FEATURE: The Brilliance and Enigma of Azealia Banks: Is She Blurring the Line Between Persona and Needless Controversy?




The Brilliance and Enigma of Azealia Banks


IN THIS PHOTO: American Hip-Hop/Rap star, Azealia Banks/PHOTO CREDIT: Highsnobiety/Andrew Boyle 

Is She Blurring the Line Between Persona and Needless Controversy?


FOR as long as music has been producing stars and icons...      


 IN THIS IMAGE: The cover of Azealia Banks’ December-released (2018) E.P., Icy Colors Change/IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify

there has been controversy and that confusion between persona and being offensive. Look back at the Punk icons like Johnny Rotten (Sex Pistols) and Ramones; Britpop bands like Oasis and modern-day performers like Azealia Banks. I am not saying Banks is on the same level as the iconic best but she might get there one day. It is clear she is a gifted live presence and someone offering something genuinely new to music. It seems unfair to single her out but it seems she is making the headliners more for her comments as she is her music. Banks has a chequered history of making misguided remarks and getting into Twitter spats. I shall come to that later but the most-recent incident of Banks getting into hot water related to her insulting Irish fans at a gig. This article explains how the American rapper can be prosecuted:

Azealia Banks could be prosecuted if she continues to make insulting remarks about Irish people, a barrister has suggested.

The rapper, 27, walked off an Aer Lingus flight from Gatwick to Dublin before take-off earlier this week because of an apparent spat with crew on board.

Banks chose to disembark the plane before take-off after a verbal altercation took place between her and airline crew when she told them not to stare at her as she was being asked questions.

She then posted a series of Instagram stories about the exchange in which she called one member of the airline crew an “ugly Irish b*****”.

The New York rapper claimed she had been “treated like a wild animal” and denied that she had told the stewardess she would “sort her out”, saying that she does “not use that kind of slang”.

It would be callous to write Banks off as someone who stirs trouble and I think there is an aspect of persona and character. Musicians have been ruffling feathers and rebelling for decades and the industry seriously needs those with a bit of attitude and personality. I have been looking for someone who stands out and separates themselves from the pack. Azealia Banks is someone who has spirit and spunk and is unafraid to hold it back. Is there a big difference between someone like Liam Gallagher running his mouth against certain figures and his brother and Banks insulting fans?! If it was a case of the odd Twitter feud and a few regretful moments then one could say it is part of music and can be overlooked – it seems like the problem runs deeper. The fact there are articles that chronicle her Twitter beefs and controversial moments leaves me concerned. It is a shame she is making the news for the wrong reasons because, as a performer, she is stunning. This review from The Guardian recalls her recent gig in Manchester:

After high-profile spats with everyone from Grimes and Elon Musk to Zayn Malik and Sarah Palin, this week Azealia Banks was at it again. An apparently straightforward flight to Ireland saw the hair-trigger New Yorker remove herself from the plane after an argument with an air attendant ended with her referring to “ugly” Irish women. One tearful confessional and a live triumph in Dublin later, she reignited the furore with a social media rant referring to “leprechauns”.



She has just one proper album to her name (a second is due this year) but it’s hard not to suspect that while they have kept her in the spotlight, the spats – and perhaps not unrelated, her mental-health issues – have also prevented her becoming the superstar she should be. Here she croons like a jazz singer and delivers freestyle rap at blistering speed. When she unveils an a capella soul voice as big as Whitney Houston’s, she is a revelation”.

Azealia Banks has her third album (her second proper) coming out later this year and it will be interesting to see what she writes about. There is hot anticipation in the music community but, even before her debut, there was this wait and sense of anticipation. Years past between her first signs of promise and the much-required debut album. Broke with Expensive Taste arrived in 2014 and critics were keen to see whether the wait was worth it. The Guardian had this to say:

Three years after her breakout hit 212, Azealia Banks has finally released her debut album. It’s a contender for album of the year. Banks immerses herself in 90s nostalgia, spitting darkly and sharply over tracks full of elements of UK garage, deep house and trap (an aggressive strain of hip-hop). She makes lines such as “Sprite I love the mosta/I ride rolla coasta/I try all the cultures” not only rhyme, but pulsate. It’s childish and kitsch: the use of xylophones creates a tropical timbre… but it’s a knowingly naff, Hawaiian resort kind of tropical. The only mis-step? Nude Beach A Go Go sounds like a Christmas single by an ersatz Beach Boys”.

