Up, down. In, out. A trial by Twitter can see a career soar, crash, then burn before a single is released or live show played; a rising star can burn white hot only to be quenched without becoming a household name. The ascent of Azealia Banks would appear to be on such a trajectory – with a banging hit that could be considered novelty due to its expletive nature, and the unforeseen embrace from the glossies and fashion world on account of her Disney Ts and cut-off shorts (radical right?) – only her groundwork would imply a steadier ramp, approached with consideration.
Dropping mixtapes, covers and original cuts since 2009, this Harlem rapper has always promised a well-versed tactic. An accented take on Interpol’s ‘Slow Hands’ paraded listening outside the usual urban references and collaborating with the likes of Machinedrum and Lunice was an early indication of Banks’ ear for advanced production.
Amid Monday-night-gig weirdness (you know how it goes, the very sober mingling with some very drunk and the in-between still shook from the weekend) the spectacle comes to Whelan’s. DJ Cosmo warms the crowd up, but the crowd are already fervent … and watching the side door. Somehow Azealia sneaks on stage and her magnetism is instant; she’s a sweet girl with a potty mouth, fierce but not in the least bit scary. ‘Grand Scam (Lyrical Exercise)’ is exactly that, an exhibition of her militant rhythmic flow with precision syntax. Followed quickly by long weave, lipstick, next thing we’re on that ‘Barbie Shit’; ‘What up, I fucks with all things monetary / My urge for the dub is involuntary’, Banks can give a dressing-down as soon as look at you. She can’t do a capella singing though. Her cover of Groove Theory’s ‘Tell Me’ is like a cheeseball, American idol audition. It’s not what we came for and she knows it, the less said the better. Besides, she makes up for it with slamming on ‘L8R’, ‘I keep it tighter than a gridlock/ open your face and let a bitch squat’ – then, we all get an eatin’.
Intentionally, ‘212’ is the culminating set closer. This might sound strange, but she totally gets it. Sure it’s her song, but a track as massive as ‘212’ quickly becomes public property – put it this way, she’ll never play it to a silent room. Without being a mere channelling prop, Banks embodies ‘212’. Her primal screams match the crowd’s carnal dance and for an animalistic few minutes Monday night weariness is blown away by carnival fever, further battered by a verse of The Prodigy’s ‘Firestarter’. And that’s that. Job done, 30 minutes flat. Quicker than Jamie can spray-say “bish, bash, bosh.”
A few years ago Amanda Blank hung her apple-wagon onto Spank Rock’s star, only to have the wheels buckle when she tried to stay in the same lane. AZ needs to keep track of her position, she will overtake but should do so caution. She appears to be. Without any visible marks of Karl Lagerfeld’s vampirish bite, Banks thankfully isn’t in it for the fingerless Chanel gloves. As glamorous as all the attention must be, she has work to do … and she’s nailing it. Bookers don’t need to take note, having Azealia Banks on a festival line-up will shift tickets. Simple. Before then she’ll sell out some mid-sized clubs. Banks is that bank worthy.
Photo courtesy of Michael Rickard.