Monday, December 12, 2011

(78) Azealia Banks - "212"

[In the past, I've written short blurbs for each of the year's 100 Songs.  Some of these "short blurbs" were actually thousands of words long, but you get the idea.  This year, sadly, I didn't have time to do that.  But I still have a lot to say about almost all of these songs.  So I'm just going to start writing.  This is one of a still-undetermined number of essays.  Maybe I'll find something to say about all 100 Songs.  Maybe there will just be a handful of these.  I'll try to write one every day, but I make no promises.  Also, they will be in no real order.  In case it gets buried, the original 100 Songs for 2011 post, with links, can be found here.]

(78) Azealia Banks - "212"

2011 was a big year for "outsider" hip hop.  The national face of this movement was Tyler, the Creator and his crew, Odd Future.  Locally, it was Kreayshawn.  And everything in the rap game was fresh and exciting, independent and youthful, and the music press fell all over themselves declaring that we were finally living in The Future, that this was how it was going to be from now on.  Super-talented kids would make mind-blowing music on their laptops, release it for free on their Tumblr pages, interact with fans directly through social media, and destroy the bloated record labels once and for all.

It sounded awesome.

It sounded ... way better than actually listening to any of the music I just mentioned.

Again, all the usual disclaimers are in place here ... I'm white, old, from a small town, etc.  It's possible I just don't get hip hop at all.  Maybe there's real genius in Tyler, the Creator's music.  Many, many smart people seem to see it.  But every time I read a breathless essay about how we were living in a Golden Age, a Revolution in hip hop, I just felt left out.

Until Azealia Banks.

Barring a late-December miracle single, "212" is going to be the highest-scoring song of the year at The Singles Jukebox, and a lot of the comments over there echo my thoughts the first, fifth, tenth time I heard this song:
This is awesome. I don’t hate music anymore.
New favorite song to blast out of my car. New favorite song that I had no idea I was waiting for. Just wow.
But mostly I agree with Michelle Myers:
Luckily, she spits with the kind of mirthful insolence that I imagine music-crit bros hear in Tyler, the Creator. Except she’s way better at rapping.
To me, the most exciting thing about Azealia Banks is that ... this is what I thought I was getting with everyone else.  This is the incredible song I expected to hear the first time I clicked on Tyler, or Kreayshawn, or Nicki Minaj, or any of the other hip hop Paradigm Shifts of the last few years.  Most of the blogosphere is giddy with excitement over this song ... and I understand why.  It's impossibly original, and it's just so much fun.

The song is a wonder in its own right, but the video sends it over the top.  For as sneering and vulgar as the song is in places, the video is equal parts adorably playful.  Somehow those two seemingly contradictory poses work perfectly together.

I already feel bad about ranking this song way too low.

[And I do agree with Jonathan Bogart when he says:
She deserves better than to be championed by critics as a moral rebuke to Odd Future or Kreayshawn, especially when those rebukes carry overtones of East Coast snobbery and white people deciding who’s properly black. She also deserves better than to be championed by critics as an aesthetic rebuke to Nicki Minaj or M.I.A., especially when those rebukes carry overtones of anti-chart rockism and dudes deciding who’s properly feminist.
Even though I just spent 500 words explaining why I like her better than all of those artists.  I really don't want it to go any deeper than music.  I don't want this song to Represent anything, or Signify anything, or Champion anything.  I just like this song better than all of the songs by all of the artists he listed.]


  1. I like when she sings a lot more than when she raps. When she raps, she reminds me of a female version of The Streets. (Call it the influence of the British producer.)

    The beat's too industrial for me, I'd like to see her flow on some more grimy stuff, or even like, LMFAO-type Redfoo beats. That said, I think she would have ripped up the beat that Kreyshawn had for "Gucci, Gucci."

    Considering this girl is like 20, I think she could eventually drop some really good records.

    (Also, I support the rise of the c-word in American lexicon, like how the Brits use it. At least I'd rather people use that then "bitch.")

  2. Yeah, she can really sing, too. (Excellent Interpol cover here:

    Also, if you think she sounds too British, I would recommend avoiding this:

    I can hear the Streets-ish sound on the first verse, but I think the second verse (which I think is definitely the best) gets away from that.

    And yes, she would destroy "Gucci Gucci." That's just a really good beat all around.