In July 2018, Banks left the set of the U.S. T.V. show, Wild ‘n Out – she accused the cast of using colorist jokes against her. She was due to release her album, Fantasea II: The Second Wave, but said she needed some time to relax. Banks went on to say she would release music when she was ready. It is clear there have been occasions where people have jabbed Banks and tried to rile her. That cannot be forgiven and there has been a lot of pettiness aimed against her. I think, however, Banks is creating more controversy than necessary. It is evident she’s one of the most promising names in modern music and can do a lot of good. With competition from the likes of Cardi B, one wonders whether digs, Twitter spats and needless attacks against fans are the way to raise her profile. It is sad to see the music taking second fiddle to the remarks. When interviewed by Highsnobiety last year, Banks addressed questions regarding scandals and Twitter fueds:

This is the thing,” she says, “It’s like people get way too dramatic about things. Who cares? People do shit. People have done shit to me, I’ve done shit to people. It just fucking happens – you live and you learn and you move the fuck on. Honestly, I don’t know what people’s obsession is with me being like this. People are always like, ‘Are you a miserable person?’ Oh my fucking god. Like I’m at home hanging out with my dogs, baking cookies, writing songs, watching TV, and doing my goddamn thing. People love the drama and then they like to pretend they don’t. And then they’re always like, ‘Oh, how could you say that?’ And then they’re talking about it for fucking two weeks and it’s like ‘shit, let it go.’”

I ask, “While we’re here, is there anything that you would want to clear the air on in any sort of topic or –”


PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest 

“Well, if I weren’t the person that I am, I don’t think I would have a semblance of the cultural relevance that I do, you know? With black women in music, it’s really easy to be forgotten about when you’re not really subscribing to the whole… I guess, hyper-feminine idea of what a female artist should be. When you’re not being a fantasy of what society thinks the perfect woman is as a female artist, it’s really easy to get cast aside, and even when you are doing that, it’s still really easy to get cast aside. My voice and my opinion is in tandem with my music, [and it’s] something that makes me really special.”

She continues, “I’ve been banned from Twitter for a lot of different reasons, I’ve probably had my Instagram follower count stifled [with] shadow banning censorship, all kinds of things like that. It’s just indicative of the personal power that I have beyond being the musician. And yeah, of course, sometimes you can get a little heated and things could get a little out of hand… [but] that happens for everybody. I have the potential to do more than just music and be more than just a musician”.

It is true, like I said, the debate is not one-sided. Banks has received unwanted attention and abuse and I do not think that should be overlooked! It is not fair when Banks is the subject of derision and insult. Whilst it is easy to say she should rise above it, I do think there is a difference between a unique and bold artist and going too far.

Maybe there are mental-health concerns and pressures that are enforcing her actions. I would feel the same when presented with any other artist but I have to wonder whether Banks needs to let the music do the talking. She is one of the brighter stars in the music sky and I am concerned her popularity and potency will diminish the more controversy and unwelcomed press attention gets in the way. Her history with Twitter is a long and often unhappy one and I do wonder why she strikes out at fans at times – is it a case of there being blame in both camps? The recent controversy in Ireland might be forgotten and, when Banks stepped onto the KOKO stage this week, she gained a glowing review:

Banks sings as well as any classic soul star, and could rap circles around many artists who are given bigger and better stages. Her interaction with the crowd is superb: she eyeballs them with bravado on “Count Contessa” then takes the time to make sure a fan gets one of the gloves she’s been handing out during the set.

When she reaches her biggest hit to date, the European rave-inspired “212”, you wonder if the ceiling is going to cave in. As a person, Banks clearly isn’t perfect. On stage, however, she is flawless”.


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

At the end of the day, we should be concerned more about the music because that is what matters most. Azealia Banks’ live performances are world-class and she must rank as one of the finest live acts in the world right now. Her music, whilst not prolific, shows plenty of boldness, genius and strength. Banks can get to the top of the mainstream and inspire the next generation but I do wonder whether, at some point, her actions and remarks will overtake her brilliant talent. Maybe feuds and stirring up a bit of controversy is part of the game and a ‘persona’ but I do wonder whether there will be a moment things go too far – threatening to derail her remarkable reviews and growing musical reputation. Banks’ stock is rising but it is dealt a blow every time something unpleasant comes up. There are few artists worth being concerned about but, with more focus on the music and greater discipline from the Harlem-born star she could, very quickly, transform from this star-in-waiting to become...

THE Queen of Hip-Hop.