Bursting onto the scene in late 2011, pharm abrasive, schizophrenic, callous and infectious was Azealia Banks. who hit us like a Jager Bomb, waking us up from the deep listless slumber of contemporary hip-hop and forcing us to sit up and pay attention. Amassing $3million in the process, “212”’s ubiquity promised us a “beacon”. Bar mixtape, “Fantasia” however from which “I Created Disco” tinged “Luxury” was to be spawned, there was to be very little output over the next three years. But the Harlem rapper was doing things on her own terms. And an ill-fated collaboration with pop troubadour, Pharrell Williams and a couple of label bust-ups later, Banks, delighted to be “free at last” to express her noncommercial creativity, releasing “Yung Rapunxel”(which is every bit as insanely sinister as its video might suggest) and the A$AP Mob like “Heavy Metal and Reflective”, eventually dropped “Broke with Expensive Taste”-an audacious genre-mashing innovation.
Despite its drawn out creative process, “Broke…”’s compilation is mostly mellifluous. Being blessed with such versatile vocal talents of Lauryn Hill’s stature to add to her signature Harlem sassiness however, adds a wonderfully unnerving calling card of unpredictability to the songstress’ delivery. Indeed, there is rarely a dull moment, Banks fusing her quick-fire wit with the early part of the album’s particularly batshit production. Charging, purposeful opener, “Idlest Delilah” is all merengue and bleepy electronics while “Gimme a Chance” sounds celebratory, sampling New York Indie band, Enon and combining record-scratching with Latino trumpets. “Desperado”, meanwhile sees the emcee coalesce eerie howls with fidgety old-school two-step drum and bass, Flying Lotus-indebted synth and vintage trumpet playing not too dissimilar to that on fellow New Yorker, Nas’ “Life’s a Bitch”. “JFK” cites influence from another EDM pioneer, Flume, laying undercurrents epochal to him under a creaking whorl as well as providing a cameo to Theophilus London.
The middle section of the album however, sees the production become banal and sonorous to match Banks’ at times tiresome overly-brash lyricism (“I be Cherry Deeky/When I Swell up/Get that Best Dick”-“Heavy Metal and Reflective”). It is perhaps at its most sloppy on the gold-digger-glamorising “Ice Princess” to which the award for one of the year’s most random, ill-timed, not-so-euphoric contemporary house melody goes to. It is indeed later songs like “Soda” and “Chasing Time” which take influence from 90s house and also happen to be the most fun on the album which are the most evocative, divulging Ms. Banks’ inner emotions of heartbreak(“Am I Chasing Time?/ Cos’ I Wasted All Mine on You”).
Then comes the sub-3 minute Ariel Pink-assisted left field and self-proclaimed satire on corny white culture, “Nude Beach A-Go-Go” which sounds as if it could soundtrack a Christmas special 1980s Californian Surfer sitcom. This is before the album’s highlight-duo, exquisite “Miss Amor” and “Miss Camraderie”, bound to be the send-off for many an end of the night concludes proceedings with an anthem amid the hardened but content battle cries of horns, a night for Azealia though much longer than expected, truly worth its weight in gold-a truly wonderful eclectic and boundary-pushing endeavor.
By Alasdair Murty.