In the pantheon of forever-delayed albums, Azealia Banks’ “Broke with Expensive Taste” wasn’t quite as anticipated as, say, Dr. Dre’s “Detox,” but the odds that we would see its release this year probably weren’t much better.
In 2011, the then-20 year-old rapper caught the music world’s attention with the undeniably catchy “212” and its subsequent video, which catapulted Banks to next-big-thing status and elicited inevitable comparisons to fellow New Yorker Nicki Minaj.
Minaj followed that success up with a solid mixtape and EP with the elusive debut album in production. In the meantime, Banks became better known instead for the ridiculous amount of Twitter feuds she was involved in than her music. Some were harmless, like her ribbing of Iggy Azalea and Lady Gaga, but the act soon wore thin. Her tweets also began to threaten her career when she attacked some of the biggest producers in the world, including Disclosure, Diplo and Pharrell Williams. Before long, almost everyone had given up on Azealia Banks.
Then, through Twitter, the newly independent Banks (she was dropped by Interscope Records last summer) announced that her debut full-length, “Broke with Expensive Taste,” was available last Thursday.
The album is neither a masterpiece nor a disaster — it seems like everything these days is expected to be one of the two — but, thankfully, it is good enough that the focus on Banks is once again on music.
Banks is technically a rapper, and she’s good enough that a case could be made for her as the best female rapper in the world. But what makes her album work is the interplay between her witty lyrics and her knack for a catchy melody — that is what made “212” such a hit when it was released. Her rhymes come cadenced, as many of the songs on “Broke” are as easy to sing along with as traditional pop songs.
“JFK” is the only song on the album to feature a guest verse, with both Banks and Theophilus London rapping over a bouncing club-ready beat. Her underrated vocals sing the hook.
Banks told Pitchfork this week that “I don’t think I’ll ever write a better song than ‘Miss Camaraderie,’ ever. It’s better than ‘212.’ It’s the most meaningful song to me. When you’re an artist and you write songs, they play in your head all the time, and ‘Miss Camaraderie’ plays in my head when I sleep, when I wake up. When I’m on my deathbed, that’s going to be what’s ringing in my head.”
The song features an instrumental break about halfway through the song that makes British producer Lone’s work almost as impressive as Bank’s personal lyrics.
Much of the album features Banks blending her rap voice with her singing voice, but “Gimme a Chance” is pure ‘90s throwback hip-hop, complete with a prominent bass line and record scratches, that morphs into a homage to Spanish music.
“Yung Rapunxel” suffers a bit from a crowded beat and turned distorted vocals, but nevertheless is one of the most experimental pop tracks released this year. “Nude Beach A-Go-Go” solidifies Banks’ indie credibility with its Ariel Pink sample and has Banks sounding as if she could have been a Beach Boy.
It remains to be seen whether this album will make people permanently talk again about Banks’ music instead of her online presence. She can’t seem to stay away from Twitter — she took a justified shot at Eminem on Tuesday morning — but if her artistic work can overshadow her antics even for a moment, it must be pretty damn good.