AZEALIA BANKS - 212
Katherine St Asaph: This is awesome. I don’t hate music anymore.
Edward Okulicz: “212” finds Azealia bursting onto the scene with a seemingly fully-formed persona and charisma to burn. She’s playful, sassy and has a dirty mind to match her mouth. And best of all, her sound and sound-bites alike would be the envy of many a more established pop star — Missy Elliott dreams of a comeback single as good as this, and Cher Lloyd should be taking notes. Take out the punchlines and you’d still have a thumping, sleazy electro glide. Keep the punchlines in and this is one hell of a warning shot.
Zach Lyon: New favorite song to blast out of my car. New favorite song that I had no idea I was waiting for. Just wow.
Hazel Robinson: Quite pleased to see some of what I’d identify as U.K. urban sounds feeding back to the U.S., extremely pleased by the fact this is excellent. It’s a little rough — the multiple parts don’t gel the way they do in, say, “Neva Soft,” and Azealia doesn’t quite have the aggression for the hard bit at the end, but there’s enough on showcase here to more than make up for its (very small) shortcomings. The beat straddles New York hipster electro without any of the other parts sacrificing themselves, she sounds amazing on both the rapid-fire rapping at the start and the taunting, cocky singing halfway through, after which it goes into a build of shouting and unvain aggression that puts it way up the “astonishing” list.
Erick Bieritz: Four distinct voices in the course of three-plus minutes, mining bits and pieces of an entire decade of vocal rhythm music. Obviously Nicki, but what else, Missy through a house lens and Björk by way of E-40? Intentionally or incidentally, it stakes out the territory that Santigold never quite claimed because she always kept one foot safely in indie rock. It’s the most original use of the vocal instrument this year, and probably of the past three or four years.
Brad Shoup: Banks employs Nicki Minaj’s polyglot approach but bends her voices toward violence,sexual and otherwise. It’s totally arresting and more than a little vile. Her flow is osmium-dense, filtered through impressions of British rappers and frat boys. Sonically, this is little more than a mixtape take on “Float My Boat,” but when the pings morph into klaxon roars at the end, I get why it was chosen: needling turns into pure menace.
Alfred Soto: When the dust settles, what’s left standing is a one-woman community, a town crier who do the police in different voices, a masterpiece of mimicry and appropriation, L’Trimm, Neneh Cherry, Lil’ Kim passing a dutchie. I’m well aware that this is the sort of track designed to make hetero guys go boom, but Azealia Banks hasn’t noticed; she has the flow and concentration to amuse herself, and ultimately her triumph consists of telling a string of five or six private, smutty jokes while dancing by herself in front of the bathroom mirror.
Michelle Myers: In her second and third verses, Banks crafts much of her lyrics out of the “oo” and “uhh” vowel sounds found in native Manhattan’s realest area code. What ensues is a relentless stream of assonance: “kool-aid dude,” “blue bayou,” “doo-rag too, son,” “the new one too, huh,” “you know you were too once.” And like any good drama student, she puts those vowels to work, stretching them, pulling on them, playing in them. Of course, it’s all a build up to that delightfully nasty “imma ruin you, cunt” punchline, which Banks delivers as if it were already Impact text on an image macro. Banks’ lyrical skill wouldn’t matter much if she weren’t also positively oozing with personality. Luckily, she spits with the kind of mirthful insolence that I imagine music-crit bros hear in Tyler, the Creator. Except she’s way better at rapping.
Anthony Easton: I keep having this conversation with a friend of mine about hip hop. She is white, and I am white, and neither of us is American — so talking about hip hop is dangerous — but she wonders if hip hop culture has turned its back on Lil’ Kim or Trina or Foxy Brown: women who use their sexuality as a political and social gambit in the same way as Bikini Kill or Liz Phair (although, you know, Kathleen Hanna’s nostalgia tour is a little better funded than Foxy’s.) I don’t think my friend is wrong, but I listen to this, and it’s tight, it’s hot, it has that air siren aggressiveness, and it calls a cunt a cunt. I don’t want to talk before my space, but this might be another way of approaching that gap that Nicki Minaj never quite fills.
Jonathan Bogart: She deserves better than to be championed by critics as a moral rebuke to Odd Future or Kreayshawn, especially when those rebukes carry overtones of East Coast snobbery and white people deciding who’s properly black. She also deserves better than to be championed by critics as an aesthetic rebuke to Nicki Minaj or M.I.A., especially when those rebukes carry overtones of anti-chart rockism and dudes deciding who’s properly feminist. But mainly, she deserves better than to be the subject of yet another Women Rapping (Too) profile, only to be forgotten by the time the next XX-chromosomed rap hype comes along. In the relatively brief space of this single song, she’s created not just a persona and a point of view — standard tools for any would-be musician, pop or indie or hip-hop or whatever — but a fully-formed aesthetic, dirty without sleaze, aggressive without sociopathy, gleeful without dumbness. There’s a reason the video focuses so much on her mouth whether rapping, stretching, or smiling: it’s both uncomfortably intimate and unvarnishedly truthful. There’s no escape. She’s here.
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