It’s been three years since Azealia Banks sprung up from the New York underground fully formed with “212”, her confrontationally profane lead single. “212” was the seed for all of the triumph and adversity that followed—the prodigious rap skills, the casual genre-bending, and the bratty disdain for authority. In its wake, Banks charted a career path typical of a budding rap talent. She dropped the promising, beat-jacking pre-album mixtape (2012’s unrelenting Fantasea) and the compact retail EP of brash originals (2012’s nostalgia tripping 1991). She navigated through mettle-testing beef with her peers. The tiffs were negligible as long as the music was nourishing, and for a while Azealia’s war on the rap establishment was excitingly disruptive.
But as work on her Interscope Records debut commenced, Banks hit a tight spot. The deal soured as her new tracks were met with indifference from label liaisons. Her uncompromising social media demeanor landed her in quaffs both hysterical (See: her merciless ribbing of T.I. and Iggy Azalea) and injurious (that time she defended her right to call Perez Hilton a gay slur), but vocal criticism of Baauer, Pharrell, and Disclosure began to cost her profitable collaborators. Her early career goodwill nearly spent, Banks finally caught a break: Interscope let her out of her deal with the rights to all the songs she’d recorded during her tenure there. Broke With Expensive Taste arrived this month with very little fanfare, its release announced with a simple tweet. Its lengthy gestation is, of course, its chief foible. Older material accounts for roughly half the tracklist, and some of it doesn’t mesh well with the fresher, weirder stuff around it. It helps to see Broke With Expensive Taste, then, as an anthology, The Portable Azealia Banks.
Three songs in, it’s clear why Interscope didn’t know what to do with the thing. Opener “Idle Delilah” bursts in effortlessly crossing elements of house, dubstep, and Caribbean music. It’s followed by “Gimme a Chance”, a bass-heavy post-disco romp that takes a hairpin turn into smooth merengue halfway through, as Banks flits from rapping and singing in English to perfect unaffected Spanish. “Desperado” borrows a beat from early 2000s UK garage whiz MJ Cole’s “Bandelero Desperado” as Banks puts on a rap clinic, flaying adversaries in a flow so neat you might miss the fact that every piece of every line rhymes. Her voice is often the sole unifying force from track to track here, and it’s easy to see a label’s trepidation about pushing this thing on listeners who haven’t followed her every move. “Nude Beach a Go-Go”, for instance, a late album collaboration with Ariel Pink, is every bit the what-the-fuck moment it sounds like on paper.
By the end of Broke With Expensive Taste you’ll come to see Azealia Banks as a dance pop classicist underneath the flailing. The capable but unfussy approach to melody on deep cut confections “Soda” and “Miss Camaradie” as well as Fantasea holdover “Luxury” and the massive “Chasing Time” showcase Azealia as a singer who’s studied her Robin S. and Technotronic. Coupled with her bullish rhyme skills, Azealia’s chops as a house vocalist make for a true rapper-singer double threat. (Credit is due to Drake and Nicki Minaj, but both sound like they picked up singing on the job.) She’s an angel on the choruses, but for the verses in between, she’s a formidable spitter whose flash and flow are unmistakably Harlem.
The party line among hip-hop aficionados is that New York rap currently lacks a distinctly New York identity. There’s some truth to it. The city’s biggest success stories of late involve locals breaking out by spicing Big Apple grit with outside flavors, from A$AP Mob’s Texas screw fixation to French Montana’s trap circuit traction to Nicki Minaj’s day-glo EDM daze. But the scene in 2014 can’t look like it did in 1994 or even 2004, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Statlers and Waldorfs pining for a new age of rappity boom bap wouldn’t notice a new New York if it came up and offered them molly in a Brooklyn bar bathroom.
Well, Azealia Banks is it, and Broke With Expensive Taste is a reminder that the corner of Harlem that she claims is walking distance from both Washington Heights and the Bronx, where you’re as likely to hear hip-hop booming out of apartments and passing cars as freestyle, reggaeton, house, or bachata. It’s a quick subway jaunt away from the landmark clubs where ball culture persists, as well as perennial dance parties at Webster Hall and the glut of eclectic Lower Manhattan concert venues. Broke With Expensive Taste glides through all of these, just like the faithful 1 train sampled on “Desperado”. Both album and the artist revel in the freedom of a New York City where divisions between these sounds and scenes have ever so slowly ceased to exist.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1suOCqB