Azealia Banks

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Azealia Banks
Azealia Banks 2012 NME Awards cropped.jpg
Banks performing at the 2012 NME Awards
Background information
Birth nameAzealia Amanda Banks
Also known as
  • Miss Bank$
Born(1991-05-31) May 31, 1991 (age 23)
Harlem, New York, U.S.
GenresWitch hop[1][2][3][4]
Years active2008–present
Associated acts
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Azealia Banks
Azealia Banks 2012 NME Awards cropped.jpg
Banks performing at the 2012 NME Awards
Background information
Birth nameAzealia Amanda Banks
Also known as
  • Miss Bank$
Born(1991-05-31) May 31, 1991 (age 23)
Harlem, New York, U.S.
GenresWitch hop[1][2][3][4]
Years active2008–present
Associated acts

Azealia Amanda Banks (born May 31, 1991) is an American rapper, singer, and songwriter. Raised in Harlem, New York, Banks pursued an interest in musical theatre at a young age, studying at the LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts before dropping out to focus on her musical career. In late 2008, she adopted the pseudonym "Miss Bank$", and began releasing music through MySpace, eventually being signed to XL Recordings at age 17.[5]

Later signing to Interscope and Polydor Records, 2011 saw Banks rise in notability when she topped NME's Cool List for the year. In December 2011, the BBC announced that she had been nominated for the Sound of 2012, where she ultimately finished third.[6] Her debut single, "212" featuring Lazy Jay, was released in December 2011, later becoming part of her debut extended play 1991, which was met with critical acclaim. She released her mixtape Fantasea in July 2012 and has since released the singles, "Yung Rapunxel," and "ATM Jam" in anticipation for her debut studio album Broke with Expensive Taste, which has been delayed on numerous occasions and has yet to be released.[7]

Life and career[edit]

Early life and career beginnings[edit]

Banks grew up in the New York City neighborhood of Harlem

Azealia Amanda Banks was born on May 31, 1991.[8][9] Her mother raised her and two older sisters in Harlem, after their father died of pancreatic cancer when she was two years old.[10] Following her father's death, Banks says that her mother "became really abusive – physically and verbally. Like she would hit me and my sisters with baseball bats, bang our heads up against walls, and she would always tell me I was ugly. I remember once she threw out all the food in the fridge, just so we wouldn't have anything to eat." Due to escalating violence, Banks moved out of her mother's home at age 14 to live with her older sister.[11]

At a young age Banks became interested in musical theater, acting and singing. Aged ten, she began performing in off-Broadway musicals with the Tada! Youth Theater in Lower Manhattan. She had lead roles in three productions (Rabbit Sense, Sleepover, and Heroes) in addition to performing as a soloist. Banks was trained in the performing arts at the LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan. At the age of sixteen, Banks starred in a production of the comedy-noir musical City of Angels, where she was found by an agent and sent on auditions for TBS, Nickelodeon, and Law & Order, all without success.[5] It was at this point that Banks decided to end her pursuit of an acting career, citing the large amount of competition and overall sense of unfulfillment as reasons for her retirement.[12] Because of this, Banks began writing rap and R&B songs as a creative outlet. She never finished high school, instead choosing to follow her dream of becoming a recording artist.[8]

Under the moniker 'Miss Bank$', she released her debut recording "Gimme a Chance" onto the internet on November 9, 2008.[5] The recording was accompanied by the self-produced track "Seventeen", which, sampling the Ladytron song of the same name, Banks sent to American DJ Diplo.[13] Later that year, Banks signed a development deal with record label XL Recordings and began working with producer Richard Russell in London, leaving the label later that year due to conflicting ideas.[6][14]

2011–12: 1991 and Fantasea[edit]

"Richard [Russell] was cool, but as soon as I didn't want to use his beats, it got real sour. He wound up calling me 'amateur' and the XL interns started talking shit about me. It just got real fucking funny. I was like, 'I didn't come here for a date. I came here to cut some fucking records.' I got turned off on the music industry and disappeared for a bit. I went into a bit of a depression."

—Banks talking of her departure from XL Recordings.[14]

Following her departure from XL Recordings, Banks left behind the 'Miss Bank$' moniker and formally became Azealia Banks, which preceded a move to Montreal. Using YouTube as a portal, Banks uploaded several demo tracks—including "L8R" and a cover of "Slow Hands" by Interpol. After her Canadian visa expired, Banks returned to New York, where she sold key chains at a Manhattan jazz club and danced at a Queens strip club to make ends meet.[5] "That's when I was really depressed", Banks says, "I don't have a manager, I don't have a boyfriend, I don't have any friends, I don't have any money. Here I am working at the strip club, trying not to say the wrong thing and get into fights with these girls who don't give a shit."[5] In September 2011, Banks released her debut single "212" as a free digital download from her website, which was subsequently released officially on December 6, 2011, as the lead single from her EP 1991.[15] The track attained European chart success, peaking at number seventeen in the Netherlands, number twelve in the United Kingdom and at number seven in Ireland.[16][17][18]

