Some critics might think it’s an act. It’s not.
There is a reason behind everything Azealia Banks does, usually centered on unleashing her inner creativity. Whether it’s yelling the word “c—” while wearing a Mickey Mouse sweater or strutting around stage in a motocross suit, Yung Rapunxel, her self-anointed alias, has taken the hip-hop world and made it her bitch.
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“I do my thing. I do whatever I feel like doing,” Banks told Metro. “When I first came out, people tried to define me and I tried to define myself, and I came up with all these explanations of what I do, but there is no explanation for what I do.”
Even calling Banks a female rapper is a stretch. She refuses to be lumped into that whole scene.
“I’m not really a part of that,” Banks said. “A lot of new female rappers coming out are post-hip hop, or post-Nicki Minaj, or post-Young Money … I feel like I really transcended that whole kitschy, female rap scene. I’m more sophisticated, more mature, more of an artist, more of a creative than a female rapper.”
It’s hard to believe that Banks is just 22 years old. She comes across as mature beyond her years, almost sounding like a rap psychologist in interviews. She respects pop culture, but doesn’t want to be defined by it. She advocates deeper thinking.
“People like me notice all the social trends, not to say that I don’t like them, but I’m looking a little deeper,” Banks said. “I grew up on the Internet, you know, it would be nice to see pop culture do three things at once, instead of one general trend. It’s a lot of the sameness … it’s like I’ve been eating the same thing for dinner for 10 years in a row … you could be hungry, it’s probably good, but it would be nice to have something else."
For those that want something else, there is Banks’ “Broke With Expensive Taste,” an album that took her five years to create. The way she sees it, this one is her proper debut, her official arrival.
“This is my actual arrival. All the other stuff was just me trying to figure out what I was,” Banks said. “I’ve been working on it since I was 17. '1991' and 'Van Vogue,' those were songs I was saving for my album but, because there was such a demand for me, I had to put them out early.”
The album is set to drop this fall, either October or November, according to Banks. She confirms it has its roots in rap, but listen for her growth and maturity as an artist. There are distinct jazz and punk rock influences bouncing around.
“When I first came out, I wasn’t trying to see how I fit into that paradigm of success of the music business,” Banks said. “I took on a lot of personas that weren’t me. I tried to behave in a way, got carried away with the idea of being a female rapper, but I’m so much more than that. Now, it’s time to just become whole, not just affecting one aspect of, ‘Who’s Azealia Banks?,’ and trying to create. I think the music on this album is the most sophisticated I’ve ever created.”
Last month, she released “ATM Jam,” a track produced by the incomparable hip-hop producer Pharrell Williams. It’s raunchy. It’s high energy. It’s pure Azealia Banks.
“I just did the video. It's Azealia Banks. It's a little girl jumping around," she said. “I did enough yapping, now it’s time to deliver a work of art. I’m not trying to sound like an asshole … everyone’s making music but not everyone’s inspired, they’re just following each other, and just doing their impression of what hip hop is.”
If those sound like fighting words, they’re not. Well, they might be. You never know with Azealia Banks. She’s feuded with many of her high-profile peers, including Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea, Lily Allen and T.I. But, when the topic of other artists comes up, even ones that she admires, Banks quashes the conversation. Kind of.
“I don’t want to talk about other artists,” said Banks, before later adding, “Everyone’s following trends and it’s one big smorgasbord of s—. Everyone’s wearing the same designers, using the same slang, using the same drum patterns … it’s cool and that’s great."
While a lot of people criticize her for being so opinionated, for being so different, that’s one of the things fans embrace about her. Banks has gone through a lot in her short career, from dealing with conniving managers to her early days as a broke stripper, but she’s done it all on her terms. And that’s not going to change now.
“I’m maturing at a really cool pace. I’m in a really comfortable spot right now,” Banks said. “You know, like when you meet someone, whether you’re going to be together for four months or forever … you just know you are in the right place at the right time, and it’s amazing and it’s beautiful, and that’s where I am right now."
Then, she puts that whole idea into one succinct, tight verse.
“I’m Azealia Banks now.”
Red Bull Sound Select
Banks recently dazzled the crowd during a Philadelphia stop at Voyeur Nightclub on the Red Bull Sound Select “Break Music” tour. She played a nearly 30-minute set, highlighted by the Harlem queen’s anthem “212.”
The weird, trendy Fishtown ice cream shop, Little Baby’s, handed out free scoops of a new flavor named in her honor, Liquorice Bitch (vanilla with red licorice pieces).
According to Banks, she will embark on a tour to promote her new album, “Broke With Expensive Taste,” starting in the United Kingdom in November and December and coming to the U.S. in February and April. Dates are tentative at this point.
“We usually don’t know until we’re two months away,” Banks said.
Until then, “I’m just trying to remember how I got here and how I can stay,” she said.