Azealia Banks
Fantasea


4.0
excellent

Review

by Conrad Tao EMERITUS
July 15th, 2012 | 30 replies


Release Date: 2012 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Azealia doesn't give us what we were expecting, and thank goodness for that.

The new hip-hop is one defined by undefinability. From the sugar-coated pop appreciation of Nicki Minaj to the abstract murkiness of Shabazz Palaces, from the fierce traditionalism of El-P to the equally fierce work -- which can barely be called rap at all -- of Death Grips, and the hyper-aware irony of Kitty Pryde and Riff Raff, "hip-hop" as a genre is sonically expanding to the point of nearing complete meaninglessness.

Azealia Banks adequately represents this breaking of the walls, but she also radiates street cred in the same vein as the A$AP crew and Venus X. She also represents the advent of queer rap, which has finally arrived as a cultural force to be reckoned with, what with the rise of Zebra Katz, Le1f, and, of course, playfully self-appointed queen Azealia herself. The rapid-fire, effortlessly confident insults lining the now-immortal "212" practically guaranteed Banks respect from her rainbow flag-bearers, and this year's long-delayed 1991 EP further solidified that trust, but Fantasea, the 21-year-old's sterling debut mixtape, ought to both shoot her into gay iconicity and solidify her place in the pantheon of new hip-hop and post-Tumblr pop. One of the most visible proponents of pop's recent move towards overt idiosyncrasy, Banks is also unique among that trend thanks to her natural talent. She sings like a pro, she spits rhymes as if she's been doing it since emerging from the womb, and she radiates charisma without breaking a sweat. In other words, she's the traditional total package. Yet what has made Azealia Banks fascinating to witness is her resolute refusal -- or inability -- to play the traditional hip-hop game. No strategic guest spots on big-name male rappers' tracks. No going into the studio to create and settle beef. Her undeniably cheap shot at Kreayshawn and that considerably more valid Iggy Azalea slam both took place over Twitter, traveling directly from what is evidently a brain populated by an immense deal of shit-talking. No wonder T.I. got pissed -- girl wasn't deferential enough to those whom T.I. must've considered her superiors.

And that's the thing that makes Fantasea so exciting -- almost as thrilling as watching the "212" video for the first time. Throughout, Banks hammers one important point home: she seriously doesn't give a fuck about what you think. Doesn't matter if it's true; it makes the material incredibly rich and self-assured. She wraps herself proudly in the flags of minorities, reveling in diversity and the possibility of a pro-identity world. The noxious notion of a color-blind world is happily upturned; instead of trying to see everybody as the same, Banks asks her listeners to see individuals as such. 1991's "Liquorice" is still the best summation of how she sees her black identity, but "Nathan", "Esta Noche", and old cuts "L8R" and "Runnin'" come close, gleefully referencing her existence as a woman of color in what is both an impressive matter-of-factness and a powerful expression of self-love. If that self-adoration irks some of the hip tastemakers responsible for bringing her up to massive Internet fame, so be it; the work is more than good enough to stand on its own, and right now there's very little rap out there that sounds like this. And yet, on such a forward-looking release, Banks opens with a blast from the past, starting the mixtape off with a version of The Prodigy's "Out of Space" that's as delirious as the original. From there, it's anything goes, a dizzying mix of sophisticated beats and a distinctly unpolished party-loving vibe. "Neptune" is breezy and deep enough for a hotel lounge (Shystie's astoundingly fired-up guest verse notwithstanding), while the pitch-perfect "Fantasea" imbues the recent footwork revivalism with a pinch of jungle, a whole lot of sexy melodicism, and a gorgeous, cyclical chord progression.

