Review: Azealia Banks – Broke With Expensive Taste

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Since the release of breakout single ‘212’ in late 2011, Azealia Banks’ debut album Broke With Expensive Taste has been a long time coming. Originally scheduled for release in Autumn 2012, disputes with her record label led to delays and eventually the termination of her contract. Ultimately the record was released with no prior announcement or advertising on 6th November 2014, begging the question “was it worth the two year wait?” The answer is a resounding… sort of.

Banks has worked with a plethora of producers on the project, to create a genre-hopping album with contributions from electronic heavyweights MJ Cole and Boddika to lo-fi pop musician Ariel Pink. Resultantly the album suffers from a lack of coherence, as if the MC is struggling to establish her identity over a variety of garage, house, and trap beats. In addition, the record would benefit from being slightly shorter. Clocking in at just over an hour, a few of the 16 tracks are filler and might have served better as bonus tracks or B sides.

Eschewing what is currently “cool”, Banks demonstrates her impressive vocal abilities, ranging from spitting explosive raps with an aggressive cadence perfectly complementing the percussive beats that underline the tracks. This is best suited to the more emphatic tracks that are more at home in nightclubs than on the radio. Banks’ talents are perfectly demonstrated on ‘Desperado’ and ‘212’, the latter of which is a bold statement of intent. For most, it was the introduction to the rapper, introducing herself with “I can be the answer” and embarking on three and a half minutes of braggadocio that proves she can mix with the best in the game, warning any would-be competition “I’ma ruin you cunt”.

Broke With Expensive Taste is not the most lyrically profound album, but it makes no pretence to be. Instead Banks offers the other side to the coin that is misogyny in hip-hop, boasting overtly sexual lines such as “tits out with your wife nigga, I’m bringin’ out the dyke in her” and “she wanna lick my plum in the evenin’… I guess that cunt getting’ eaten”. Similarities can be drawn between Banks and fellow foul-mouth Nicki Minaj, not only in their crass language but also their prowess in both rapping and singing. The one-two of ‘Soda’ and ‘Chasing Time’ best display Banks’ melodic skills, a welcome break after the hectic ‘Yung Rapunxel’, which is reminiscent of Crystal Castles, complete with Banks’ screams over a crashing techno beat.

Ariel Pink collaboration ‘Nude Beach a Go-Go’ is the only significant blunder on the record, an unnecessary re-imagining of an as yet unreleased track of the same name, on Pink’s forthcoming album Pom Pom. A two-bit, adult themed imitation of surfer era Beach Boys, its only saving grace is that it has significantly smoother production than Pink’s own lo-fi works, often home recorded on cassette tapes.

In Broke With Expensive Taste Banks has created a record that reminds us why she was so deserving of the hyperbole in 2011. Unfortunately the complications with the release have taken their toll, with a little streamlining the album could have been an instant game-changer.

3.5 stars

Broke With Expensive Taste is available now on Prospect Park records.

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