Azealia Banks and Black Female Audacity

by Sara Bivigou

As light travels faster than sound, I saw Azealia Banks before I heard her.

In the black and white video for her debut single 212 she is all smiling eyes and cheekbones and carefree charm and serious charisma. And then the delightful nastiness of her lyrics hit, her lips fill the frame and she is pretty much chanting the word c–t.

Azealia Banks is one of this year’s hot young things: The most highly ranked female on the BBC’s Sound of 2012 poll, she was invited to tour the UK by NME with other musical up and comers. She’s sung at Karl Lagerfeld’s house and the Chanel big wig recently asked her to perform at an exhibit in TokyoShe has just collaborated with wearily well prolific producer Diplo on a new song “F— Up The Fun,” and is rumored to be working with a host of other heat generating humans including M.I.A., Lana Del Rey and Kanye West.

Every time I listen to her or read or watch an interview I feel better, relieved somehow. I just like her. I like that Azealia is even out there for me to like. I like that she seems a little reckless. I like her languid cover of Interpol’s “Slow Hands”. And I like that in the Iggy Azealia XXL magazine cover kerfuffle she defined herself as a ‘pro-black girl’.

I like the picture of Azealia sitting on Mulberry’s front row at London’s 2012 fashion week. It feels political somehow that the Harlem-born, La Guardia-educated rapper in the throng of it girls is the only person of color; she’s the only one whose public image isn’t of sweet compliance, and is the only one you can imagine using the word c–t, as a term of endearment, no less.

I like to like black women who have the audacity to be creative. Because audacity isn’t easy, but it is exactly what it takes for black women to get things done, made and presented in their image without compromise.

I think about creative black women a lot.

I wonder about them and worry about them. I feel hyper protective of them and all their audacity. I think of Black Female Audacity as its own thing with hard and loose rules:

  • Create on your own terms
  • Understand what it means to be a black woman and the implications of being a black woman and choosing to create on your own terms
  • Do not pretend it is easy for you to get things done just because it’ll make others feel comfortable
  • Do not shy away from vulnerability although you understand that vulnerability isn’t art in and of itself
  • Do not explain yourself

The musical artists I’ve loved the most have all been black and female and had oodles of audacity.

Nina Simone always bold as brass, whether damning the state of Mississippi, or facing down a lover foolish enough to leave. And Grace Jones whose music was full of sounds my 8-year-old self found so pleasingly complicated. I remember looking at her album covers and becoming transfixed. She was black like me, my mum and my aunts, but looked different in a way that I felt different.

When I was a teenager it was Lil’ Kim’s lewdness that meant the most, because it never felt like a for-the-sake-of-it endeavour, but always as though she was making a point about femininity and strength. More recently it is the lyrics of the delightfully uncategorizable Santigold that I play over and over again in my head when I’m feeling fearful and my brain needs an infusion of courage. On the way to work, I sing to myself, “I know someday they’ll make a martyr out of me.”

I wouldn’t put Azealia Banks is in the same league as these ladies who are my personal hall of famers—she is too young in age and career, and I have no idea where she’ll go or if she’ll be more than that one rude hit wonder. But more than any artist new artist she interests me. Azealia Banks vibrates with energy and brims with playful audacity, and I can’t help but root for her.

  • Bisous

    LOOOOVE Azealia. Heard about her at the end of summer last year. She doesn’t seem to be another female artist exploiting Bi-sexual or gay culture stereotypes just for controversy or because it’s “sexy”. I love that her image is accessible yet slightly off. She comes from a musical background not just in rapping and she’s just F-ing cool. I wish her the best of success. If she does use racy language it does seem to be on HER own terms. Some other cool female rappers are Domonique Young Unique and Angel Haze.

  • Cecily

    It’s interesting that a lot of the greatest criticisms of Azealia’s appearance comes from urban web sites. When a feature article was written about her for the New York Times, the writer described her as “extremely beautiful”. And yet on certain websites you will finds comments about her ‘crusty lips’ or her ‘ugly weave’….there’s a lot of hate going on. Azealia is a dark skinned beauty, with beautiful, authentically black features…and this seems to offend a LOT of black folk, for some reason. They also seem to paint her as ‘angry’ and perpetually starting beef, but to me it is son plain to see from reading and listening to interviews that the girl is sweet beyond measure, sensitive, and playful.

