Music/Features

We need to talk about Azealia Banks

October 13, 2017

Keeping up with Azealia Banks is complicated and difficult to navigate, but that’s Azealia.

Azealia Banks: the highly opinionated, fast spitting, sharp-tongued Harlemite that everyone loves to hate. Her mobility towards success has wavered but wearing the scarlet letter, via her unfiltered commentary, has been the only constant in her career. What’s undeniable, though, is her talent; her hubris shines through her playful but brash wordplay and is paired with a unique cadence — a rarity in a genre where flows are increasingly made into templates to be replicated. Banks garnered attention from people who fell in love with her boldness and infectiously catchy hooks. But as the 26-year old artist has recently embarked on her North American tour, she has been—and possibly will be—met with reminders of her past.

This is by no means a sparsely dotted past, either. It’s one that involves Twitter beefs, her engagement with ancestral practices like Brujería (which has been framed as deviant because it falls outside of Judeo-Christian religions), and a real concern from fans about the state of her mental health. All the while, one sentiment remains that generally takes the form of “we love her music” but “we wish she didn’t say/do all those things”.

Would you watch this if it were a real thing? A docuseries about me?

A post shared by Azealia Banks (@azealiabanks) on

Yung Rapunxel is complex, to say the least. We often forget that celebrities are humans, and humans have a labyrinth of dynamic aspects about them. This doesn’t necessarily excuse her behaviour, per se, but reveals the palpable differences between the ways she has been held accountable in relation to her peers. For one, Azealia Banks is a dark-skinned, Black woman. This means that most of what’s supposed to be critique ends up sounding like misogynoir (Misogynoir is a term coined by Black queer feminist academic Moya Bailey, and is defined as “the ways that anti-Blackness and misogyny combine to malign Black women in our world”).

Secondly, it seems like certain demographics—virtually everyone who is not a Black woman—are more likely to receive empathy for their perceived tortured artist persona, i.e. Demi Lovato or Sinead O’Connor, without being written off as crazy beyond saving. Ignoring how these two factors operate with one another replicates a patriarchal, racist, able-bodied industry, and by extension society, that often leaves Black women and their welfare at the fringes.

While she shouldn’t be faulted for talking about her experience, the overarching challenge remains; the way she articulates her opinions almost always falls short.

This doesn’t suffice as a means to coddle her and her actions, or to take away from the damage that she’s caused. She’s said and done some extremely reckless things, some of which include advocating for Trump on his campaign trail, making disparaging comments about Zayn Malik, Skai Jackson and one of the best exports of the U.K., Grime and publicly defending Bill Cosby during his rape allegations, amongst other things. Her most recent transgression has been towards Cardi B.

Heads turned, eyeballs widened and fingers went off when Banks took to Twitter and Instagram to talk about how the industry played a role in Cardi’s achievements after her track, “Bodak Yellow,” went platinum. While attacking her intelligence and shaming her for who she slept with, she also mentioned in a series of now deleted tweets, “Charlemagne and black men in hiphop should have gotten me, remy AND nicki a number one before they gave cardi or iggy one” and then proceeded to deny Cardi of her Blackness when she mentioned, “Black industry men are too hype for this Latina girl I’ve never seen them jump like this for remy or nicki.” In response, Cardi posted an Instagram video of Banks dancing to the platinum record, with the caption “One of the reasons Bodak Yellow went #1! Cuz even the HATERS love it!” Naturally, people began to compare the two very talented artists and comments about why Banks was unable to reach Cardi’s caliber of success began to be a topic of discussion.

One of the reasons Bodak Yellow went #1! Cuz even the HATERS love it!

A post shared by Cardi B Official IG (@iamcardib) on

Let it be clear that some of what Banks said was fucked up. But Banks has also garnered polarizing opinions because she has never shied away from speaking about the systemic barriers she’s faced. There are often elements of her arguments that are extremely valid—like her opinions regarding the co-opting of Black art and hip hop— and there is validity in Banks’ thoughts regarding colourism. The fact that she has been shut out of the industry largely because of her commentary and claims of being difficult to work with, doesn’t negate the fact that there are real barriers that women—specifically dark-skinned Black women—face when they enter her line of work. While she shouldn’t be faulted for talking about her experience, the overarching challenge remains: the way she articulates her opinions almost always falls short.

Regardless of whether you agree with her opinions, whether they be on skin bleaching or her homophobic language, Banks is not oblivious to her actions. In a recent interview with XXL interview, she acknowledges her lapses in judgement, she recently apologized to Nicki Minaj, admitted to being political unaware when she endorsed Trump, and in the wildest of moves, is now on better terms with Iggy Azalea (and is set to appear on her upcoming album, Digital Distortion.)

Keeping up with Azealia is not the easiest of feats but the difference between her and everyone else is that her celebrity doesn’t afford her making mistakes in private.

“But what about all the things she said about Iggy earlier?”

I’ll admit keeping up with Azealia is not the easiest of feats, but the difference between her and everyone else is that her celebrity doesn’t afford her making mistakes in private. As well, just because she’s had a change in heart, doesn’t take away from the principle behind her statements of Izzy’s gross appropriation of black culture. I get it—it’s complicated and difficult to navigate—but that’s Azealia.

That’s why this tour may be Banks’ remedy. It will without a doubt be packed with energetic bouts and windows where she lets fans into her more vulnerable side. Music has a way of transforming one’s self and allowing them to transcend past their immediate body into an otherworldly place; it’s a saviour for those whose transgressions seem harrowingly inescapable but, even if for a moment, significantly minute in comparison to the haven that basslines, rhythms and beats provide. Perhaps within those sacred moments of her performance we’ll see the artist come into who she really is and remember why we fell in love with her. As much as music has been her saving grace, it will likely also be her redemption.

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