Broke with Expensive Taste

“I’ve been waiting for Azealia Banks,” states one Peter Rosenberg, an urban radio station DJ introducing Desperado, the third track in Ms. Banks’ debut album. It could be said that the Internet, or at least hip-hop fans, have felt the same way about the elusive ‘witch of hip-hop.’ With a surprise release last November 6, Azealia Banks came back from a hushed hiatus, characterized by nasty Twitter bouts with different personalities and criticisms in general. Broke With Expensive Taste proves those criticisms otherwise, but is the Banks vehicle worthwhile?

Ever since her breakout hit ‘212’ hit the airwaves in 2011, people have been waiting for Azealia to grace the world with her unique take on hip-hop and the different styles she’s been employing in her tracks. Unfortunately, Azealia’s public persona has, partly, been tarnished by her label disputes. Ever since she moved on from XL Recordings then got signed on to Interscope, Azealia’s artistry has been restrained by management decisions and concerns over her content.

Album Art Courtesy of Interscope Records and Polydor Records
Album Art Courtesy of Interscope Records and Polydor Records

Broke With Expensive Taste opens with Idle Delilah, an ode to a titular Delilah who was the daughter of a white slave owner during the 1900s. The song is about her life and her murder by the hands of her father’s slaves. From this point, it’s pretty clear that Azealia doesn’t come clean or censor her ideas whatsoever. This clear vision ushers in Gimme A Chance, where Banks blends in her unique brand of music with a Spanish band crooning near the end of the song. Make sure to look out for Azealia’s cleanly spoken Spanish verses in the song.

By the third track, the experimentation that Azealia Banks is heralded for will be clear enough. Desperado, in a tweet directly from Banks, is the commuter’s jam, using a sample from MJ Cole’s 2006 U.K. garage track of the same name. Aside from being an underrated darling, Azealia, in her downtime, also became a fashion icon of sorts, channelled clearly in JFK with a feature from Theophilus London. Interestingly enough, Taste features only London and Ariel Pink. A refreshing take on a year filled with features, Broke With Expensive Taste brings out the best in Azealia by featuring her fast rhymes and innovative beats instead.

Cookie cutter album covers come and go, but Azealia’s surprising art helped fan the flames of her fandom online. The cover’s class help bring the title front and center, that though Azealia’s “broke,” her genius production still takes centerstage. Songs like ‘212,’ ‘Luxury,’ and ‘BBD’ have been released before as singles to keep her name in the business, but the tracks still work flawlessly in the tracklist, blending nicely with the unheard of, original tracks. Like the blending of the old and new, Taste’s album art proved innovative in the face of mass production of unremarkable album cover

The noteworthy thing about Azealia’s debut LP is the profanities that come out of Banks’ mouth, ironically. Lyrics that cannot be written down in this review help state that the Yung Rapunxel singer spares no expense or holds no boundaries with how she conjures up her rhymes and how she wants to be known for in the industry. This trait of hers carries the album well when it comes to the songs like Chasing Time, arguably the album’s most pop song. At first glance, it may be about breaking ties with a lover, but it’s cleverly about the label mishaps that occurred early on during her career.

Her outspoken attitude attracts critics, but the way she puts herself in front of the whole world (and the Internet) helps bring her new fans and adoration from the hip-hop industry. From dark “witch hop” music like Yung Rapunxel and Heavy Metal and Reflective to the delightfully pop Nude Beach A-Go-Go (featuring Ariel Pink), it’s clear that the 23 year-old lyricist has the chops to back up the ‘ego,’ if there ever was one. Her swagger is on her sleeve as she lays down Ice Princess, a rap described by fans as a potential single, and Wallace, a song about a man with a dog’s head. This imagination fuels her originality in a landscape that favors assembly line performances over uniqueness.

There’s no denying, though, that Azealia Banks also has her emotions intact. Soda, with clever lyrics about hiding one’s emotions, is a perfect example of how Azealia can balance her demons and insecurities. As she claimed before, the last track Miss Camaraderie holds a special place in her heart, being the best song she’s ever written. Coupled with Miss Amor, the penultimate track, and you get an album packed with big punches and wallops laced with synths and beats as refreshing as her personality.

Mild perfection aside, the album lacks some classics like 1991 or Van Vogue from her critically adored EP 1991. However, a long-awaited album packed with new future classics is better than a rushed album that contains nothing but old and tired selections. It’s still a long way down the road before we can pronounce Banks as a triumph of underground hip-hop or another casualty of the fickle machine that is pop music. In a recent interview with The Daily Beast, she said, “But I’m really happy that it’s out now and people are getting it. That’s all that matters now. I’m still young!”

One thing that makes Banks unique is the idea of a mature adult who only gets into “beefs” but is capable of turning rhymes into award-worthy songs. Her music videos have this sense of fun, but is also tinged with seriousness and hidden messages. It’s the perfect blend of old soul mentality and young energy. She may be broke, but it’s up to listeners, even the ones with the most discriminating tastes, to make sure she makes it big before pop loses another one.

Rating: 4.0

Daniel Ian Comandante

By Daniel Ian Comandante

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