Though unsigned at the time, Banks began working with British producer Paul Epworth on a debut studio album.[19] It was announced in December 2011 that Banks would feature on "Shady Love", a track from American band Scissor Sisters' fourth studio album Magic Hour, though the feature would remain uncredited. An accompanying music video was released in January 2012 following its radio première from Annie Mac (BBC Radio 1) on January 4,[20] though the release of the single was cancelled for unconfirmed reasons. Banks released the track "NEEDSUMLUV (SXLND)" on the Internet on January 16, 2012, coinciding with what would have been the thirty-third birthday of the late singer Aaliyah, who is sampled on the track.[21] A week later saw the emergence of a second track titled "Bambi", which having been produced by Paul Epworth, had been selected as the soundtrack for a Mugler fashion show in Paris.[22] It was then in February that Banks revealed the title of her upcoming debut album, Broke with Expensive Taste.[23][24]

Banks performing at Art Basel in Miami Beach 2012

In May 2012, Banks announced plans to release a mixtape – originally titled Fantastic – titled Fantasea.[25] Preceding its release was the track "Jumanji", released online on May 11.[26] A second track from the mixtape, "Aquababe", was made available online on June 13,[27] while the third, "Nathan" – featuring rapper Styles P – was made available online on June 30.[28] Fantasea was released via Banks' Twitter account on July 11,[29] and was succeeded by the unveiling of Banks' online radio project, 'Kunt.FM' the following week.[30] Banks' first extended play, 1991, was released in the United Kingdom on May 28 and in the United States the following day.[31] The four-track play, of which "212" featured, was not eligible for the UK Albums Chart, but the title track charted at number seventy nine on the UK Singles Chart.[32] It also reached 133 on the US Billboard 200,[33] while reaching number seventeen on the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart,[34] number twelve on the Rap Albums chart,[35] and number one on the Heatseekers Albums chart.[36] In 2013, 1991 was certified gold by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA).[37]

Banks was scheduled to release her second single "Esta Noche" on September 25, 2012, but the track was pulled the day of its release due to sampling disputes between Banks and the track's producer Munchi.[38] The next month, it was confirmed that Banks had worked with Lady Gaga on two tracks titled "Ratchet" and "Red Flame".[39] Banks also revealed that she collaborated with Kanye West on G.O.O.D. Music's compilation album, Cruel Summer, but further clarified that, ultimately, her contributions did not make the final edition of the album. It is unknown if this collaboration will see future release.[39][40] On December 31, 2012, Banks released a promotional track titled "BBD", set to appear on her upcoming album Broke with Expensive Taste.[41] The song had been originally planned for release on November 28, but was pushed back for sample clearance. The beat contains a sample of "Trap Shit V9" by ƱZ.[42]

2013–present: Broke with Expensive Taste[edit]

Banks performing at Life Ball 2013

Early in 2012, Banks revealed that her debut album would be called Broke with Expensive Taste, stating that the album will include contributions from various musicians including Toko Yasuda, Theophilus London, Kevin Hussein, and Ariel Pink.[7][41] Banks initially announced that the album's lead single would be a track titled "Miss Amor," and that it would be accompanied by a B-side, "Miss Camaraderie," both produced by Lone.[43] However, these plans changed when she later announced in January 2013 that the first official single from the album would be a song called "Yung Rapunxel," which was released in March 2013 through SoundCloud.[44][45]

In January 2013, Banks engaged in a Twitter feud with blogger Perez Hilton, that had originally started between Banks and fellow rapper Angel Haze, with Hilton siding with Haze, who referred to Banks as a "charcoal skinned bitch".[46] In one tweet to Hilton, Banks characterized Hilton as "a messy faggot."[47] Bank's comment was criticized by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), stating, "Regardless of her intent or her personal definition, what matters is the meaning given to that word by those who hear it, and the damage it causes when they do."[48] Banks responded by comparing the public reaction to usage of "nigger" in hip-hop culture, stating, "Why are all these other things like murder, and sex, and violence, and all these other things accepted, but as soon as I call one gay white man a faggot, his feelings are more important..."[49] The following month, Banks was involved in another dispute over her posting a remix of American producer Baauer's song, "Harlem Shake," featuring her added vocals, which Baauer asked her to remove.[50] After the remix was taken down, Banks later re-posted it along with emails showing Baauer has stated he liked her version, with Banks stating she was asked to take it down as Baauer did not wish to officially release her version, and he wanted to feature rapper Juicy J instead.[51][52][53] After the feud, which included a tweet directed toward Baauer where Banks stated "may you drown in faggotry", LGBT publication The Advocate noted "The last time [she] used a gay slur on Twitter [...] her album sales went up by 18%."[54] On June 8, 2014, Banks apologized for her use of the words on her Twitter account after performing at LA Pride.[55]

