Azealia Banks’ Debut Album Review

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Not to be confused with Iggy Azalea, Azealia Banks is probably best known for her dance club hit “212”, a raunchy anthem to her hometown, Harlem, New York. After several delays, she has finally expounded upon her area code-derived single with a full-length album.  Broke With Expensive Taste was released online earlier this month with no warning, no marketing, and no explicit hype.  Although it did not cause the stir that Beyoncé’s Beyoncé did when it was surprise-dropped, fans of the young rapper were delighted to finally have a substantial body of work to grasp on to. Banks has made a name for herself with very little handholding.  Her tenacity was particularly apparent when she left Universal Music Group’s Interscope Records and started her own label, taking the rights to her music with her.  Now, under her own label, she has a masterfully crafted, 16 track album that succeeds in many ways.

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What impresses me most is the balance of variety and identity on the album. Each song offers a new beat, an intriguing sample, or some fresh instrumentation.  At the same time, the album is remarkably congruent, creating a signature sound that helps listeners identify this as Azealia Banks. Part of this sound is her artistry as a rapper.  She can spit crisply in one verse, and then take a more melodic, songlike approach in the next.  In either case, rhythmic integrity is assured as her voice slides smoothly into the thoughtful beats. Another characteristic sound is the blending of industrial, danceable beats with more organic instrumental samples.

The first song, “Idle Delilah”, is a perfect example of these characteristics, auguring the musical treats to come.   Another distinctly “Azealia” song is “JFK”, featuring Theophilus London.  Amidst her and London’s rapping, Banks throws in some melodic vocal samples to contrast the trance beat.  To add even more complexity, she flanges the vocal sample in the last third of the song, an effect that perfectly synthesizes the two contrasting sound styles. The following track, “212”, is still great.

In “Ice Princess”, Azealia Banks shows us that Elsa is not the only woman capable of sub-zero aggression. The use of delicate chimes in the beat is particularly appealing.  It holds the song together thematically, carrying the terse verses into the more sensual, pop-like chorus.  The following song, “Young Rapunxel”, features a persistent hook, which comprises Banks rhythmically shouting. It is strangely enjoyable despite its violent nature. While all the songs are well-made, one other worth pointing out here is “Nude Beach A Go-Go”, Azealia Banks’ highly sexual take on a 50s beach movie theme.  It is a sort of capstone on the album’s breadth of stylistic variability.

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Overall, I give the album a 9/10.  There is so much acoustic and lyrical content that the songs should continue to engage listeners (including me) for months to come. Check out the album now on Spotify, or jump straight to the purchase page of iTunes.

[images source: Wikipedia]

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