On December 6 2011 Azealia Banks released ‘212’.
Fast forward 1,066 days later and Banks released her debut album Broke With Expensive Taste. So was the expansive wait worth it? Did the album meet its hype?
The resounding answer to both these questions is yes. Yes Broke With Expensive Taste is a phenomenal album. It’s not just the album of the year for me, but one of the greatest debut albums I’ve ever heard. Whilst many questioned Banks’ place in the music industry when she became more famous for her numerous beefs, Banks stayed true to her word and crafted an album which, whilst experimental, is undeniably contemporary. She knows what she’s doing.
Production-wise, Banks experiments with a multitude of genres, most of which sound jarring upon first listen. Broke With Expensive Taste is an album which requires several listens to truly comprehend what is happening, but the time invested is well worth it.
Album opener ‘Idle Delilah’ flows with choppy witch-hop beats which wouldn’t sound out of place on her FANTASEA mixtape. It details slavery and explores how the titular Delilah was murdered by her father’s slaves. Like many of Banks’ songs, it references race heavily: ‘Idlest Delilah / Darling, do you like beige in your coffee? Tea? A wild-?’ Banks asks as the song opens. This very much feels like a follow up to ‘Liquorice’ from her 1991 EP.
From witch-hop the album takes us through house in the form of the infectious ‘Closing Time’, in which Banks asks, ‘Am I chasing time? / Cause I wasted all mine on you (you)’ – a twofold metaphor. It clearly dictates how Banks feels about her previous label Interscope, but simultaneously it works as a reference to how many of Banks’ fans would have felt throughout the intervening years following the release of ‘212’. Many would have thought they were wasting time on her, but I bet they’re all glad they stuck around now.
House also rears its head on album closers ‘Miss Amor’ and ‘Miss Camaraderie’ – the former which explores a lost love over twinkling, hard beats and heavy percussion; here Banks scats her way throughout the track in a similar vein to many classic jazz songs. Its chorus, layered over a pulsing beat, showcases Banks’ infectious singing voice as she huskily demands her lost love to ‘Be mine, oh be my art’. Likewise, the latter showcases a more positive spin on the titular Miss Amor. ‘Miss Camaraderie’ explores ‘admiring Amor…’ and shows Banks looking for love once again. Here she ends the hectic album on a happier note – over hard and heavy beats, of course. It’s instantly clear why this is Banks’ favourite track off of the album.
Following the house tracks we reach rock – bizarrely. The Aerial Pink-assisted ‘Nude Beach A-Go-Go’ sounds like an ode to 50s and 60s jaunty pop music and it jars immediately with the preceding sounds, and yet somehow it sounds distinctly Banks. I don’t think many other hip-hop artists could have incorporated such a song. Another somewhat surprising direction is that of opera and jazz, showcased on ‘JFK’ and ‘Desperado’ respectively.
‘JFK’ perfectly highlights Banks’ impeccable singing voice, in what is probably definitely a diss-track aimed at Lady Gaga. On Twitter Banks said: ‘JFK is about a certain pop star who likes to steal my ideas and pretend they were her own’ and the references to Gaga are explicit. ‘A La-da-dy you wasn’t before’ Banks declares over the warbling chorus, whilst simultaneously signifying Gaga’s Italian heritage and an apparent shade of green evident – i.e., Gaga is jealous of Banks. All tweets have been removed now though – I’m guessing Banks doesn’t want, nor need, another beef.
‘Desperado’, meanwhile, feels like an album-chiller, which is bizarre as it appears third on the track list. The jazz sections swirl around Banks who describes someone desperate to achieve her status. She says, ‘I be pretty, prissy, plenty plush and stuff / You be piggy-pissy, penny-crushed and crunched.’ Quite who this really refers to we don’t know.
Elsewhere, Banks tries her hand at Spanish-infused fiesta music on the updated ‘Gimme a Chance’ and presents an impeccable Spanish-language verse.
‘Wallace’ meanwhile slows the game down once again as Banks raps about a man with the face of a dog (yes, you read that right), which is probably intended to mean guys (or a certain guy) are dogs.
‘BBD’ details Banks’ ability to turn straight women into lesbians. Over a revving hip-hop beat Banks says she’s ‘Bringing out the dyke in her’. Basically ‘BBD’, and the album as a whole, details how amazing Banks is. She may be bigheaded, but Banks is speaking the truth here.
House rears its head once more in both ‘212’ – which sounds as fresh here as it did back in 2011, in all its cunt-laced glory – and ‘Soda’, a track detailing Banks self-medicating. Disguised amongst references to Sprite being better than Coca Cola, Banks employs some extremely smart imagery. ‘I tried to hide behind tired eyes, I sigh / I’m tired of trying to try not to cry.’ She begins over a slow-building opening before referencing soda – using the colloquial name for cocaine. By the time the fist-pumping beat begins, its clear that this song is heavily masking its true meaning. Banks coasts and doses up, gambling with her life. As the bridge states, Banks ‘used to be your girl’. Perhaps she turned to drugs after a nasty break up?
Both ‘Heavy Metal and Reflective’ and ‘Yung Rapunxel’ see Banks delve into trap. The former once more explores Banks’ stance on the music scene – ‘I be very cheeky, / Bitch I’m better’ – and her newfound wealth and lifestyle – such as sipping sake and Moét whilst living in New York. Banks apparently generated $3 million off the back of ‘212’, so it’s a lifestyle she has become accustomed to. The latter meanwhile is quite hard to comprehend. ‘Yung Rapunxel’ is both a lyrical and production mess – it is an assault on the ears, and yet it is Banks down to a tee. Banks is angry here; it’s quite unlike anything else out there.
Finally, we reach ‘Ice Princess’ – the standout of the album. Maybe. It’s all exceptional, so it’s quite hard to pick a standout, but ‘Ice Princess’ comes in close. Heavily sampling ‘In the Air’ by Morgan Page, ‘Ice Princess’ is a twinkling, refined song dripping in coldness. Beneath the imagery and metaphor, it details Banks’ wealth once more and shows her positively looking towards the future. She’s ‘feeling a change’ because she is so wealthy. Apparently ‘they call [her] Banks cause [she] can loan money’. In a bold move Banks declares she is going to beat her competition: ‘I’ma be legendary when I end this’, she says midway through the song – and it’s a just assessment to make.
Broke With Expensive Taste will render Azealia Banks legendary. She has crafted a stunning debut which explores all facets of her multiple personae and leaves the listener feeling satisfied. Those three years were a long wait – but if the payoff is this brilliant, I won’t mind waiting a while for album two. Just try and get it out a bit quicker next time, AB.