That Beyonce has a lot to answer for. Ever since her surprise album drop last December, every fan of every artist since has been constantly on edge, expecting a new LP to drop out of the sky without warning. The difference with Azealia Banks’ debut album – popped on to iTunes sans any kind of fanfare – was that this has been a long time coming; it’s been three years since the ‘212’ grabbed worldwide attention, there’s been two EPs, countless online spats with fellow musicians, collaborations with Lady Gaga, Disclosure and Pharrell which have all since been jettisoned from the album… all signs which pointed to a brat with a big mouth and not enough talent to back it up. Which is why it proves to be so surprising that Broke With Expensive Taste ends up as one of the best hip-hop albums of the year.
Fans of Banks will have heard a lot of these tracks already; ‘212’ is still here and still great, Fantasea EP highlight ‘Luxury’ and random release ‘BBD’ are present and correct, plus the three lead-in singles to the album ‘Yung Rapunzel’, ‘Heavy Metal And Reflexive’ and ‘Chasing Time’, and every one of them sounds even better when surrounded by their brethren. Anyone concerned that there’s not much left to offer need not worry, as the admittedly bloated 16 track release still has plenty in the way of highlights.
‘Miss Amor’ is a clear standout, flitting back and forth between Banks in full-on whacked-out eerie wordplay (“Pump-parrrrump-pa-rrum-pump / Rum diggy dum, the yum young scunt”, for example) and caramel-voiced diva, the punishing industrial bass and creepy glass bottle beats pulsing throughout. ‘Wallace’ sounds like she is rapping while throwing furniture down the stairs, completely unhinged in the verse, before coming over all seductive against the Caribbean metal drums on the chorus. An ode to fizzy drinks (there’s a metaphor in there, we’re sure of it, we just haven’t figured it out yet), ‘Soda’ has the EDM influences higher in the mix, sounding equally at home in an underground New York nightclub and the hippest, dimmest lit clothes store you know.
Not everything works out so perfectly, as ‘Nude Beach A Go-Go’ almost stops the album dead with it’s completely out of place beach bum attitude, and the grime-sounding ‘Desperado’ never takes off the way it should. But for every dud, there’s three moments of brilliance, such as Banks turning into a Spanish singing Calypso artist at the end of ‘Gimme A Chance’, or lulling us in with her siren call of a bridge on ‘JFK’ before Theophilius London shows up to with his knock-out verse.
Bringing in influences for all over the place to create an impossibly singular sound, Broke With Expensive Taste is what might’ve happened if Kanye was in a happier place when recording Yeezus. And yes, we’re comparing it to the best hip-hop album of last year. It’s THAT good.