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 Tokyo. She 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.