Review: Azealea Banks – Broke With Expensive Taste

Azealea Banks

Broke With Expensive Taste

Azealea Banks & Project Park
Azealia Banks is quite the enigma.

After stepping on the scene in 2008 at age 17, Banks wasted no time jumping on the fast track to success. She promptly put the rest of the music world on notice, as the Interscope/Polydor Recordings signee descended upon the mainstream hip-hop scene in December of 2011 with the release of her critically acclaimed debut EP, 1991.

She then tentatively announced, via Twitter, that a full-length album titled Broke With Expensive Taste could drop in May or June of 2012. But instead of the album, Banks released her sophomore mixtape “Fantasea,” setting the Internet ablaze just seven months later.

Then something odd happened

Azealia Banks devolved from budding rap titan to bratty attention-seeker by initiating a number of puzzling Twitter feuds with artists like Pharell Williams, Rita Ora, Lady Gaga, and ASAP Rocky. Two-and-a-half years later, Banks’ debut album was nowhere to be seen. She was dropped from Universal Recordings as a result of “creative differences” in July of 2014, which seemed to be a sort of comeuppance for her antics, replacing a once certain future with one riddled with question marks.

But when no one was looking, Azealia Banks came roaring back from the depths of music exile on Thursday, Nov. 6, finally releasing the long-awaited  debut album, Broke with Expensive Taste.

The LP debuted at Number 3 on ITunes and Number 30 on the Billboard Top 200. It sold 11,165 copies in just the first three days, despite a Beyoncé-style covert release and no backing from a major label, something in which those with lofty commercial expectations can take solace.

Besides, the success of a project can’t be judged solely on a commercial basis; things like content, production, and meaning matter, too.

In many ways, this project is the affirmation of everything people already knew about Banks – when focusing attention on her craft, and not silly social media quarrels, she’s one of the most incredible talents hip-hop has to offer.

This LP sees Banks fall in line with the recent trend of rap artists who’ve challenged and expanded the boundaries of what hip-hop music can be. Her versatility is on full display, as she finds herself rapping over rangy, experimental production that fuses genres like house, techno, rap, and pop, creating a sonic wonderland for listeners.

Lyrically, Banks is outstanding. Her eccentric, colorful personality comes through on tracks like “Desperado,” where she raps an entire verse in Spanish, making Kendrick Lamar’s few words on “Collard Greens” look like amateur hour – or at least, a little less impressive. She isn’t afraid to be explicit, either; the album’s headlining single “212” is laden with clever, provocative lines that leave listeners unsure whether to be disgusted or amazed. While many will feel they can do without the Beach Boys-inspired track “Nude Beach A Go-Go,” that, too, is done well. Even with its faults, this album is a torrential downpour of lyrical and stylistic wizardry that leaves fans awash with awe.

The project is everything anyone could have hoped it’d be. Banks has created something that forces listeners to put gender aside. Navigating the choppy seas the ocean of rap often provides for female artists, she emerges as a leader of the pack in a field dominated by men.

And she’s done this primarily by invigorating a decaying repetitious rap world with a delightful dose of ingenuity and creativity.

Perfection can’t be rushed, and in the end, it seems Broke With Expensive Taste makes a five year-wait feel almost completely worthwhile.