Azealia Banks broke through on Tumblr and shows like UK’s ‘Skins’ in 2011 with her dance rap ode to NYC – “212.” Since then her career has been tumultuous to say the least; singles have been thrown around, semi-interesting sea punk mixtapes and EPs have been dropped, twitter beefs have started and faded into oblivion, record contracts have been torn to shreds. Yet throughout all of the chaos, there was confident chest-puff talk about her debut release: Broke With Expensive Taste but for years… no album.
Now it’s here, three years later. Though it’s recycled quite a few of her songs, the album manages to do the impossible and breathe life back into previously released tracks like the aforementioned “212,” “Luxury,” and “Gimme A Chance,” while also giving us solid new tracks to bump.
The album opens with “Idle Delilah” (by the way, this samples “Pearson Sound” by WAD). Azealia throws her first left hook, one of many, by singing instead of rapping on the first verse. The interesting percussive, bass heavy and guitar riddled instrumental carries her voice and incredibly creative lyrics in the form of a fable. However, in case you were confused, she returns true to style with her NSFW wordplay when the second verse hits.
A newly revamped “Gimme A Chance” is up next and is very different than the song before it. A hard rock instrumental, complete with bass, drums and trumpet. This sounds a lot like a remixed version of music that would play during a house party scene in ‘The Craft.’ Right as you start to get comfortable, suddenly there’s a merengue dance break and Azealia is rapping in fluent spanish. The transition is absolutely seamless and retains the funk and sass of the first half, making it a clear stand out on the album.
Hands down, track 3 should have been the album opener. “Desperado” begins with an a radio announcer introducing his next song, stating that he’s been “waiting for Azealia Banks.” What could set the tone of the long awaited album better than that? Azealia’s flow is seamless and sensual while also having a taste of ferocity. The UK Garage beat (from MJ Cole’s “Bandelero Desperado”) is absolutely perfect for her voice while the flute echoing above it gives it an menacing vibe. The last minute and a half slows down to a syrup-y haze, speeds right back up, and before you know it you’re all geared up for the next song.
“Heavy Metal and Reflective” is the speediest song on the album (even the music video revolves around motorcycles) and it’s also one of the shortest. Warning: It is impossible not to go unbelievably hard listening to this song. Her flow, the lyrics, the beat, no matter where you are, I guarantee you’ll be lookin’ very heavy metal and reflective… also probably ridiculous. The song does slow down for a brief breather as she ominously quotes the 1981 existential sci-fi film ‘Blade Runner,’ but as usual, she closes out strong.
“Ice Princess” is produced by the incredibly talented, sampler board virtuoso, Araabmuzik, and seems to be the breakout hit of the album. If she hasn’t already chosen her next single, this should be it. Azealia rolls with the “demented turnt ballet performance” theme posed on the album cover with a music box melody over heavy beats. Boastful verses are paired with a pop radio ready chorus stating that she’s “feeling a change”. While the song ends, the storm clouds roll in, thunder claps, and “Yung Rapunxel” begins; a gigantic middle-figure-to-the-man neo punk-hop anthem. This song is an electric storm of pure energy, with the chorus literally being screamed through a megaphone. She is daring the listener (and specifically her record label) to come at her, she knows everyone is too scared to try. These two songs back-to-back are the climax of the album and pack a massive punch.
“Soda” is one of my personal favorites on the album. On the surface, this track sounds like a dance break up anthem which is fairly standard in club music these days. However, given the context of the rest of the album and the real life drama surrounding it, this song is the realization of what her rebellion in “Yung Rapunxel” has caused: falling out of the public’s spotlight (“I used to be your girl”) and turning to drugs to deal with the depression (hint: The Sprite is not clean and the Coke is not cola).
“Nude Beach a Go Go” continues with the brash juxtaposition of “Soda.” The genre whiplash is strong with this one and I love it. This Ariel Pink produced drunken beach bop is the shortest song on the album and features some biting commentary on the cultural appropriation of black culture (ex. Iggy Azalea/Igloo Australia and Miley Cyrus) with lines like “Black women’s attraction, all the white girls join in the action”.
The album closes with “Miss Camaraderie” – Azealia’s personal favorite on the album and a great positive note to end on. This song is a triumphant strut refusing to be brought down by the broken promises, heartbreak and mistreatment she has faced throughout her journey on “Broke With Expensive Taste” and her career. The horn sections mimic the opening track “Idle Delilah,” creating subtle bookends for the album. The drawn out instrumental at the end signals a graceful exit.
Overall, this album is an absolute monster: energy, emotion, and genre diversity unlike anything I’ve seen in a long time. Azealia’s decision to ditch the Tumblr aesthetic and embrace the plethora of influences she’s cited has only strengthened her career and helped her transcend the drama of her personal life leaking into her music (well… except for those Bill Cosby comments she made a few days ago). Broke With Expensive Taste is one of the most ambitious and unique albums of the 2010’s and deserves multiple full length listens.
If you enjoy this album consider checking out M.I.A’s first mixtape Piracy Funds Terrorism Vol. 1 and Gorillaz’s Plastic Beach for some more genre-defying, energetic music.