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The Rise of Azealia Banks

April 4, 2012

          “God dealt me a really f*cked up hand at birth. Half the sh*t I’ve been through & successfully gotten through would           blow some of your minds. God just dealt me a new hand today. I reaaaaaaaaaaallllly good hand [sic]”

The most famous teeth and gums to hit the Internet in 2011 undoubtedly belonged to a 20-year-old rapper from Harlem named Azealia Banks. Banks’ teeth sprung onto the Internet seemingly out of thin air in the video for “212” so fully formed and technically nasty that she was christened “the future of music” by one of music’s most bankable prophets, Kanye West. And from behind those now ubiquitous teeth erupted such a torrent of foul language, hood swagger and (eh-hem) radical feminist imagery that there was never any doubt about her authenticity.

          Put ya guns up, tell your crew don’t front
          I’m a hoodlum n*gga, you know you were too once
          B*tch I’m 'bout to blew up too
          I’m the one today, I’m the new sh*t, boo, young Rapunzel
          Who are you, b*tch, new lunch?

Coming up around the same time Lana Del Rey was being verbally pummeled into tapioca pudding by a strangely fired up gang of music critics for her fake lips, stage name, voice, studio money, connections and unregulated nostalgia, “212” rang like a call to arms signaling the arrival of raw unadulterated talent. It’s always a thrill to hear this kind of sheer bravado coming from a rookie, especially a smart, good looking one with an eclectic fashion sense and left-field taste in music.

Early cuts like a slinky cover of Interpol’s “Slow Hands” and a remix of Peter Bjorn and John’s “The Chills” revealed an ability to move between dancehall and hip hop vocals with relative ease. There’s a sound bite toward the end of “The Chill$” that hints at the work ethic that went into making it all sound effortless. As the music fades out you can hear Banks in full control in the studio saying “one more time.”

A recent NY Times piece closed with Banks telling a reporter, “I've been out for three years, I've been around.” In 2009 Banks did a track with Diplo and was subsequently scooped up by XL Records, home of music industry giants Radiohead, M.I.A. and Adele. Banks began working with label founder Richard Russell before things started to unravel. In an interview with Self-Titled Magazine, Banks told the story:

          "As soon as I started putting out tracks I was getting attention. Diplo kept talking about me, and that's when XL hit           me up. They flew me out to London, and the original idea was to have me work with Richard Russell, and I got           signed to this development deal. Richard 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 sh*t, and the XL interns started talking sh*t about me. It just got real f*cking           funny. I was like, 'I didn't come here for a date. I came here to cut some f*cking records.' I got turned off on the music           industry and disappeared for a bit. I went into a bit of a depression."

She told the BBC:

          "I was like, this is not what I worked so hard my entire life to do - to be rejected by some English guy in West           Bumblefrickin' nowhere London, telling me I'm amateur or something like that. So I just said, 'Screw you!'"

In the same colorful language, Banks fell into a feud with White Girl Mob rapper Kreayshawn who had tweeted a link to a PornHub page featuring “212.” Banks tweeted back:

          "@KREAYSHAWN you're a dumb b*tch. And you can't rap. I'll sit on your face... Fall back slut."

          "Lol. This is how b*tches wanna start the new year? They want their mics ate this early? Omfg. Why f*ck with me tho?           What have I ever said about you or done to you for that matter? Ok. Ok. I'm done. This is silly."

Kreayshawn replied:

          "Did I just get smashed on twitter because I was supporting a fellow female? I sure did...*confused*”

          "Come on you mad because I retweeted your link? Because I like your music? Pffff get outta here! Not a fan           anymore."

Banks closed out the exchange:

          "So sorry that I have wasted my energy. I'm better than this. ... I promise, no more acknowledging whack b*tches for           2012... Lol. These girls are trying to distract me. I have everything to gain. And they have everything to lose... From           now on I will no longer react to any shade thrown my way. Especially if said shade thrower is trying to be subliminal           and sideways...Subliminal shots are #pu**y .... And not the good kind..."

Nobody wins in a Twitter fight but Banks’ kick in the door, guns blazing ethos undoubtedly has its admirers. Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld of the “Adele is a little fat” controversy invited Banks to perform at a house party and she’s since become the darling of the fashion world with other high profile appearances in Paris and Tokyo. Banks was snapped up by Universal, confirmed as the first artist for Coachella and has been working with Adele’s producer Paul Epworth on a new studio album due in Fall 2012 called Broke with Expensive Taste. Other names attached to the project include M.I.A., Diplo, Kanye West and, ironically, Lana Del Rey. All this has happened before the release of her first EP, titled 1991, which is scheduled to drop on April 17th. With all the hype and firepower behind her debut, Banks’ teeth are starting to look particularly sharp.

          “What you gon' do when I appear?
          W-when-when I premiere?”

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