Of course, more attention is bound to be paid to the mixtape's blunter instruments: the characteristic crunchy Diplo beat backing the shit-starting "Fuck Up The Fun", the brilliant orchestral flourishes of "Jumanji", the crunky acid-hop of "Nathan". These moments most echo the in-your-face Lazy Jay track backing "212", but they're in the minority here. Which is to say that Banks adopts a more suave persona on Fantasea than "212" suggested was possible -- a calculated move, perhaps, but an important and effective one. The unkempt and unfiltered youth of that star-making moment has, in the months since, evolved into a full-blooded entertainer possessing a rare generosity of spirit (the Mermaid Ball in New York was a cornucopia of queerness and frenzied love) and a welcome commitment to her musical and social roots. That she can remain scrappy and identifiable among the largely unabashed polish of her producers' beats is a testament to her impeccable taste, her effusive presence, and changing ideas about what signifies authenticity today. The most traditionally hip-hop track on here, "L8R", is also the weakest one, giving us a glimpse of a less unflappable Banks. Aside from that misfire, the less successful material here ("Us" and "Chips" come to mind) still bursts at the seams with promise and glimmering with invention. So those that worried Azealia Banks' open love for anything pop combined with a significantly higher budget would beget antiseptic, overly slick records can rest easy. Those that believed she'd never be embedded in that tried-and-true industry normativity can enjoy the satisfaction of being right. And those who just hoped she'd release something of quality, distinction, and continued promise can be giddily cast under Fantasea's intoxicating, kaleidoscopic, and irrepressibly groovy spell.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
conradtao
Emeritus
July 14th 2012


2090 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

"Fantasea": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bljG3XBJgDo
"Nathan": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNRxCKYJI1k
"Jumanji": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EjnPSz-jvs

kingsoby1
Emeritus
July 14th 2012


4950 Comments


will listen, dont agree than el-p is traditional at all though :]

Irving
Staff Reviewer
July 14th 2012


7311 Comments


OMG CONRAD SIGHTING

BonRurgundy
July 14th 2012


352 Comments


Awful album art.

Digging: Jamie T - Carry On The Grudge

Rev
July 14th 2012


9436 Comments


I knew this was a Conrad review before I clicked the link



great job, as always man. Still gotta check this out

FlawedPerfection
Emeritus
July 14th 2012


2806 Comments


This sounds like all of the producers on the album wanted to make the sickest beat tape ever, and then Azealia showed
up in the studio and decided to rap over all of them.

/leaves for six months.

Sleaper
July 14th 2012


3404 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

jumanji is fucking dope

Digging: Vince Staples - Hell Can Wait

Gyromania
July 14th 2012


15941 Comments


From the sugar-coated pop appreciation of Nicki Minaj to the abstract murkiness of Shabazz Palaces, from the fierce traditionalism of El-P to the equally fierce work -- which can barely be called rap at all -- of Death Grips, and the hyper-aware irony of Kitty Pryde and Riff Raff, "hip-hop" as a genre is sonically expanding to the point of nearing complete meaninglessness.

Agree a lot with this statement.

Digging: Lantlos - .neon

Gyromania
July 14th 2012


15941 Comments


Oh and the review is fantastic. Great work.

Deviant.
Staff Reviewer
July 14th 2012


31355 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

A lot of the content here is pretty hit and miss, but I love the rave throwbacks on the title track

Digging: Objekt - Flatland

Calculate
July 15th 2012


1135 Comments


this would be 10000000x better if azealia banks was not involved, nice dig there dev ;)

Deviant.
Staff Reviewer
July 15th 2012


31355 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

You know it

On a side note: had a chuckle when I downloaded this and the genre was listed as witch hop

Lucid
Contributing Reviewer
July 15th 2012


7026 Comments


wasn't into this nearly as much as the EP but I still have high hopes for the album

Xenophanes
Emeritus
July 15th 2012


10611 Comments


wow that album art

Digging: Kayo Dot - Coffins On Io

Tyrael
July 15th 2012


20897 Comments


The title track is sick, just like the beats on Aquababe holy shit

great work conrad

Irving
Staff Reviewer
July 15th 2012


7311 Comments


Finally read this. Great review. Miss seeing you on here Conrad.

=')

Deviant.
Staff Reviewer
July 15th 2012


31355 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Need to start 3 drinking games while this is on: a shot for every time you hear bitch, coochi and nigga

The aim is to not black out

conradtao
Emeritus
July 15th 2012


2090 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

No, the aim is to not die

Gyromania
July 15th 2012


15941 Comments


Haha

I like this quite a bit after two listens.

Dashnavar
July 15th 2012


64 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Ahhh I was almost done a review for this and then I was going to edit it when I got home but this
review covered pretty everything that I was gonna cover so



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