Last winter, Azealia Banks released “212” — a bubbly, infectious, and hard rap track — alongside a video in which she paraded around in pigtails, short shorts, and a Mickey Mouse sweater. Promptly, the countdown to her superstardom began. And since, things have gotten a bit bumpy.
First, there were release date pushbacks and ugly label problems; according to Banks, she left the esteemed XL Recordings because, after she decided not to use head honcho Richard Russell’s beats for her album, “it got real sour. He wound up calling me ‘amateur’ and shit, and the XL interns started talking shit about me. It just got real fucking funny.” Later, there would be shots taken at most of the contemporary female rap landscape: Kreayshawn was a “a dumb bitch,” Nicki Minaj was “talented enough to sustain a very fruitful career without the ugly wigs and ugly costumes,” Iggy Azalea was a closet racist.
Meanwhile the accolades kept on pouring in, most notably from Paris high-fashion types, and her debut U.S. appearance, at this year’s Coachella, went off without a hitch. Just a few weeks ago she dropped her debut EP, 1991 (yes, her birth year, oh god we’re so old let’s all move to Fort Lauderdale and do slow breast stroke laps for hours and hours ahhhhhhhh), which flexed more of her effortless fast-rap flow. But now, Banks declares, she’s not so much into hip-hop anymore. Via her Tumblr:
no longer wishing to be a rapper — i never was …. and as soon as i started paying attention to bullshit urban media, i started getting myself in trouble. From now on i’m a vocalist, and will not be associating myself with the “rap game” … or whatever the fuck that means … no more twitter for me … it makes me entirely too accessible.
Catch me on tumblr … it’ll be more interesting.
And that’s not all! Billboard reports that Banks has split with her manager, Troy Carter, who also represents Lady Gaga, and with whom she’d only been working for a couple of months. In a statement, Carter said, “I can confirm that I ended the business relationship with Azealia last month on very amicable terms. She’s incredibly talented and I wish her nothing short of an amazing career.” Meanwhile, the New York Daily News reported that Banks is both working with, and dating, Coldplay’s forty-something manager Dave Holmes. Billboard debunked at least the first bit, saying “Banks is currently without management and is seeking new representation; a source said Holmes is not one of the candidates.” Dramatic. Very dramatic.
OK, first things first: While it’s awkward to see Banks (who, unless she’s planning a massive content overhaul, is, as far as I can tell, yeah, still a rapper) attempting to cleave herself from hip-hop, it’s understandable. All those soul-crushing, energy-sucking beefs she found herself in were a byproduct of today’s new-rapper hype cycle — pretty much every young buck has to grit his or her teeth through some series of trumped-up conflagrations. Not being down with the “’rap game’ … or whatever the fuck that means” would make things easier. But, as Nicki Minaj’s Hot 97 scandal most recently points out, it’s not that easy. If Banks wants to be a pop star, that’s her call, of course. “Urban media,” however, is not going to stop judging her just because she asks it to.
As all this breathless coverage on her management issues highlights, though, this isn’t about whether or not Banks wants to be a rapper or a “vocalist” or a papier-mâché-dinosaur sculptor. Some new young stars manage to wrap themselves in a cocoon, not say anything controversial, and make it seem like their rises are preternaturally smooth and unthwartable. The outspoken Banks, thank God, just isn’t like that. (Baseless speculation! Maybe that’s why she never got along with the at least by all outward signs highly professional Troy Carter?) She’s at the point where major New York tabloids are reporting on her love life, but she’s also only 21, and very publicly wondering what she wants to do with her life. Whatever Banks’s issues with rap media are, they seem beside the point. Mostly, it seems like this is a curious inside glimpse into a classic music industry arc: a very young, very talented person trying to figure it out as she goes along.