Azealia Banks – The Come Up
In a short span of time, Azealia Banks went from unknown to incessantly buzzed about. The 20-year-old Harlem native, whose song and video “212” caught the eyes and ears of everyone from Kanye West (who called her the “future of music” during a DJ set) to actress Gwyneth Paltrow (who tweeted she was “obsessed” with Banks), signed with Universal Music Group in January.
XXL caught up with the up and coming femcee to hear more about hear background in theater, her ties to the fashion world, and her Euro-influenced debut. Act like you know. —As told to Sowmya Krishnamurthy
Name: Azealia Banks
Reppin’: Harlem, NY
Notable Releases: “212”
Label: Universal Music Group
On background in theater and rap:
I was doing musical theatre as a kid. I was kind of doing it hoping, in the future that I ended up somewhere artistic. I didn’t necessarily think I’d be like rapping or anything like that. I just kind of assumed I’d be like singing R&B or continuing the musical theatre thing or going to Julliard or whatever. I went to LaGuardia, my junior year I was like, I don’t really want to be in show business, but I still want to be doing creative kind of things. So I started writing R&B songs and they turned into raps. I was hanging out in New York and chilling and cutting school and shit and I started listening to a lot more rap. I was really wack at first and, I don’t know, maybe I’m still wack [laughs]. I just started doing it just to stay creative. It wasn’t like, I need to be the greatest rapper alive, it was just like, Hey, I can write raps, as this new talent that I discovered. I was more so just exploring it.
On getting signed by XL Recordings:
I did two tracks and Diplo was like hitting me up. I would put my stuff on MySpace and send my links to people and it just kind of spread. A lot of people started talking about me and when I was 17 I went over to London for the first time and then I signed with XL Recordings. I literally had like four, five songs and then I got signed by XL.
On parting ways with XL:
People get dropped from labels all the time. It’s not something that was defining of me. It did put me into a bit of a depression for a minute because I kind of like felt like I failed. But now that I’m older and look back on it, I got signed for like $5000—what was I really going to do with it, you know what I mean? Like how far was it really going to go? It’s kind of like when you have your first boyfriend and you think he’s the world and you think, I’m going to marry this guy, and then you guys have been together three months and then you’re broken up and you’re like, Oh my God fuck love! and then you meet someone else and you’re like, Oh I get it.
On the popularity of “212”:
I knew it was going to be good but I didn’t know how far it was going to get just because the management I had and everything that was going on. I didn’t know it was going to explode like this. I knew it was going to be good and I knew it was going to be authentic and important but I thought it would come like years after. Like I thought it would be an underground, like cult classic thing for a while and then it would come to the light maybe three or four years.
On major label courting:
Usually you get the indie offers, then you get the imprints of labels, then you get up to Interscope and shit like that. But it was literally the heads of Sony and the heads of Universal like just hitting me up like, Which company do you want to go with? You can chose any label you want but just pick my company. It was seriously pressure. When I signed to Universal Music Group, I chose Polyvore in the UK and Interscope in the US. So when I signed to UMG I could chose between Jimmy Iovine and Monte Lipman and Barry Weiss. It was crazy. It was like, What’s happening? This is ridiculous.
On ties to the world of fashion:
I don’t want to be that Fashion Week rapper? I’m really into making music that’s a bit nostalgic in a sense that reminds people of certain times or certain things, or scenes or themes. Even if it’s having a picnic or doing your laundry or whatever the fuck. People can take the music and relate it to something. A time and place or other events that were happening in the news and in the shit. That’s when I think you’re gonna get the most effective moments. I’m not here to be the It Girl or you know, the best top rap bitch whatever. I’m just here to create moments that will last that just draw in as many people as possible at once and make them all like each other. Whatever that means.
On debut, slated to drop later this year:
It’s going to be a lot of different styles. There’s going to be a big rave aesthetic to it. One long party. There will definitely be some hip-hop on it but it will be Euro influenced. Hip-hop sounds different [in London], R&B sounds different in Europe. Things are a bit more progressive. I think that’s the word. Everything’s going to sound progressive.