Review Summary: Street poetry made accessible and genuine good fun. Hip hop for the next generation.
Females working in hip hop has always tended raise more eyebrows than it has release genuinely good music, and now with the flux of a certain brand of ‘popular hip hop’, courtesy of such visionary artists as Nicki Minaj, there seems to be little to write home about in terms of genuine artistry and competent songwriting within the genre. There were always fears that females would struggle to thrive in a predominantly male-dominated industry as volatile as this, and at the risk of sounding a little sexist, the reason is far less to do with ability and a whole lot more to do with content. Hip Hop artists such as Lauryn Hill, Kelis and more recently, Missy Elliot have flown the flag for female hip hop and rendered it in a far more appealing light, stripping away the chauvinism and misanthropy for a more rounded, accessible branch of the genre, whether it be through mature and intelligent themes (Lauryn Hill), emotional and sexual overtones (Kelis, Lil’ Kim), or more brawn than most male rappers can muster (Missy Elliot). Azealia Banks, however, seems to be rocking the boat somewhat. With her inventive and catchy debut single ‘212’ featured as the third track on this EP, many could be forgiven for thinking the young musician from Harlem was nothing more than a one hit wonder, and whilst 1991
isn’t quite perfect, it’s a very promising start.
The base, minimalist style that Banks introduced to audiences with ‘212’ is maintained consistently and inventively throughout 1991
, making clever use of simple percussive hooks and audio loops. The flow Banks rhymes at is also impressive, spitting out profanities one second and then coming across as startlingly erudite the next. Despite this, she is always eloquent and charming in a rough-and-tumble way. The complexity of her lyrical structure works brilliantly with the simple style of the music, always clashing but never jarring. Banks is not afraid to stray from the old school hip hop roots either, utilising a subtle garage-style bassline in the title track, and incorporating a dog’s bark into the main tune of second track, ‘Van Vogue’, which displays a markedly more jungle style of songwriting, with bassy undertones, thudding drums and delicate audio cues. ‘212’ is still as enjoyably offensive as it ever was, with the beat by Lazy Jay the perfect complement to the lyrics. The use of clean singing must also be complimented, as she has displayed during the break of this song that she can carry off tuneful vocals in addition to speedy trash talk. Final track ‘Liquorice’ is punchy and perhaps the simplest song on the album, employing an almost 90’s synth pop vocal and backbeat. This would usually come across as a little trite, but the final result is an upbeat and groovy tune with lyrics that are equal parts heart and attitude.
clocks in at roughly 13 and a half minutes, and it’s a perfect introduction to Banks’s unique style. The seemingly uninhabitable middle ground between the serious hip hop working the underground at the moment and the diabetes-inducing pop rap that has begun to flood the charts has been discovered by none other than the 22 year old, who may still lack a lot of life experience, but demonstrates far more advanced songwriting skills than her years would suggest.