    I will also add, that musically she is gifted. Nothing short of that. She can spit so damn well that it has me shaking my head in astonishment. On the track ‘runnin’ as well as ‘f**k up the fun*, I am in awe.

    Add to that that she has pipes. In that same New York Times interview, the writer said:
    “When, in the course of our talk, she burst spontaneously into song I almost swooned at the coloratura and melodic purity of her voice.”

    He ended the article by writing:
    “I would say look out for Banks in the future, but that would be more of a solecism than any of her k-words, because it will soon be absolutely impossible to avoid her.”

    The thing I love most about her, is her intelligence. She is so obviously a very perceptive, complex human being, and I respect her for that.

    I love Azealia so much, I don’t remember the last time I was this excited about an artist :)

  • http://livefromthematrix.wordpress.com TAE

    WORD

  • Reason

    Why is she cussing out Spider-Man?

  • omfg

    i like her a lot but she uses the n word too much. dunno, to me using the n word is not so modern esp. for someone like her.

    personally, i wouldn’t put her in the same category as grace jones or nina simone as azealia is nowhere near them. they didn’t degrade their people by using the n word. interestingly, i believe they were both mostly natural. she also doesn’t even really have full disc out so it’s premature to lump her with those goddesses.

    i’m also happy to see a dark girl getting attention. but that weave is not so good on her. sorry to say. maybe she should get a better one done?

  • http://pervertedalchemist.blogspot.com/ Perverted Alchemist

    No thanks. When it comes to female rappers out right now, I’ll stick to Rapsody and Jean Grae. As a hip hop head, Azealia Banks does absolutely nothing for me.

  • http://cupofjo-jo.blogspot.com bk chick

    I loove her…first off because she went to my high school (LA Guardia yeah!) But yea there is something about her recklessness that is endearing.

  • iQgraphics

    why are people consistently selling this chick…
    she’s worth less than a cotton ball…

    she must have a beast PR team

  • Tonton Michel

    If she has talent definitely do not see it with this vid, the beat brings up images of MIA. I dont her see her winning with American urban audiences with that sound. L8R is a better track. The over use of the N word is annoying, like she is auditioning for a Quentin Tarantino movie, that and the cursing sounds constructed. The production that goes into her music will make or break her.

  • arlette

    she is beautiful and really talented.

  • Precious

    JG is the TRUTH! I hate that she was never given any shine ‘cuz she’s a great lyricist.

  • http://www.speakpatrice.tumblr.com Patrice

    BRAVO!! Great quotations in here about black women creatives and audacity. I would love to see this as a non-fiction book!

  • http://pervertedalchemist.blogspot.com/ Perverted Alchemist

    i would blame Talib Kweli’s label Blacksmith Music for that, but I think her lack of exposure really stems from the fact that she doesn’t care to be a household name. It’s sad because I think her music is really good and people need to hear it.

  • Yeahright2011

    i liked it. different.

  • jamesfrmphilly

    let me see here. if you use gutter slang you are audacious? just put it to a beat?

    if that is how it’s done i know quite a few audacious crackheads around my neighborhood.

  • Laina

    She is an attractive young lady. Why the weave? What is the point of the cursing?

  • apple

    She sells well in the UK. Which is usually what happens a lot. Fail in the US,worshipped in The UK (and sometimes Japan)

  • Cecily

    For those who want more old school rapping from her (albeit with an INSANE flow)
    listen to her on ‘runnin’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0_GFLNNawU

  • Cecily

    most crackheads you know spit like this? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0_GFLNNawU

  • jamesfrmphilly

    they do spit a lot.

    i don’t get it. i do not understand how talking about sex stuff is considered interesting.
    what with all that is going on around us in the world this stuff is pretty boring to me.
    rap is whack.

  • jamesfrmphilly

    black people are being killed in the street and rappers are “spitting” about sex?
    does not compute for me.

  • http://musedmagonline.com Drew-Shane

    I absolutely thought this was a good reason for so many reasons. I can respect Azealia Banks and her awkwardness. I think she’s very quirky and that’s what is selling. I think she does a great job of being different providing images that make us think. Not saying she’s the dopest but I do want to see more from her too.

