Review Summary: Fearless and uncompromising, Azealia Banks delivers a triumphant debut album.
"What you gon' do when I appear?
W-when-when I premiere.
B*tch, the end of your lives are near.
This *** been mine, mine."
Welcome to Azealia Banks, a hip-hop artist who is no stranger to controversy or being foul mouthed. Since she hit the scene, she's never been one to hold her tongue or been one to fear throwing the first punch. Whether or not you've followed Azealia from the beginning, one thing has been apparent through the highs and the lows: she's talented- her hit single '212' is a perfect example of that. She took the industry by the horns with that song alone and it propelled her career. Two years have passed since then and many people doubted and believed that Banks' career was over and that her debut album was a 'myth', a process plagued by delays which led to rumours. Those rumours questioned the quality of her unreleased music, her relationship with her label and the industry as a whole. Fast forward to November and her long awaited debut album 'Broke With Expensive Taste' is released. Azealia Banks has crafted a debut album that surpasses her peers, regardless of your opinion on her social media antics, there is no denying that Azealia is something special.
'Broke With Expensive Taste' displays Banks' eclectic taste in music, especially from a sonic standpoint, it's such a varied experience that it's an absolute thrill to listen to from start to finish. Instrumentally, it's a flavoured experience, from injections of Jazz, Salsa inspired rhythms, hard hitting, crushing trap to drugged-up, rave-centric house music; she offers it all, even a quirky flashback to the 50s with a surfer inspired beach song. Every instrumental has been crafted with extreme care, the intricacies are well-thought out. Whether it be the humming of the bass beneath a haunting vocal performance or the organised chaos of futuristic trap, each layer can be heard and more importantly, felt. The overall production of the album is superb, it's polished and crisp, delivering a true modern hip-hop orientated experience, which at it's core, this album is. Not only is the sound of the album varied, experimental or quirky, whichever word you want to call it, it's also cohesive. This helps deliver the experience in a well-rounded fashion, it never feels cluttered with too many sounds or layers of instrumentation, it isn't a recipe for disaster, it's a masterclass of artistic success. 'Broke With Expensive Taste' demonstrates that Azealia isn't just a 'femcee', but an artistic visionary.
Banks has been compared to Nicki Minaj and of course, Iggy Azalea, however she's a different beast entirely. Not only does Azealia demonstrate her ear for sound on her debut but her ability to write music. She doesn't split herself in two, like Minaj for example. Azealia can deliver a catchy song without compromising her integrity for radio-play or to be a mainstream artist, in fact her songs appear to be effortlessly written while still appealing to either side of the spectrum- the hardcore Hip-Hop fans and those who enjoy the Top 40 hits (Take notes, Iggy). Most of the content on her debut is a prime example of this, 'Ice Princess' features Azealia delivering a pure Rap experience over a sinister, icy beat only to be fused with a brilliant chorus which enhances the song, while crossing that line of being just trap 'Rap'. Then there's the hit-to-be, 'Chasing Time', a house inspired beat swirls, pulsates and bounces while Azealia sings and rhymes with ease. She never compromises her vision, she executes it to the highest standard on every track. Most songs are split evenly between singing and rapping, offering a true cross-over experience, but it feels natural, it doesn't feel like it's supposed to be 'Pop' or whatever you want to classify it as, it's Hip-Hop. It's Azealia's own brand, her Harlem originated serum. There are songs completely dedicated to her spitting rhymes in her lower-octave flow, snapping and snarling expletives alongside clever word play (Heavy Metal & Reflective, BBD, Yung Rapunxel) accompanied by menacing beats. She's a versatile artist. Azealia's sound is contemporary, she is the embodiment of creativity. Moreover, she can sing, and she can sing well. Her entire vocal performance is spot on, her voice is her weapon of choice and boy is it deadly. Again, Azealia manages to carry the entire album (16 tracks) mostly by herself, except for two features (one being a DJ) and the other being Theophilus London. He matches Azealia bar-for-bar on the explosive 'JFK', which features soaring, near Operatic vocals coupled with a cocky flow juxtaposed by a murky, intense musical backdrop. 'Broke With Expensive Taste' proves itself worthy time and time again.
The only problem, if considered a problem at all, would be the bizarre track 'Nude Beach a Go-Go'. The track in question halts the album completely and is a jarring experience, its quirky 50s throwback sound doesn't really fit with the rest of the album, it's a different kind of experimental. While Banks' debut is a varied experience, every song sort of clicks and fits into the over-arching sonic theme and 'Nude Beach...' doesn't. As a stand-alone track it would be fine but in the context of her debut it just doesn't really work. Another gripe is the album begins to lose steam by 'Luxury', from the opening track to 'Yung Rapunxel', 'Broke With Expensive Taste' is a thrill, with hit after hit. However 'Luxury' slows down the pace completely, only to be followed by 'Nude Beach...'. Then the final two songs pick up where 'Yung Rapunxel' left off. It's a minor issue, and at the same time quite the achievement, considering the album is an hour long.
Azealia Banks has managed to create a debut album that was worth the wait, the music industry is a battleground for established artists and musicians, let alone newcomers. But Azealia holds her own, and shows that it's a war she can easily fight and quite possibly win. 'Broke With Expensive Taste' is an honest experience, it's Azealia Banks in an art-form, and just like the individual herself, it's complex but enthralling. Banks has managed to do what many artists have failed to do, fulfill their own prophecy- setting the stage on fire with her debut and ending lives with a premiere that many of her peers would die for.