In May 2013, Banks announced that the second single from Broke with Expensive Taste would be "ATM Jam", featuring Pharrell.[56] The next month, on June 29, Banks debuted the song in a performance at the 2013 Glastonbury Festival,[57] with New York City radio station Hot 97 premiering a clean, shortened version of the studio recording three days later on July 2.[58] On July 11, 2013, the full studio version of "ATM Jam" was released on BBC Radio 1,[59] and was released for digital download on September 29, 2013.[60] Banks later confirmed in November 2013 that "ATM Jam" will not be appearing on Broke with Expensive Taste due to poor sales.[61]

In late August 2013, Banks announced that she would be releasing a sequel to her 2012 mixtape Fantasea, titled Fantasea II: The Second Wave.[62] The announcement was accompanied by a track entitled "Count Contessa" being posted to Banks' account on SoundCloud.[63] In February 2014, Banks stated in an interview with Forbes that Broke With Expensive Taste will be officially released in summer 2014.[7] Banks announced in mid-July that after a long battle, she had parted ways with Universal Music Group. It is unknown if the material for Broke With Expensive Taste or Fantasea II: The Second Wave will be released independently or on a label. Banks reportedly has possession and the rights to the work she released with Interscope.[64]

On 28 July 2014 Banks released her new single "Heavy Metal and Reflective", on her own label, Azealia Banks Records. This was followed by "Chasing Time" on 22 September.

Personal life[edit]

Banks identifies herself as bisexual.[65][66] During the few instances where she has discussed her sexuality with the press, Banks has expressed dissatisfaction with society's labeling of others based on sexual orientation. In an interview with The New York Times, Banks stated, "I'm not trying to be, like, the bisexual, lesbian rapper. I don't live on other people's terms."[10]


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The 2011 song features numerous vocal shifts, as well as lyrics containing word play, alliteration and assonance.[67]

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Banks has said she admires American recording artists Aaliyah and Beyoncé, stating the latter "[is] the queen of everything. She's the most remarkable performer and musician. And this is just my humble opinion, but I just think she's better than everyone else making music right now."[65]

In regards to her musical style, Banks has frequently been noted for the use of profanity in many of her songs, particularly her reclamation of the word "cunt",[68][69][70] examples including her debut single "212", in which she uses the word more than ten times, or other songs such as "Fierce", in which she refers to herself as the "cunt queen".[71][72] Banks attributes this to her upbringing in Harlem, saying, "...I'm from Harlem. I went to art school; I grew up with the cunts. And that term doesn't come from me! People think I invented it, but I didn't. To be cunty is to be feminine and to be, like, aware of yourself. Nobody's fucking with that inner strength and delicateness. The cunts, the gay men, adore that. My friends would say, 'Oh you need to cunt it up! You're being too banjee.' Banjee means unrefined and rough. You need your cunts: they fix your hair for you and do your makeup. They give you confidence and give you life."[65] In addition, Banks uses the word as a term of endearment for her fanbase, known as the "Kunt Brigade". She is also known for her often fast-paced rapping, (or "flow").[70] In a review of Banks' debut EP 1991, Chris Dart of Exclaim! found Banks' rapping speed "remarkable", commenting that she "manages a feat that takes most rappers the better part of a career to master: the perfect marriage of bangin', club-friendly beats and smart, crisply delivered lyrics".[73]

Since writing "212", Banks has adopted an alter-ego named "Yung Rapunxel". This alter-ego was adapted from Banks referring to herself as Rapunzel, due to a long weave she wore while working at Starbucks as a teenager. Banks discussed this with Rolling Stone saying, "Yung Rapunxel is that girl who pisses people off but doesn't really mean to. She's actually a sweetheart! But people are so taken aback that she's so herself; she's not even trying to be unique or different. She literally just lives in her head; she does what she wants to do. So, the lipstick is here for someone who is happy to be themself."[65]



Awards and nominations[edit]

2011BBC Sound of 2012Sound of 2012[6]HerselfThird
2012NME AwardsPhilip Hall Radar Award[6]Won
Billboard AwardsNew Style Icon[76]Won
O Music AwardsBest Web-Born Artist[77]Nominated
Urban Music AwardsBest Single[78][79]"212"Won
Best International Artist[78]HerselfNominated
Artist of the Year[78]Nominated
MOBO AwardsBest International Act[80]Nominated
2013NME AwardsVillain of the Year[81]Nominated
BET AwardsBest Female Hip Hop Artist[82]Nominated
Best New Artist[82]Nominated
Billboard Mid-Year AwardsMost Memorable Feud[83][84]Nominated


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External links[edit]