    Black. Women. Rappers would be a different topic, probably a memoir..

  • Alexandra

    I was introduced to her over the summer and I like what I’ve heard so far. She has a filthy mouth which can be a turn-off at times, but I’m giving her chance. Her style is really what has my attention. I also think it’s too early for comparisons, cause she’s just as un-categorizable as Santi. But she’s cute, has audacity and I wish her luck in her career.

  • http://ebonisenai.tumblr.com Eboni Senai

    STOP THE PRESS. Thank you for writing this article, right now. I remember sitting on a beach with a group of culturally-critical folks a couple of years back, struggling to think of Black female entertainers who could inspire us with their boldness, their ferocity. After NINA, we kept coming up blank, eventually abandoning the topic for another, attempting to tamp down our disappointment at the current state of Black pop culture.

    I had no idea who Azealia was until about 2 days ago and I went on an insomniac music binge, soaking up what this woman-child (she’s still young) has to offer.
    A TEMPLATE in BLACK FEMALE AUDACITY.

    Thank you for pointing this out, laying out the bullet points. For those of us who forget, who are still battling middle class propriety with our desires to rock the f— out, this is an incredibly lucid and inspiring reminder.

    I hope that we can look beyond the discussions of aesthetics to what this means in our current socio-political moment. Michelle Obama + new Santigold + (sometimes) Nicki Minaj + Azealia = NOW. WAKE UP. LISTEN HERE.

  • http://swaggerareus.com/blog Terrell

    Thanks for the linkback to my site! Appreciate it! Azealia is the truth.

  • Cecily

    Each to their own I guess! I personally love that she is feisty, confident, sexually assertive…I’m sick of listening to male rappers be all of the same…so refreshing to see a female with intelligence do even better

  • Cecily

    As beautiful as she is, I don’t think Azealia is trying to sell her looks. She ain’t about that at all. And she expresses herself how she expresses herself. I don’t care that she swears. Male rappers swear. I care that she is intelligent and talented and confident in herself.

  • AI

    I like her music and think she’s talented. I’m looking forward to more music from her. I am concerned abt her, tho, bc I see some of that characteristic cattiness femcees are prone to and which undermines the female empowerment message — particularly, in her comments about Iggy Azalea making the XXL freshman list (that seem to derive from jealousy, rather than being so “pro-Black,” especially considering her OWN tweets abt not understanding where the word “nigger” comes from). I hope she stays on message and continues to let her talent speak for herself. @ Cecily, she IS a beautiful girl; I think a lot of those comments came from her being photographed looking particularly busted a few times — red weaves and poor clothing choices. I think she would benefit from a stylist helping her to accentuate her personal hpster style and her beauty.

  • Ren

    Azealia is not jealous of Iggy. White girl Iggy called herself a slave master and Azealia Banks (rightfully) called her out on it. She is pro-black girl……unlike T.I. and so many of the other sad black folks behind Iggy who have no problem with white women demeaning their race.

  • Tonton Michel

    “She is pro-black girl……unlike T.I. and so many of the other sad black folks behind Iggy who have no problem with white women demeaning their race.”

    Yes, her liberal use of the N word is so very uplifting.

  • SHANEL

    I like Azealia Banks a lot. and as a fan, i am disappointed how shes not being accepted like Iggy. The vast difference is Iggy has a team of writers, and MONEY (ALOT) of it behind her. She gets vocal coaching and butt injections to make her more marketable to our tumbling hip hop genre. I do think having someone like Azealia is refreshing….i do think they do need to get her a better hair dresser…

  • AI

    She didn’t have a problem with Iggy’s comment (which Iggy explained was her attempt to flip a Kendrick Lamar line but apologized for) until Iggy got the XXL cover — again especially considering her OWN comments abt the word nigger. Sounds like sour grapes to me.

  • AI

    Again, I think thye are both talented and wish them both the best. I just find her comments unbecoming.

  • Ren

    If you can see past Azealia’s use of the word “nigga” ( a word who she, as a black woman, has the right to reclaim) then you might be a little too old fashioned to concern yourself about her or her music anyway. That kind of language does not mean you hate yourself or your race.

