one who was excited that Karl Lagerfeld handpicked her to appear in this edition of Metro.
“I was telling Kanye about it, and Kanye was like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty legit,’” she says. Banks, 20, speaks at the same rapid pace as she raps — her rat-a-tat delivery has resulted in 3 million-plus views of her YouTube hit video “212.”
The Harlem native says she can feel the momentum of her increasing fame, but she is conscious to keep it in perspective.
“People are starting to recognize me, but it’s not quite surreal yet,” she says. “I don’t feel like I’ve had that moment where thousands of people are screaming back at me.”
That moment is all but guaranteed, as Banks was the first artist announced to perform at the Coachella festival in April. She also recently signed a deal with Universal.
“It’s about to get crazy,” she laughs nervously.
The ‘s—’ she must top
When “212” hit YouTube this past September, word quickly spread of the gritty black and white video and the sexy girl in pigtails with the huge smile who spits raunchy lyrics (unprintable here). She’s currently working on her full-length debut, which she hopes to have out by May.
“Some of the songs are there, but I don’t have enough heat, especially with how quickly ‘212’ caught on and blew up,” she says. “That’s the s— I have to top. I have to compete with myself now. … I feel like I’d be short-changing myself if I just got caught up in the hype and just rushed some mediocre-ass project out.”
What sets Banks apart from most other MCs is the wide range of styles she has already demonstrated. Sure, other hip-hop artists may sample some indie rock from time to time, but is there anybody else working within the genre that would cover an Interpol song? Or bust out Prodigy’s “Firestarter,” as she did at a recent London gig?
“It’s just that I like what I like, and when you’re somebody who just devours culture the way that I do, it’s not that you’re looking for that new thing, but you kind of are,” says Banks. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get rid of the old thing,” she adds.
The ‘fly pieces’
Another “old thing” that Banks believes in is the idea of making a statement in a full-length album.
“They’re not really necessary anymore, but I just want to do it,” she says of albums in the Internet age. “I feel like, once I do it, it will really make sense to people. I feel like now people are like, ‘Oh, who is this girl? She’s interesting. She’s cool. We like her sound, we like her music, but how does this all tie in together?’ … I feel like my songs are all these fly pieces of clothing. You know how when you go on a magazine shoot and they have all of these clothes and you’re like, ‘OK, how does this all tie together? This is all mad random!’ And then there’s a stylist who will basically be the producer. I’m the person who’s bringing the clothes and the producers are the stylists that will help me put the outfits together and make it make sense.”
Karl Lagerfeld will certainly understand.
The 411 on ‘212’
When “212” hit the Web, it quickly racked up millions of hits, with many viewers speculating about the identity of the subject of the song, who Banks viciously says she is going to “ruin.” The most popular theory is that the threat was directed at Nicki Minaj, who attended the same high school as Banks, several years before.
Banks says the lyric concerns a different LaGuardia High School alum.
“It’s about me,” she says. “There was just a lot of s— that was going on, like my boyfriend was breaking up with me. Then I had this apartment that he was paying for, and I couldn’t afford to pay for it anymore. And I was basically homeless, sleeping on my friends’ couches and s—. And life was just mad f—ed up. And I was just like, ‘Everybody can kiss my f—ing ass right now.’”
Banks says she needed to blaze her own path: “When you are a rapper, you get compared to Nicki Minaj and it was about trying to make records in that vein. And when I was there, life was f—ng up for me. So I had to just reel it back in and be like, ‘Listen, this is about me, and y’all must have f—ing forgot.’”