Azealia Banks’ Redemption Song

Azealia Banks is one of the most talented rappers to come along in the last decade or more. Not one of the best female rappers, one of the best rappers period. Her lyric-writing pen is fiercely inspired (often full of biting takes on race, gender and sexuality,) her flow is dynamic and insanely versatile, and her ear for beats and producers is truly on some next-level shit. Always on her grind, she’s a serious student of music, as her continued forays into both experimental hip-hop and classic House attest. The samples and interpolations she and her producers weave into her tracks speak to the breadth of her aesthetic. While a lot of rappers dip their toes into anemic EDM, one calculating eye on the charts at all times, Banks continues to pay homage to ‘90s House while putting her own singular twist on it, being the one contemporary rapper who really has the talent and feel to do justice to the long underrated hip-hop offshoot of hip-house. (1991, her 2012 EP, not only tips a hat to her birth year, but is also a nod to that pop culture moment when soulful House ruled the planet.)

If the world still exists in twenty years – if we’ve not all been reduced to warring tribes scrounging through rubble for sustenance – she’ll be written about as a visionary, someone who changed the game without the game even realizing it until well after the fact. Broke with Expensive Taste and Fantasea will be studied, praised and finally given their full due. She shoulda been – and almost was – a massive pop star.

But even those of us who’ve nodded our heads and shaken our asses to her music, who’ve defended her long after our friends were giving her and us the side-eye, have inhaled deeply and exhaled in exasperation as she repeatedly shot herself in the foot and (often needlessly) gone into attack mode when silence should have been the move. It’s hard to think of another music artist who can be both so scarily smart and bafflingly obtuse all at once. She’s turned us all into Tyra Banks at one point or another:

After burning almost every media and music industry bridge imaginable, Banks has quietly been putting in work to overhaul her image (and, seemingly, her life) the last several months. Followers of her current Twitter account have noted that while she’s still outspoken AF, and can stumble when opining on social and political matters, there’s a newfound thoughtfulness and a seemingly settled spirit. But that does not mean she’s holding her tongue or currying anyone’s favor.

XXL magazine writer Max Weinstein sat down with Banks for an interview that is raw, insightful, and finds Banks speaking on the music industry (and being a hip-hop outsider,) the various missteps in her career, her tireless work ethic and new music, and showing love to peer Cardi B. while also laying out the double standards hip-hop continues to wield when it comes to women artists. An excerpt:

“I guess the source of my disappointment comes from just watching lots of other men in hip-hop, just like male rappers, have their career setbacks and go through things. Or even when a Black male rapper misspeaks something… just seeing Black men go through the motions, seeing the Black mass just kind of seemingly accepting it as just an attribute of their artistry. So they’ll be like, “Kanye West is saying all that because he’s crazy” or “Okay, yeah, R. Kelly raped a girl but damn, he makes some good music.” I don’t feel like I ever got that kind of empathy. I never got those kinds of privileges, I never got those kinds of allowances, especially coming in the rap game without any real rap friends. I basically came in the building by myself. There was nobody to validate me, there was nobody to vouch for me or whatever, and I got mishandled a lot.”

 For the rest of the interview click here.

And check out writer Morgan Jenkins’ smart essay on the hypocrisy and double-standards of hip-hop’s and the media’s response to Azealia’s mental health issues and those of male rappers. That piece, published earlier this year, can be found here.

And check out Slay-Z here.

Top photo courtesy Getty Images.