Azealia Banks is a 21-year-old artist from Harlem who has – as Billboard described – “shaken up the blogosphere like a snowglobe.” Her simple black and white video for “212 (featuring Lazy Jay)” has racked up nearly 30 million views since she posted it in the fall of 2011. Sporting pigtails, cutoffs and a Mickey Mouse sweater and grooving in front of a brick wall, Banks delivers a dizzying stream of lyrics so audacious that Paper Magazine proclaimed the clip “musical gunpowder.”
And it has, indeed, proved explosive, propelling Azealia to the top of NME’s Cool List and into the pages of The New York Times twice – months before her debut EP, 1991, had even been released. She was the face of designer Alexander Wang’s T Fall 2012 campaign, delivering a slice of “Van Vogue” in a promotional spot. Banks appeared alongside Wang in a portrait that ran in Vogue’s September issue while Yung Rapunxel, a limited-edition lipstick by Azealia and M·A·C, was introduced at Fashion’s Night Out 2012. Banks’s Dazed & Confused cover photo was deemed too provocative by some, leading seven countries to ban the September 2012 cover of the British fashion magazine.
“After 45 minutes in her presence, alternately infuriated, charmed and deeply impressed, I told her: You’re going to be huge — but probably first you should consider being normal size,” said Will Self in his profile of Banks for T: The New York Times Style Magazine. W noted: “when she’s not spewing taunts, she’s singing with all the depth and prowess of an R&B star” and Rolling Stone greeted the May 2012 release of her 1991 EP with a simple request: “More, please.”
The way she fuses street sensibility with musical sophistication is pure alchemy, and reflects years of classical training – from roles in off-Broadway productions as a child to her studies at New York City’s renowned La Guardia High School of Performing Arts. Banks’ early recordings – including “Seventeen,” the infectious Fader co-signed “L8R” and her celebrated cover of Interpol’s “Slow Hands” – opened doors, leading to a collaboration on the Major Lazer EP and an appearance in the Nike Sportswear 1Love video series.
Banks, who has been featured on the cover of VIBE’s 2012 “Juice” issue, Paper’s “Summer Music” issue, SPIN’s “Look” issue and French fashion magazine Jalouse, put her own unique stamp on the summer of 2012, bringing the bi-coastal “Mermaid Ball” – complete with four opening acts, floating sea creatures and a mermaid costume contest – to New York City’s Bowery Ballroom and The Fonda Theatre in Hollywood, releasing the mixtape Fantasea and debuting the Western-themed video “Liquorice.” Directed by Rankin, the clip was added to MTV (which championed Azealia as a PUSH Artist), MTV2’s “120 Minutes,” MTV Hits and mtvU and already has more than two million views. She quickly followed it with “Van Vogue,” which was also lensed by Rankin.
Like the turns of a kaleidoscope, each of these offerings have provided a glimpse of the vibrancy and versatility that Banks brings to her music, hinting at the range her full-length debut album, due out this fall on Interscope/Polydor, will reveal.