In early August, Azealia Banks started trending on Twitter after the rapper posted a sequence of worrying messages on Instagram expressing suicidal ideation. Her followers requested for prayers for Banks, who ultimately mentioned on her account that she was “fine,” however questioned the motives of people that had ignored her for a very long time after which out of the blue reached out now. “Show me love when I’m up, bitch, not just when I’m down,” she wrote.Banks’ followers have expressed an identical line of frustration, mentioning that the identical web that persistently made enjoyable of the star was now performing involved for her well being.Ever since her breakout in 2011, Banks has made headlines through the years — sometimes for being an achieved artist who makes nice music, however extra usually for her beefs with varied celebrities and her controversial social media posts and feedback. There isn’t a scarcity of causes for these headlines: Her feedback have been racist and anti-LGBTQ and briefly anti-Irish (??). The reality is in the event you solely knew Azealia Banks from the headlines, you’ll have a restricted and warped perspective of an artist who’s, in actuality, singular in expertise and self-awareness and who has been extra open about residing with psychological sickness than maybe some other artist of her caliber.So sure, Banks and her annoyed followers have a degree. Moments during which she is deeply self-aware are by no means those that unfold broadly. As a substitute, the tales about Banks’ sometimes outlandish conduct are what pattern in minutes. Her apologies and honest posts don’t go viral — it’s exhausting to get it trending when she says she’s engaged on her mood. It’s solely the throwaway posts on social media that do. She will get diminished to her beefs, whereas the ache of the true particular person will get ignored.That she is most well-known for her reckless feedback and actions is a mirrored image of our flaws. It’s a double customary at work: Whereas males get passes within the identify of the genius, ladies don’t usually get the identical. Banks could possibly be seen as a genius or simply “unhinged.” Different artists, like, say, Kanye West, get the advantage of having each designations — he usually means that his brilliance and his psychological sickness are associated. West’s followers are inclined to overlook his problematic conduct or name for sympathy for him.After I wrote about the necessity to give Kanye grace, Banks screenshotted my tweet and posted it to Instagram, writing, “Fuck all of y’all. Honestly. Especially the nigga who wrote this article.” She went on to push again towards individuals who “continue to try and *cancel* me for shit I said in 2013…” whereas West is proven help. On this, she is totally proper.To correctly reckon with Azealia Banks is to reckon with a sophisticated determine. Banks, who didn’t reply to my interview requests, makes lots of people uncomfortable. However then once more, our consolation has by no means been her aim. She belongs in an extended lineage of girls who’ve been known as “crazy” for talking their minds, a label that has adopted Sinéad O’Connor and Fiona Apple for a lot of their careers. Banks’ aim, she says again and again, is to make nice music — why does anybody care what she does outdoors of music? This challenges us: In 2020, we appear to be ill-equipped to take the music with out additionally turning the artist right into a product. As a result of if we simply took the music, Banks could be one of many largest rappers on the planet proper now. However music is a capitalist enterprise, and Banks has persistently been a tough product to purchase into. Is that her downside? Or ours?
Azealia Banks within the music video for “212.”
There are artists you hear for the primary time, and it’s like being struck by lightning. For me, Azealia Banks is certainly one of them. When she launched her first single, “212,” in late 2011, it was a large, tone-setting file — severe, profane, dancey, humorous, and bold — a shot throughout the rap bow. The track in some way combines explosive rap, clean singing, and rip-your-head-off screaming multi functional observe. Her innovation earned the track a spot amongst tracks that outlined the last decade. Pitchfork positioned it sixth within the high 200 finest songs of the 2010s.The accolades got here in quick. Kanye West referred to Banks as “the future of music.” Nas mentioned she was “the total package.” Three months after the track took the web by storm, she was profiled within the New York Occasions.After the fast rise and the explosion in recognition, Banks signed a take care of Common Music Group in early 2012, with an album anticipated to comply with that spring. However conflicts together with her label led to launch delays. Finally, it took Banks leaving her file firm for indie label Prospect Park for her debut album to return out, in November 2014.The file, Broke With Costly Style, was — indisputably — an excellent providing. It acquired glowing critiques from Rolling Stone and Pitchfork alike. On stability, critics hailed it as one of many yr’s finest albums. It signaled the right arrival of a pressure.However in the event you haven’t seen these critiques or frolicked with the album, it may be as a result of within the intervening years between “212” and the discharge of Broke, Banks’ identify got here to be related together with her penchant for combating with just about everybody.Between 2012 and 2014, Banks began a powerful string of feuds. There was her extremely publicized criticism of Iggy Azalea over the latter’s lyric the place she calls