WPGM Recommends: Azealia Banks – Slay-Z (Album Review)

azealia slay-z
Azealia, Who?

Azealia Banks, the name carries much more controversy than it should. Through the years, instead of letting her music speak for itself, she’s allowed her mouth, and mostly ‘twitter-fingers’ (Thanks Drake) to do the talking. As a young African-American woman, from the outside looking in, it appears Banks has the odds stacked against her.

She feels marginalised due to those factors, except her race and gender aren’t the primary reasons for her musical turmoil. It would be naive to think they don’t play any part at all, and the fact that those two factors are even a possible reason, says a lot about the current state of the world and its views. Let’s start with why Miss Banks has ended up where she is now.

Firstly, she’s outspoken, to a such a degree that its caused outrage. The level of contempt that pours from her mouth is astounding and it’s a shame. The constant insults, the berating of other artists and general critical nature that surrounds Banks’ opinions grows tiresome. Whether it’s aimed at Iggy Azalea or T.I’s wife, its overshadowed her potential, her talent and her intelligence.

Rooted in her antagonistic behaviour, lies an individual who is devastatingly clever and observant. She has well-thought out views, when they’re not coated in venom. Her stance on race, Black culture and the general state of Rap/Hip-Hop is astute and passionate.

In an interview with Hot 97, she brings herself to tears. Why? Because beneath all the insults, the words and struggle, is a fiercely determined, bold young woman. She sees what is happening to her culture, to the music she adores; she’s aware of the change to the world around her and she can’t seem to understand why everyone is so accepting.

For example, why do we, as an audience accept a woman from Australia who uses culture appropriation to reach success; while a prideful person with a deep American history struggles to make an impact on the industry. Meanwhile, executives pay no attention to those who are struggling, they only care about what they can market successfully.

It’s a rabbit-hole, and it’s a lot bigger than you or me. Whether it’s a personal plight or a bigger, social issue, such as gender or race. In this modern, civilised day and age, we, as a collective still discriminate against people for the colour of their skin. There’s been many examples over the years of White artists being favoured over their peers. Spanning from the fashion world to label politics, its happened and it’s been ignored.

A quick example, would be the ‘Macklemore Vs Kendrick’ grammy saga. Now, most of the industry was in uproar about the outcome, many believed that at its core, it was about race. Was it because of Kendrick’s skin colour that he lost? Or vice versa for Macklemore? Whatever the reason, it does happen in today’s society and the Music industry isn’t exempt from that, as much as that pains me to say.

Azealia Banks strongly believes that because she embraces her roots and her culture with pride, she’s then, in-turn pushed aside. This could be true or be untrue. It’s about perspective. I’m not the most clued up on gender and racial issues as much as someone who lives and breathes it, but I’m aware of the struggle and complete paradigm shift the world is going through. We’re in an era of change and Azealia Banks is a part of that, in fact, she’s a forerunner for it.

To add to the melting pot of chaos, is the final ingredient: Gender. Banks is a woman in what’s a predominantly, mans world. She’s commented on how older, male executives who don’t ‘understand’ her or her music tried to mould her, in order to sell her, in order to control her career. Once again, she is one of many that encounters this yet one of the few who speaks so openly about it, with a sense of rage like no other.

It does happen and it’s wrong. However, it’s a vicious circle. Every time Banks feels slighted by the industry, she bites back even harder, leading her to slip further into a hole she’s already struggling to get out of. There needs to be a positive solution, one where careers and artistry isn’t suffocated in retaliation.

The future was bright, Banks erupted onto the scene with an explosive single and was being touted as a ‘must watch’. Since her hit single “212“, she’s struggled to find stability. Her anticipated debut album, Broke With Expensive Taste was consistently delayed for a couple of years, slowing down her momentum. This was partly due to her character and behaviour, along with A&R’s not knowing how to market her.

Eventually, after many mishaps, it was released. It was a success, selling 11,000 + copies within four days. However, it may not have been the success she deserved but it was success nonetheless. Although, the success has grinded to a halt. As of April 2015, it had only sold 31,000 copies, that’s over a year after the initial release. Its now been two years, so the question is, has the damage to her image been too much? Even after a critically acclaimed debut album, coupled with a fervorous fan base, Banks struggles to maintain a sustainable level of success.

Accused. Attacked. Blacklisted.

Three words that sum up Azealia’s career so far. She’s been through the gauntlet of the Music industry and somehow, she’s survived. Although she’s had the odds stacked against her, she’s continued to fulfil her dreams. Banks hasn’t let opposition or oppression from her peers and the media stop her. Banks can’t be stopped, that much is clear.

