Two years after breakout hit 212, some disappointing EPs, a tonne of controversy, countless Twitter feuds, homophobic abuse, failing to turn up to major gigs, and pulling releases at the last minute (seriously, her Wikipedia page reads like a soap opera), Azealia Banks has finally self-released her debut album ‘Broke With Expensive Taste’. From someone who once topped NME’s Cool List in 2011, there’s only one question to be answered: was the album worth the wait?
There’s no doubt you get tracks for your dollar here – sixteen in total. Yet what many of the tracks actually consist of is pretty sparse – for the first half of the album at least. As with 212, her overall style fuses hip-hop with house, but as she raps over beats you realise that that’s…it. Take opener Idle Delilah: it’s not until the three minute mark that we get the tiniest of hooks, but by that point it’s too little too late. Too often she leans too heavily in one direction. JFK, for instance, is a lengthy and repetitive house track with a forgettable rap; whilst the trap influenced Heavy Metal and Reflective is a hard-hitting hip-hop track that lacks that house brilliance – BBD similarly follows suit. Banks sure does spit a lot of words out (often in impressively rapid quickfire), but does she really have anything of note to say? That the best track here remains 212 is perhaps telling. Who else could make a c-bomb sound so cool?
When she gets it right, though, the results are electric. And those results are most evident in the album’s second half, once all the varying influences finally click into place. Ice Princess begins with a trap beat, but soon crescendos into a rave-like chorus that (shock horror) includes an actual melody amongst all the sparkling synths. Soda similarly fizzes, with its bubbling clipped hook that contrasts with its lyrics of loneliness (“I’m trying to hide behind tired eyes, I sigh”). Chasing Time, meanwhile, is a major highlight – a diss track aimed squarely at her former label, Banks slyly sings “am I chasing time? ‘Cause I wasted all mine on you” over infectious beats and euphoric synths. It’s by a mile her best track since 212, with crossover appeal between hip-hop circles, clubs and mainstream radio. Luxury follows, all funky basslines and sexy production.
Occasionally, Banks drops a beat so stonking that you can’t help but take notice: the garage swagger of Desperado, the stomping and aggressive Yung Rapunxel, or the rapid, urgent dance beats of the album’s closing pairing of Miss Amor and Miss Camaraderie. Then there’s Gimme a Chance that provides an early highlight, its first half pairing record scratching with horn interjections, before erupting with fiery salsa rhythms and a rap in Spanish. It smacks of an album that lacks overall cohesion, but somehow still works. If anything this is less an album and more just a collection of her work over the past few years. It’s been so long, she had to release something, right?
If there’s one song that stands out, though it’s Nude Beach A-Go-Go. It’s Banks pairing the Beach Boys with the opening credits sequence to an 80s sitcom style remake of Baywatch. It contains such genius lyrics as “Ram-a-lam-a-ding-dong, surfer Billy, bing-bong” and questions “do you jingle when you dingle-dangle?”. It’s a psychedelic head rush. I have no idea what Banks was thinking (or taking) when she wrote this, but at last we can finally hear her having some fun. For a woman who seems so angry and aggressive, constantly courting controversy, she’s definitely at her best when she lightens up a bit.
* Chasing Time
Listen: ‘Broke With Expensive Taste’ is available now.