Azealia Banks is poised to become the most famous mainstream arbiter of fierceness since RuPaul. The hugely promising Harlem-bred hip-hop dynamo experiments with gender, performance, and attitude like one of the hardest-voguing vamps in Paris Is Burning.
From “212” (the area code–referencing debut single that established the young emcee as a talent to watch last September) to her latest offering, the loose, charming 19-track mixtape Fantasea, Banks has played with a swaggering persona that stands as the girl-culture equivalent of the bullish machismo traditonally embraced by male emcees. It’s no coincidence that on one of Fantasea’s finest tracks, “Fierce,” Banks spits speedy, laconic rhymes about drag balls over a sample of a ’90s-era house track called “Work It Girlfriend”—she looks to the best for her version of realness.
Fantasea is fittingly campy and glamourous, mixing up neon nu-rave beats, cartoonishly tropical instrumentals (the steel pan–style riff on “Jumanji” is as decadent as a supersized piña colada at an all-inclusive resort), and hollow, clubby rhythms. She delights in rhyming about raunch: On “Chips,” she “pop[s] the trunk” for a conquest; on “L8R,” she schools dudes on how to properly orally service a woman. The highlight here, however, is “US,” a don’t-fuck-with-my-crew anthem delivered in a shrewd, bouncy flow and topped with an unexpectedly pretty hook.
If Banks’ lyrics and references occasionally drift towards self-indulgence—see her over-the-top mermaid imagery, or the jokey, meandering interlude about “ratchet bitches,” new-school slang for hard-ass women—those digressions are justified. At only 21, Banks is already so secure in the force of her artistic vision that she can afford to be playful in its execution.
Playlist picks: “US,” “Fierce,” “Nathan (ft. Styles P)”