WPGM Commentary: Make Azealia Banks Great Again

Azealia Banks.

You know the name and you probably know a few of her songs too, if not one. “212” was massive, so big in fact, it catapulted her into the limelight and boy, that light was bright. She was hailed as the ‘next big thing’ and that label was justified. Normally it’s hyperbole or publications trying to garner clicks with spicy, creative titled op-eds. With Azealia Banks, it was all truth.

Despite the push she was receiving, alongside the coverage, she managed to engineer her own downfall. Witnessing Banks’ fall from grace was painful. I felt an array of emotions, such as anger or sadness. I thought Banks would light a fire in the hip hop community and that her talent would kick certain artists into gear.

I remember being excited when I first heard Nicki Minaj run rings around her peers and of course, that ability was solidified by her monumental, earth-shattering verse on Kanye West’s “Monster”. Then came the watered-down pop, which was soulless and well, just bad. It was so forced, and what made her so enviable and exciting, was pushed to the side.

So, you can imagine the excitement when I first heard Azealia f**king Banks. This was the female MC the 21st century had been waiting for. Even though Banks often sings and raps, the difference between her and say, Minaj, is that Banks goes hard in all aspects.

To put it bluntly, her songwriting is miles ahead of anything Minaj has delivered in sometime. Banks has this fire in her lungs that oozes out in her songs. She’s capable of visceral bangers and assured, well-written pop tracks. She’s also queen of beats. Her ear for music is fantastic and the way she’s worked everything from garage, house to salsa is top-notch.

However, all her talent wasn’t enough to change what was happening before our eyes. The outbursts and general penchant for bad behaviour began to outshine her music. Mostly because her debut album was continuously delayed and while her album was doing laps in limbo, she became more known for being a b**ch.

There’s no need for me to retread old ground by listing out all the difficulties and ‘drama’ that surrounded Banks over the last few years. Anyone who keeps their ear to the ground within music knows about her behaviour and the impact it had.

The fact that Banks has gone from being in line for the throne to being on the chopping block in such a short space of time, is astounding. Even when her debut finally landed, it wasn’t enough to save her from the depths she was stuck in. Broke With Expensive Taste was critically acclaimed, it didn’t sell too great but in a way, it didn’t matter.

She had the critics on her side again and the doubters were fully on board. Once again, her attitude and outbursts took away that positivity. Banks put the final nails in the coffin when she made racial and homophobic slurs towards Zayn, of One Direction fame. Since then, she’s been dubbed ‘crazy’ for the Russell Crowe incident, the blood stained cupboard and various other situations.

Without a doubt, Azealia Banks hit rock bottom. No label, no management, no PR or booking agency was backing her. Despite being in such a difficult position, Banks begun to make a come back and given the signs so far, she’ll be damned before she gives in. Even resurrection from the ashes a la phoenix style, is proving tumultuous.

Her comeback is being fought against, plain and simple. Most of the media and music lovers alike are anti-Azealia. There seems to be a determination to derail her. To be honest, the pushback isn’t a surprise and you could maybe argue that it’s deserved. However, it’s more than an anti-comeback sentiment and more fifty shades of an agenda.

I, personally, am tired of seeing people circle her like vultures, all waiting for her to fall short again. We, as the media, know what she’s said and done. There isn’t a need to continually crucify her for it. What happened to the idea of forgiveness and moving on? The media and the music industry as a whole, have to take a step back.

She never poisoned the well or carried a dagger behind her back, if anything her behaviour stemmed from personal issues or frustration. She only defended herself from oppressive figures in the industry and media when they came for her. In regards to her attitude towards individuals and groups of communities, that’s a different story.

Now, as a part of the media (in a way) and the music ‘biz (that’s my day job). I believe that her behaviour should be forgiven and that as an artist, who possesses such talent, a second chance is only fair. The very fact that this industry is so hellbent on not letting go, is saddening.

Honestly, I am disappointed with the way this witch hunt for Banks is carrying on. It needs to stop because in the end, none of us know her and we don’t have an insight into what’s gone on behind the scenes. Yes, we’ve read and even witnessed aspects of her demonisation but in the grand scheme of things, her missteps aren’t so grave.

We all make mistakes right? You, reading this now, I bet you’ve made mistakes and I reckon you’ve hurt people. I’ve made mistakes yet we all move on and when necessary (and able), we forgive. Azealia Banks is no different and although she’s on a global platform, it doesn’t mean she should be treated differently.

From what I’ve seen, she is sorry and I can only take her apologies and appeared genuineness at face value. I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. One of the reasons I think why she’s facing such adversity is because she’s a black woman who takes no sh*t.

She stands for what she believes in and protects her ancestry, her rights and beliefs with such vigour and fearlessness. That, within itself, probably infuriates certain groups of people and of course, you have the sexism and racism that comes into play. I mean, sexism is rife in hip hop, so even before all the drama and push for a second chance, she was against the odds.

Her race, heritage, gender, sexuality or any other personal factor similar to those listed, shouldn’t matter. What matters, if we simplify it, is the art. To a degree there’s truth in that because people have forgiven far worse for the appreciation and acclaim of art.

Now, I’m not throwing sympathy her way for the sake of it or to seem patronising in light of her position. I acknowledge what she’s done as wrong and I’d acknowledge regardless of those factors. I vehemently disagreed with some of the things she’s said.

