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WPGM Commentary: Azealia Banks – Social Activism or Publicity Stunting?

Azealia Banks III
Allow me to introduce the intriguing case of Azealia Banks. Some readers may know the Harlem emcee for her breakthrough hit “212” from 2011 that was considered by respectable publications as one of their songs of the year. Though, since this thrust into the mainstream, Banks’ career has not reached the heights that early projections may have been inclined to suggest, as she was released from her deal at Interscope last year before releasing her debut album Broke With Expensive Taste independently. Despite this, there is still a good chance you may have read Azealia’s name in headlines over the past couple of years, but this would not be in direct relation to her music.

Ever since Banks’ feud began with a certain Iggy Azalea in 2012, stemming from a lyric the white, Australian born artist spew comparing herself to a “runaway slave master” (it sounds worse out of context), Banks has made it one of her top priorities to help shed some light on racial appropriation in America. This cannot be seen as a negative thing to do as a young black female in today’s society, and anyone who is passionate about racial issues and bringing about racial equality should be lauded. During a recent interview with New York radio station Hot 97, Banks spoke passionately and emotionally about “cultural smudging” and how “they’re trying to erase us”, with regards to the disparities in popular culture’s treatment of black and white people. Irrespective, some have criticised the way Banks has conducted herself in recent times, with regards to how she’s attempting to bring attention to the issues she feels so strongly about.

Maybe this is due to her almost constant disputes with other artists via social media? Banks has become infamous for her quarrels and it’s not helped people support her opinions. In the past couple of years or so, Banks has sparred with or taken shots at the likes of; T.I. (on 3 separate occasions), A$AP Rocky, Action Bronson, Nicki Minaj, Lil’ Kim, Jim Jones, Baauer, Diplo, Rita Ora, Lily Allen, Lady Gaga, Lupe Fiasco, Pharrell and more. That list is an astounding amount of people of popularity and/or influence within the music industry, with her latest target being Kendrick Lamar. Banks criticised Kendrick’s remarks that were published in an interview with Billboard Magazine, where the TDE artist said, “… when we don’t have respect for ourselves, how do we expect them to respect us?” whilst discussing the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. This lead to a tirade of tweets from Banks referring to Kendrick’s quote, calling it the “dumbest shit I’ve ever heard a black man say”.

However, by no means are all of her disagreements based on how she feels about racial issues either, which leads me to question why she feels the need to air out all her grievances on Twitter, instead of directly with the people in question, perhaps on a more discreet basis. Banks has been accused of being jealous of the commercial success of her counterparts (in particular Iggy Azalea), as well as using racial issues as an excuse to initiate and support her jealousy-fuelled attacks. Banks has even gone as far as ostracising any African Americans who don’t support her assessments, labelling them as “coons”, with T.I. being the most notable target.

Being the cynical character that I am, I can’t help but think that some of her actions are driven by a stagnating music career. I can’t remember the last article I read about Azealia Banks that was solely about her music. People sometimes forget that she is a talented artist herself, who definitely has/had the potential to be alongside Nicki Minaj in the ‘Urban Pop’ lane. I find it difficult to believe that her behaviour on Twitter is not affecting her ability to become more commercially successful than she has been up to this point, with her inability to bite her tongue losing her as many fans as she gains.

Being the tenacious emcee and person that she is, Banks most certainly has the proficiency to let her music do her talking for her, but whether she allows that to happen, remains to be seen. Whether you view her actions as brave social activism or just an artist looking for publicity to aid an idling career, there’s a strong chance you’ll be reading more about the Azealia Banks in the future.

Read our review of Azealia BanksBroke With Expensive Taste album here. The record was among our best 10 albums of 2014.

Words by Nathan Fisher // Edited by Ayo Adepoju

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