    The timing of her statements about Iggy and her language are tiny hangups. She rightfully took Iggy to task. It is sad—but not suprising that so many black folks came to the white womans rescue after Azealia called her out. THOSE people should be ashamed of themselves.

  • AI

    I don’t see past either of their statements. Iggy was wrong for even touching that metaphor, and I am NOT apologizing for her. However, it’s just that — a metaphor. She was NOT saying she was a slave master. Rather, as Iggy has explained, the language of that line follows a Kendrick Lamar line “When the relay starts, I’m a runaway slave,” which Iggy used in this manner: “When the relay starts, I’m a runaway slave…. Master, shittin on the past, gotta spit it like a pastor” which she explained to mean she was mastering the past. Anyone non-Black using a slavery reference PERIOD is in bad taste and disrespectful (which she acknowledged and apologized for), but she wasn’t calling herself a slave master, literally or figuratively. I give her the benefit of the doubt THIS time, but I file this under Mean #Sideeye and Now I’m Watching So She Bet Not Do it Again. And while I, again, think she’s talented and generally, this is an example of the issues I have with her regarding her ignorance and appropriation coming from Australia into Black culture in general (another example is her Australian speaking voice, but “hood” accent on wax).

    Anyway, my point was not to go into whether Iggy was right or wrong (she was wrong). My point is Azaelia herself. I want to see her succeed. As we’ve recently witnessed several formerly formidable femcees being pitifully catty on their way down(*cough* Lil Kim, Foxy, and even Khia *cough*), I don’t want her to go down that path. Female empowerment is not downing other females. Iggy is not the only femcee Azaelia has beefed with or jabbed at unsolicited (Nicki Minaj, Kreashawn). I just don’t believe Azaelia pointed it out bc she is so pro-Black and she was not “re-claiming” it. She stated before “The word ‘nigger’ is so funny. What does it even mean? Where did it come from? It’s one of the great mysteries of the world.” This does not sound like someone very “conscious,” nor do I see that reflected in her lyrics at all.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Florence-Burns/100002517936130 Florence Burns

    I’m always excited to find new artists and I was willing to give rap another try, but I’m afraid Azealia’s music just doesn’t click with me… I just can’t will myself to like it. Yes, I listened to more than five songs. Do I still get points for trying?

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  • T.

    LMAO at “they do spit a lot”!

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  • http://themahoganymafia.wordpress.com/ Jasmine

    I love her honesty and can see her going far. We need less barbies and more creative, true artists for our young girls.

  • http://www.chicnoirhouse.blogspot.com Chic Noir

    Co-sign Cecily, the self hate some of our people suffer from is sickening.

  • http://facebook.com/gkusoul Bohemia

    I like her.A group of friends of mine discussed her video (after me and another person,who saw the video months before,introduced the vid to our othet friends) and her audacity…Our conclusion was how now she can be considered in the same league as the aforementioned artists of the black female persuasion (I also put Erykah Badu,Betty Davis,Kelis and Jack Davey of J*Davey in this category) that challenges the stereotype of the image black women that is a truth,rather than being manufactured by a label.”Bad weave,thrift store finds,old hand me downs….who cares,I can still rock it like nobody’s business because my talent and my purity is what brings them to me.” is what I get from her.How many black girls we all know was the ‘oddity’ in our hood or our school (I was…still am and a grandmother…) that was not considered stereotypically ‘black’ but at the same time oh so black.lol.So,I applaud her.We need more artists that outside the ‘negroidian quadrilateral parallelogram’.Real will always recognize real and I hope continued fame doesn’t alter the gift of that….

  • Vanity

    I think Azealia Banks is very refreshing in today’s syrupy music industry. The beats on P.u.s.s.y are reminiscing of the golden early 80′s sound. Her rawness and honesty is doing no harm and is somehow very welcome.
    However…because there’s always another side to one coin, the catiness and constant use of obscenities have been long tried and tested before and that was disappoints me so far with the girl. We’ve all been through times of rebellion especially in our teenage and early twenties so I guess she’s got to get that out of her system. I just hope that’s not all what’s she all about as we can definitely feel a massive potential in her.
    Time will tell

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