Originally envisaged as a mixtape comprising covers and remixes from Jay-Z, Slay-Z has blossomed into a beat-charged octave that rightly lives up to its name. Azealia Banks literally slays, producing some of her best work to date.
It’s very clear that this is a mixtape, however. This is a collection of songs for the AB lovers; it has little potential to chart or become recognised as an iconic album in its own right. Much like Fantasea (2012), Slay-Z isn’t studio polished. The beats are a little rough around the edges, the vocals are a little raw, but overall it’s sublime.
Azealia Banks’ debut Broke With Expensive Taste was eclectic. She had very much thrown every genre of music imaginable into that effort, producing an album worth the wait.
Slay-Z follows suit. Opening with industrial beats and a breathy vocal, ‘Riot’ threatens to cause a riot. It’s hard and unrelenting, discussing Banks’ innumerable Twitter beefs. ‘Hold up, hold up, fire starter / Say the wrong thing and get yourself slaughtered,’ Banks impeccably raps midway through – and as a fan you just have to laugh. She clearly doesn’t give a fuck who she offends – is that such a bad thing?
‘The Big Big Beat’, meanwhile, is dripping in so-called ‘Detroit house vibes’ with ‘major Diana Ross teas’. This doesn’t sound like it would work, but it does. The beat may not necessarily be that big, but it’s a ditty that’ll have you bopping along whilst falling in love with Banks’ high vocal.
In my review of ‘The Big Big Beat’ earlier this year I called this a sequel to ‘Ice Princess’, in that Banks once more discusses her wealth and allure: ‘Nigger, I’m still in these streets.’ Banks ain’t going anywhere!
But, surprisingly, this isn’t the sequel I thought. Because ‘Ice Princess’ is awarded a remix in the form of ‘Big Talk’ featuring Rick Ross. Ross namechecks the original – ‘Ice box for my princess’ – but ‘Big Talk’ is as far from the allure of ‘Ice Princess’ as possible, and that isn’t a bad thing!
Banks hasn’t tried to emulate the success of that track – no, she’s tried to eclipse it. It doesn’t quite reach the same heights, but ‘Big Talk’ is something pretty special.
When Banks arrives, her rap punches you repeatedly in the face. ‘Bad bitch, I’m bodacious / Black power but I’m no racist,’ Banks declares.
She is very vocal on Twitter about black rights and here she is saying that she isn’t disregarding people of other colours, but that she’s all for black rights. Again, is that such a bad thing?
‘Skylar Diggins’ features another hard beat layered over repetitive vocals: ‘That bitch ballin’ / That bitch ballin’, yeah that bitch ballin’ / Skylar Diggins with the wrist / That bitch ballin’ / That bitch ballin’, yeah that bitch ballin’.’ Its repetitive nature means you’ll have it stuck in your head instantly.
Name-checking EA and Jean Grey from the X-Men, Banks delivers one of her most visceral images ever! ‘If you ain’t with the shits bitch get up off the toilet.’ Yep. Horrible images indeed. Pure AB.
Slay-Z was apparently leaked by an ex-manager and producer of Banks, which is why ‘Used to Being Alone’ doesn’t sound quite finished. It cuts off abruptly compared to the previously released version, but Banks has already promised a remix will be released imminently.
This new version incorporates electric guitar beats (it works, trust me it works!) over Banks’ raw vocal. ‘Oh, it took so long to get over ya / How do I prepare / When I swore I’d never see you again?’ Banks sings beautifully. Being heartbroken never sounded quite as good as this!
Meanwhile ‘Can’t Do It Like Me’ was reportedly written for Rihanna, along with a rework of ‘Bizarra’ (the latter will feature on her sophomore album Business & Pleasure). ‘Can’t Do It Like Me’ has a somewhat funky beat. It’s a sound that’s quite hard to describe. But nevertheless Banks self-references her breakout hit ‘212’.
Here she says the American dream is to have a ‘pussy [that] be peppermint clean, okay’. Okay?
Slay-Z also features a cut from her third mixtape Fantasea II: The Second Wave in the form of ‘Along the Coast’. That, coupled with the previously released ‘Count Contessa’, promises a very tropical vibe. I sincerely hope that some tropical house beats find there way in – after all, tropical house is very popular at the minute.
On ‘Along the Coast’, Banks sounds her freshest ever. I’ve said it countless times that Banks can sing, but boy can she! Listen to this song and you’ll forget any and all doubts you previously had. Yes, she slays it!
And finally we come to the standout track. ‘Queen of Clubs’ is a cross between house and trap that is right up there with Banks’ best work. The opening refrain punches you in the throat not once, but a dozen times.
‘Turn the fuckin’ heat up / DJ play the beat, I wanna party,’ Banks growls in a vocal similar to that featured on ‘Yung Rapunxel’, whilst her singing vocal for the chorus and verses amplify this to iconic levels. ‘You know this was the life I was born to live / Queen of the club / Can’t you see that the nighttime belongs to me / Up every night and every day,’ Banks sings, once more affirming her belief that she is primed to dominate the club, and the music scene.
Banks has many haters. Say what you want. But every track she releases is lauded with critical praise which means she must be doing something right, right?
Slay-Z is a gloriously hard treat for long-time fans, a salvation in the dry period between Broke With Expensive Taste and Fantasea II: The Second Wave. I defy you not to enjoy this mixtape.
Welcome back, AB – hopefully there won’t be many setbacks for the next mixtape.