herself a “runaway slave master,” which blossomed right into a yearslong beef and a sustained critique of hip-hop appropriation by white artists. However there was additionally a feud with T.I. (for backing Iggy), Rita Ora (who Banks says tried to intimidate her on tour), Angel Haze (for calling Banks a “charcoal skinned bitch”), ASAP Rocky (who mentioned dark-skinned women shouldn’t put on purple lipstick), Pharrell (for allegedly not selling their collaboration sufficient), Motion Bronson (for…I don’t know?), and Lily Allen (for having an unsightly husband?????). There’s a complete rating of beefs simply from 2013. On the whole, the skirmishes ranged from heated back-and-forths to one-off feedback on social media that mushroomed into deeper rifts.It appeared to matter little or no that Banks had essential factors to make. The legitimate critiques and social media photographs acquired combined in collectively, and someplace alongside the best way between blowing up massive time and releasing her first album, Banks acquired a popularity for being a provocateur. That popularity overshadowed her music, and with it alternatives went away. A rumored collaboration with Woman Gaga and Beyoncé by no means noticed the sunshine. MAC Cosmetics apparently dropped her as a consequence of anti-gay feedback she made about Perez Hilton. In 2013, a video surfaced of a fan asking Gaga about working with Banks, to which Gaga responds, “She’s got a bad attitude.”
The legitimate critiques and social media photographs acquired combined in collectively, and someplace alongside the best way between blowing up massive time and releasing her first album, Banks acquired a popularity for being a provocateur.
However alongside the provocations, Banks has repeatedly spoken about her psychological well being. In songs on Broke, and in social media posts, Banks shared what she was going by way of. “When you’ve been trying to engage the public with music and share with via music them [sic] your personal struggles with mental illness but they just refuse to pay attention,” she wrote in 2016. “Instead they joke and prod at you and say you need a doctor yet have no idea about the type of uncontrollable chaos that goes on inside your head.”Banks stays an object of intrigue, partly, as a result of for all of the media protection she generates, the music she places out has by no means suffered. With unbelievable consistency, she has delivered bops. Her follow-ups to Broke — mixtapes like Slay-Z and singles like “Chi Chi” and “Anna Wintour” — continued to comprise the flashes of brilliance that put Banks on the map. “Black Madonna,” launched this summer season, is an excellent quantity with outstanding circulation that was an instantaneous hit with critics. Merely put, creatively, Banks by no means fell off.So how come Banks has by no means reached the heights she ought to have? Nicely, for one factor, her unwillingness to associate with the music business’s guidelines. Banks left her first main label over disagreements in regards to the album nonetheless needing a “hit” single and what that single ought to be.Music journalist Briana Youthful laid out the information for me: “When people realized Banks couldn’t be controlled, they got turned off by it.”Early on in her profession, Banks was already changing into the quintessential cautionary story. Youthful explains the standard recreation plan for packaging a brand new artist: “If you think about Black women pop stars, there’s this trajectory of them being heavily packaged at the start. Which says to me there’s a willingness from them to go along with how they’re marketed.” Does this apply throughout the spectrum? “You even see it in the careers of Beyoncé and Rihanna — artists who get to the middle of their careers and finally they’re powerful enough and brave enough to take more control of their direction.”The artists who succeed look like keen to comply with a sure trajectory. However not Banks. “Her reluctance to play ball early on made her a difficult product,” Youthful mentioned.For Black ladies specifically, the stakes of not cooperating with the business are excessive: “Black women are not afforded a ton of grace,” Youthful advised me. “In music especially, there is a pervasive notion that ‘you should just be grateful because we can just go get another one.’” Because of this, Youthful mentioned, “Any time you start behaving in a way that is challenging, people get turned off and people aren’t here for it.”And difficult she was. Fights together with your label are one factor. Fights with everybody in your business are one other. Music web sites made a joke of compiling all of the feuds that Banks had began, as a result of they occurred so rattling usually.“Labels were seeing and struggling with a product, not seeing a complex, intricate, creative, beautiful person,” mentioned Youthful. By comparability, in 2016 when Child Cudi posted on social media about looking for assist for “depression and suicidal urges,” it impressed the #YouGoodMan dialogue.It’s exhausting to not see how Banks’ outbursts intently resemble Kanye West’s. West, who has rapped and spoken about residing with bipolar dysfunction, is continuously the topic of media consideration. There’s all the time a flurry of calls to cancel West after each high-profile distasteful factor he says.However right here’s the essential distinction between Banks and West: Whereas the web tides may sometimes activate West, the real-life present continues to be very a lot in his favor. “Kanye gets canceled on Twitter. Azealia Banks was canceled in real life. And there is a difference,” Youthful mentioned.
