Azealia Banks

Broke With Expensive Taste

"Check my watch / I had the future in my pocket / But I lost it when I gave it to you," sings Azealia Banks on ‘Chasing Time’, a ticker-tape parade of a breakup song that’s tucked toward the end of her long-delayed debut record, right about at the point where you realise that she’s going wall-to-wall—no skits, no interludes, just 16 exceptional tracks full of glowing wordplay, instinctively catchy intonation, and effortless genre whisking. It’s probably a coincidence that the song also doubles as a rallying cry for artists who feel stifled by their record labels—Banks actually recorded it in an attempt to appease hers—but it’s impossible to not hear it as such. Because in the three years since the Harlem rapper landed a deal with Interscope, Broke With Expensive Taste kept getting pushed back to the point where it was becoming a punchline. The longer we had to wait, the more it felt like the East Coast Detox. But earlier this year, after Banks pleaded to get dropped on Twitter, the label eventually complied. And now, we not only get to experience her vision in full as an indie release, but we can also do it with the knowledge that it’s completely uncompromised. Here, then, is a rarity, an album made more meaningful by its epically frustrating gestation period.

Broke With Expensive Taste deserves to be the next Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—the careening masterpiece that’s written off by label execs, only to end up selling like crazy once it finally hits the light of day. Something that feels like a shot across the bow for artistic freedom when you buy it, even if you wouldn’t dare be so flaky to think those sorts of things. It dares to enter a churning sea of genres and attitudes, and then calibrates our voyage so skillfully, it feels like we’re standing upright on a speedboat with no need for the rails. Banks is always in complete control, even when she needs to sing in perfectly inflected Spanish or summon the spirit of Annette Funicello.

Her crew of mostly unfamiliar producers are equally assured in their ambitions. Pearson Sound builds the opening ‘Idle Delilah’ with a series of reveals—a moody drum machine becomes a swinging Latin groove, which then makes way for a punchy, lyrical guitar lick a la Tom Verlaine. Enon and Oskar Cartaya turn ‘Gimme A Chance’ into a killer salsa tune so seamlessly, you almost don’t realise it. And on ‘Soda’, SCNTST crafts a beat full of cheerfully clipped robot voices; it sounds like a club remix of Mark Mothersbaugh’s theme from Rugrats.

Finally, Banks’s talents have gotten the extended spotlight they’ve deserved. Her singing is almost as accomplished as her rapping, her spot-on harmonies one of the things that makes ‘Chasing Time’ a dance-pop gem. But it’s what she can do with 16 bars that truly amazes. No matter how quickly the syllables fly, they sound completely comfortable rubbing shoulders with each other. It’s that coziness that separates the true shit talkers from the pretenders.

If you’ve been following her every move since 2011, you’ll already know five of these tunes (‘212’ can’t help but sound like a throwback in context, but its fire burns as greedily as ever). Yet this particular familiarity does not breed contempt. Yes, we had only been given little pieces for so long, and we were tired of it. But here is the whole puzzle in all its glory. Here are those songs we love, re-energised by the context we were dreaming they’d get. This shit is better than Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Now let’s finally stop talking about it, and listen.

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