Giggles can be heard coming from a London studio alongside the scent of perfume, wine and a lot of hairspray. “Oh my God, that is awesome!” is followed by “Oh shit, I love it!” and “Wooahhhhh!” Azealia Banks is being styled as a mermaid for the shoot today, complete with waist-length hair, and if the squeals are anything to go by, she likes it.
The theme is perhaps more fitting than she realises – never once out of her depth, the 20-year-old rapper is, as you might imagine from listening to her discography, both charmingly girlish and faintly siren-esque.
The Harlem girl began making headlines in the niche rap world back in 2009 when she released her debut album, Gimme a Chance (under the pseudonym Miss Bank$), which featured her breakout hit, “Seventeen”. She has since topped the NME Cool List, released the critically acclaimed single “212” and is one of the most hotly tipped female rappers to knock the likes of Nicki Minaj off the top of the charts.
Banks’ provocative nature has established her as an artist who is both candid and unafraid to court controversy – a refreshing change from the conveyor belt of media-trained bubblegum pop stars. Most recently she spoke out against the term “rapper”, claiming that she wanted to be known as an “artist” and, perhaps, in a funny way, she makes a good point.
An all-rounder (singer/songwriter/performer), she began her career in musical theatre, studying at LaGuardia in New York, which is one of the most prestigious platforms for up-and-coming actresses and performers. Building her confidence there, she established her voice by rapping about Harlem, sex and the female experience, citing Lil’ Kim and Peaches as her musical influences (which may account for the uncensored lyrics and liberal use of the word “cunt”).
Her most recent body of work, the 1991 EP and her Fantasea mixtape, which is both ferocious and uncompromising. There is everything from hard- edged rants about the music industry to examples of her teetering on the edge of the expected, perhaps best seen with her cover of Prodigy’s rave classic, “Out of Space”.
The unabashed nature of Banks is one of her most fascinating elements. She is as thrilling off track as on, her music perfectly reflecting her personality – furiously fast-paced, fascinating and forward- looking. With her energy levels at a rate that befits her youth, Banks is perhaps best described as the most exciting product from the legacy of female rappers – the pop preoccupations of Nicki Minaj and sexual liberation of Lil’ Kim, coupled with a sharper ear for production than Trina, and love songs that bare their teeth more than Lauryn Hill or Eve. Banks is part of a new generation staking their territory in the rap world and she shows no signs of slowing down. We sit down with her amid her rants, giggles and hair smoothing to talk about how, like any great mermaid, she continues to swim with her head above water.
The Hunger: In the last year there has been phenomenal interest in you and your work – how have you dealt with the sudden attention?
Azealia Banks: It’s crazy. You just go through the motions. I am 20 years old and six years ago I was watching MTV while getting ready for school, so it’s crazy when you go back and you’re there. You are like, “Oh God, that is weird.”
Read more of our exclusive interview in Issue Three of The Hunger, on sale now.