Azealia Banks is one odd duck. But the eccentric rapper is so unpredictably out the box that her debut album (finally!), Broke with Expensive Taste, is a breath of incredibly fresh air. After all the tweeter beefs Azealia launched in her career (Angel Haze, T.I.), fans wondered if she could even put out an album! But in the tradition of Beyoncé, Azealia surprise-released the album online without promotion (on her own label no less).
The much delayed record is sonically explosive and exploratory, mixing everything from rap to Latin rhythms, to steel drums, to Jamaican patois, to UK garage, to electro house, to old school hip-hop, to futuristic sounds. It’s the past and the future wrapped into one—a kaleidoscope of creativity that feels like a taste of an eclectic musical cuisine. And Azealia’s so herself that it’s scary. As Hot 97 radio DJ Peter Rosenberg says on “Desperado,” “I’ve been waiting for Azealia Banks.” Well, so have we.
The true triumph of Broke with Expensive Taste is that Azealia expands the canon of female rappers and rap in general. She pushes the envelope of how innovative hip-hop can be with inventive lyrics and adventurous sound. And this is really her secret: the Harlemite is not afraid of sound. Whole sections of her song are often just instruments. Most artists would be terrified without the safety net of lyrics or traditional song structures, but not Azealia. It’s like she cooked together all the odds and ends of music into one anti-pop gumbo stew. And when she does rap and sing (in multiple languages), she does so effortlessly. Critics favorably compare her to Lauryn Hill in this regard. With that black ballerina on the cover, Broke is Azealia’s dynamite vision.
The opening song “Idle Delilah” sounds like a mix of Cuban beats meets Jamaican patois meets 80’s synth funk. (Who even comes up with that?) I feel like Celia Cruz made an appearance. The song just makes you want to dance from somewhere deep in your soul. And whether you understand her speedy raps or not, she really doesn’t care. Azealia has nothing to prove.
Broke’s lead single is “Chasing Time,” which is basically electro pop meets Janet Jackson dance meets Lil’ Kim rap. She even wears a pastie a la Ms. Kim in the video.
Chasing Time – Azealia Banks
Biggest standout on the album is “Gimme a Chance.” The way Azealia jumps into the song sounds like Biggie meeting a newly jail-sprung Lauryn Hill. And them trumpets! This song is a declaration. Seriously should have been the lead single. Heavy drums and actual scratching makes you want to break into salsa, especially when Azealia breaks into Spanish.
I wasn’t a fan of the album’s other lead single, “Heavy Metal and Reflective,” and most of “BBD” felt like Azealia left some of her innovation on the floor. “Yung Repunxel” is named after Azealia’s hella long black weave in the fantasy world she’s created for herself, giving us rain, crazy flow, and screaming; “Brrrrrr-brrrp-brrrp-brrrp / Just let me pop my sh*t, let me hit that weed! / And sip that – aye n**gas?” Yep, this princess is definitely out her tower.
The breakneck speed of the album never really slows until “Soda,” which gives us a beautiful glimpse into Azealia’s rare melancholy. Gem.
Another gem is “JFK,” which starts sounding like a Victoria’s Secret ad. Makes sense, as the song is really about the “allure” of being a fashion icon although it’s named after a political icon. “Assassinate the look, murdering the gown / Fashion-killa the body dipped in brown.” And check this diamond of a line: “Baby you look late, come peep my now.”
Broke also includes Azealia’s electro, aggressive and highly popular “212” (which charted in Europe), and a Beach Boys sounding “Nude Beach A Go-Go.” Her voice reminds of Janelle Monae here. What an experiment.
With its multi-cultural cosmopolitan feel and Azealia’s dynamic vision, Broke with Expensive Taste is a cultural statement. Azealia Banks didn’t just make a new album, she created her own sonic lane.