Brad Barket / Getty Photographs
How does this play out? Nicely, for one factor, Youthful mentioned, “Corporations have not divested from Kanye West. No matter how we talk about you online, if you have access to capital, you are not canceled. Record labels divested from Azealia Banks.”Regardless of aligning himself with Trump, saying slavery was a alternative, and defending Invoice Cosby, West’s stock has continued to rise — simply two months in the past, he struck a 10-year take care of Hole. Even the discourse round West is altering: There are extra frequent requires care in overlaying his public antics and requires folding empathy into the best way he’s talked about (together with from myself).In the meantime, the real-life mechanisms that maintain precise energy — items of capitalist equipment like labels and companies — have pulled away from Banks. That’s what it means to be canceled in actual life.In 2016, when Banks accused actor Russell Crowe of spitting at her and calling her the n-word earlier than bodily eradicating her from a celebration, the rapper was frolicked to dry. After Crowe’s representatives denied wrongdoing, Banks thought her pal in attendance, RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan, would stick by her aspect. As a substitute, he backed Crowe’s model of the occasions. It wasn’t till a yr later that he admitted the actor spat on Banks. Crowe’s profession has continued unscathed regardless of her severe accusations.However unfailingly, Banks’ criticisms are rendered invalid and not using a honest listening to. This has an extended historical past: Although her nickname for Iggy Azalea turned the punchline (lol, “Igloo Australia”), Banks began a big dialog about Iggy’s cultural appropriation, and she or he by no means acquired the credit score she deserved for it.In Banks’ apology to Zayn Malik, she wrote at size about Black psychological well being. Banks mentioned her assault on him was due to her perception that Malik’s “Like I Would” music video copied the aesthetics of her “Yung Rapunxel” video. She added that “people steal and copy my art ALL THE TIME and try to pretend as if they are somehow above me when they are the ones without their own creative ideas to begin with.”“And truthfully, it’s pushing me over the fucking edge,” Banks wrote. “White society grinds down the self esteem of Black artists to the point where we are expected to be silent about such obvious transgressions.”How may feeling silenced, deserted, and robbed — whereas your psychological well being will get ignored — not make you shattered and offended? Extending grace to Azealia Banks requires holding her to account for the issues she says and thoroughly contemplating the context they exist in.But there may be little room for nuance on the subject of these sorts of conversations. As Youthful mentioned, “What we should be asking is: How can we make these humans better, rather than how can we be allowed to enjoy them in the public square?”
“Corporations have not divested from Kanye West. No matter how we talk about you online, if you have access to capital, you are not canceled. Record labels divested from Azealia Banks.”
I hold returning to an interview Banks gave to The Breakfast Membership in 2018. It’s a wide-ranging dialog that touches on a whole lot of matters, from how Banks is acquired to her future plans.It coincided with the discharge of “Anna Wintour,” a scrumptious single that deserved an even bigger viewers.The interview made headlines after Banks criticized Cardi B as a cultural low level: “….the conversation surrounding Black women’s culture was really reaching an all-time high and we were really like discussing our power amongst ourselves; Beyoncé came out with Lemonade. There was just this really intelligent conversation going on nationally and then everything just kind of changed and then it was like Cardi B.”However there’s one other a part of the interview that’s extra revealing. Charlamagne tha God requested Banks what it was wish to obtain a praise from Nicki Minaj on “Anna Wintour.” Exasperated, Banks shot again, “Are you kidding? People say I’m dope all the time. Music industry people say I’m dope all the time.”She laid out a recurring sample: “I could be good for six months and come out with a song, and the whole article will be about what I did six months before that. But Kanye West comes out with a song, and the article is: ‘Listen to this song!’”Banks genuinely puzzled why folks latch on to the issues she says. “Who cares what I say?” she mused aloud within the interview. This, in some methods, is a baby’s reply: Even non-famouses must reply for what they are saying in public on the web. However the exasperation can also be honest: To the extent that the principles exist, they don’t seem to be utilized pretty, and they’re utilized way more aggressively to Banks. Folks act as if there must be penalties for one thing Kanye West does, however his songs and merchandise will nonetheless promote. With Banks, the hammer has come down repeatedly.“People are so attached to what you say…they’re not paying attention to the music,” Charlamagne tha God mentioned. To that, she responds with full sincerity: “I don’t know why. A lot of my opinions are terrible.” ●