I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I didn’t roll my eyes at her constant tirade at the world today, an outspoken personality is welcomed in a world of conformity and ‘yes-men’, yet there’s a limit on how much that world and specifically, the Hip-Hop community can take.

It’s hard to defend an artist after the level of vitriol she’s spewed from her normally, intelligent and articulate mouth. Despite her behaviour and actions, Banks is still on course for success, the measure of that success is still to be seen. Will she ever be a global star? Highly unlikely. Will she be successful in the world of Azealia Banks? Quite possibly.

Enter: Slay-Z

The past is the past, and the future is all that matters. Azealia Banks is back and she’s as feisty as ever. Banks has returned with her new mixtape Slay-Z. Once again, Banks demonstrates she is one of the best in the game. Her ability to craft songs is unrivaled; her choice in beats is sublime and the way she bends her flow and manipulates her sound to become whatever she chooses it to be, is fantastic.

It’s a welcomed talent and a much-needed one in an industry where very few people are reluctant to take risks and experiment. Banks pushes herself and hones her artistry in the process, she doesn’t hold back. Her rapping is unmatched, with an energetic flow, she snarls and bombards you with rapid-fire bars propelled by her trademark Harlem accent. Her raps slip and slide between the beats, building up a sense of urgency, heading towards a climax. She can bend her voice to her will, from snappy raps to soaring vocals, deep with feeling, her baritone is warm and smooth.

On Slay-Z, she’s no different, she doesn’t disappoint; she consistently shows throughout eight tracks that she’s an artist to take notice of, she demands and deserves your attention. From the menacing “Skylar Diggins” to “Queen Of Clubs“, the former being a barrage of words over a slick, rampaging beat; she’s ferocious and she’s out for blood. You can feel her blood boil through the pulsating synth, her flow is catchy; spitting her lines in a drawn out one-two fashion, with a dose of bravado.

The latter, “Queen Of Clubs” is a trance infused banger, with little lyrical content but it’s overflowing with substance. It’s a smooth affair and it would go down a treat in the club scene. I can envision the beat echoing through a club in Ibiza, she has the potential, the talent, and the reach, too. I’ve found myself listening to this mixtape over and over, exploring the depth of the vast spectrum of sounds. Each track has a personal identity, they’re sonically unique and the balance of sounds is expertly achieved. The mixtape is cohesive.

From the opening track, “Riot” to the closer “Along The Coast“, we’re taken on a journey of genres; from Pop to UK Garage. Banks is a musical chameleon, effortlessly gliding through the soundscapes with a commanding swagger. She’s at her best on the more hostile tracks, spear-headed by brooding instrumentals, such as “Can’t Do It Like Me“. On this track, she asserts herself, with her traditional vulgar wordplay and breathless flow. Banks rides the deep bass that wobbles uncontrollably, creating tension.

Each song matches, and in some cases, outdoes the one before it. The level of musical quality is ridiculously high. Lyrically, she’s on top of her game. Banks is known for her interchanging subject matter. From being anecdotal, singing about somewhat cliché situations to switching it up, delivering destructive rhymes assimilating the content. There are times where her lyricism takes a back seat, and there are moments where it feels like she’s re-treading old ground.

Theres a sense of an ‘I have a lot to prove’ narrative throughout the eight tracks, whether it’s self-assured lyrics about her wealth and talent to a fighter’s mentality, suggesting she’s far from beaten. Slay-Z offers a lot, not only musically and lyrically but in terms of discussion. Its content is of high quality, dominating her competitors yet she’s continuously brushed aside due to her attitude. She isn’t given the commendation that she deserves for her musical talent.

Why is the industry so determined to silence a voice? Can the industry not allow an artist to be herself, and simply accept that she is who she is? She isn’t going to change, whether that’s for better or worse. Regardless of what she’s said and done, Azealia Banks has personality, character and she goes against the grain; which agitates those who want someone to mould and control. As a listener, her attitude is mostly welcomed, I find it strangely refreshing and it’s backed up by music that surpasses expectations.

With this short but sweet outing, Banks has released something truly remarkable, Slay-Z is an example of triumph over her Internet antics. The question is, will she recover? She demonstrates that it isn’t her ability or artistry that’s questionable but her attitude. This release only partially answers that question, I feel her second album will be a better indication of where she’s heading artistically and perhaps, as a person.

These eight tracks hasn’t affected her position in the industry, she’s still painted with the same brush. However, her sophomore album has the potential to change that. Azealia Banks can achieve a level of success unmitigated by her personal antics if she continues on the upward trend of releasing trailblazing music. With Slay-Z, Banks once again shows that she is a force to be reckoned with and no matter the odds, she’s determined to succeed.

Azealia Banks’ Slay-Z mixtape is out now for free download here.

Words by Jake Gould

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