However, I feel she’s being blacklisted even harder because of said factors. Banks has shown guilt, expressed it and I am sure in her own time, she feels it still. She has apologised and is doing her best to move forward, it’s clear this woman has gone through enough punishment and repentance.

To reinforce my point about the inequality she’s facing, I’m going to throw this out there. There are other artists and creators from music, film and fashion; that have said and done, in some cases, awful things. Funnily enough, their art is still appreciated and consumed.

They still receive critical acclaim, huge box offices or a hit single. Double standards are rife when you observe Banks’ situation under a microscope. One name I am going to focus on is XXXTentacion because I think it’s a damning comparison.

For starters, X’s track record is troubling and he’s still managing to ride the popularity wave. Nobody and I literally mean no one is dragging him till Kingdom Come. Hell, he’s even signed to a major label despite his violent reputation. We may have had Pitchfork, Spin and Pigeons and Planes touch on his actions but neither the collective mainstream media or his peers have said a peep. Here’s some of the things X has been involved in:

• Armed Robbery
• Beating a gay man in prison, so severely he needed treatment.
• General violent behaviour, which he seems to gratify. For example, using image of someone he’s beaten up as artwork.
• Alleged domestic battery of a pregnant woman

Those examples are only pieces of the pie known as XXXTentacion. Despite this, he’s been promoted by blogs, being lauded by his fans and managed to land at No. 2 on the Billboard chart with his debut album. He even has a co-sign from King Kendrick himself.

All of this is utter lunacy and a prime example of the sheer level of injustice that Azealia Banks is experiencing. In what world can X get away with this whilst prospering from his art. He’s gotten away with it, without anyone coming for his head, whilst Banks has endured stunt after stunt.

Whenever somebody refutes Banks’ resurgence, this is one of the many rugs you can pull out from under them. In no way, shape or form, should X be allowed to get a free ride when you base it on common sense, human principle and morals. Sure, he may feel bad for his actions and there is two sides to every story but if you compare both of their actions and paths at face value, isn’t the unfairness blatantly obvious?

You can say her behaviour and comments are vile, you can say she’s a hateful person or that she’s ‘bats**t’. What you can’t say is that compared to X (and others), she deserves the treatment she is getting. If anything, she deserves a level playing field and a second chance. This is where it really shines a light on how shady the media and industry can be.

Banks is struggling to reignite her career whilst a bunch of snakes are bathing in gold and admiration. It pisses me off to no end that Kendrick Lemar has co-signed someone like X. Artists of a similar calibre, like The Weeknd promote his music via social media.

The damning thing is, neither of these artists or any artists of a similar calibre have dared to do anything in a similar vein for Azealia. Where is the support from her peers and why is the silence so deafening? If you answer that question with because she’s a woman, then that’s an eye-opening indictment of the state of hip hop culture.

There is something seriously wrong and I know it’s naive to expect fairness but you wouldn’t expect the cards to be so out of favour for Banks. She needs to be given that chance to bounce back because she is trying to be better. Nobody is perfect and everyone has their issues (she has a mental illness) and unless the anti-Banks movement wakes up and smells the coffee, I really can’t see her resurgence succeeding anytime soon.

My honest opinion is that’ll she regain a decent footing but never reach the heights she could of before. It would be a shame. A lot of this anti-Banks sentiment is rooted in the fine art of humanity’s ability to be stubborn. Many people have jumped on the hate-train and plenty of them are sheep, whilst plenty know it’s wrong (Banks’ treatment) yet they’re either too stubborn or too proud to eject themselves from the situation.

Banks is often cast as the villain, however, when you look closer, she’s capable of positive things. Her career thus far hasn’t been a complete red river of tainted words and nastiness. Shall I list a few positives?

• She’s created safe spaces for the queer community via her shows and she heavily encourages openness in regards to sexuality.
• Connects with her fans like no other. She spends the time to talk to them, to meet them and she does care.
• She’s vocal about being proud of who you are and in her case, being both black and a woman.

Again, there’s more to her than what I’ve dropped out of a hat. My point is Azealia Banks isn’t a mass murdering villain. She’s simply a misunderstood (at times), misdirected loudmouth who has let things get out of hand. I’d wager a bet that underneath her tough exterior (thanks to her experiences), she has a heart of gold.

Sure, I’ll never know her and I’ll continue to condemn nasty behaviour, nonetheless, I am tired of the hate brigade. I have supported her from the beginning and I continued to, through the constant stormy weather. I’ll continue to support Banks until the day she drops that microphone and no longer is an artist. I just hope it doesn’t come through any choice except her own. No artist should give in because the musical world they’re a part of, doesn’t want to forgive and let it be.

The music industry, the media and audience don’t have to forget what Azealia Banks has done but they can give her another chance. Wouldn’t we all rather a success story? If you’re thinking of any other answer than yes, then that says plenty about you.

There’s no rhyme or reason to keep dragging Azealia back into the Hell from which she came. Her fall from grace was enough, as was her condemnation. Let the woman breathe, let her come up for air and reach out for her halo again.

Make Azealia Banks great again. Follow her on Instagram here, stream and download her music on iTunes, Spotify, and all the other usual places.

Words by Jake Gould

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