Timeline: Azealia Banks: the rocky road to release

With her debut album finally let loose on the world, DIY plots out the 411 on the ‘212’ star.

It’s finally happened. Harlem’s gobby globetrotter Azealia Banks last night channeled her inner-Beyoncé, stealthily plonking her long-awaited full-length ‘Broke With Expensive Taste’ on iTunes. You’d be forgiven for expecting it never to see the light of day.

Initially penciled in for release in September 2012, ‘Broke With Expensive Taste’’s release marks the end of a lengthy build-up that’s seen the debut painted by many as the ‘Chinese Democracy’ of the internet generation. Few have been through the music industry wringer in quite such spectacular fashion, with Banks’ three years in the spotlight having seen her flirt with indie ‘cool lists’, international number ones and internet dissection in equal measure.

While it remains to be seen whether Banks’ debut can be the answer to her quest for superstardom, DIY’s here to refresh your memory with the 411 on the ‘212’ star. Read our first listen review of ‘Broke With Expensive Taste’ here.

Buzzealia Banks

Initial exposure to Banks’ work came largely through the digitised cool of the blog scene. One of a myriad of artists who found their footing through the shining light of MySpace’s early days, she was an early adopter of the internet and its various promotional tools. Under early moniker Miss Bank$, Azealia’s first two releases in November 2008 – ‘Gimme A Chance’ and ‘Seventeen’ – saw taste-makers lap up her refreshing offshoot of the packed East Coast rap scene. Markedly less musically acerbic than the big hit that later made her a household name, the two tracks nevertheless gave a glimpse at a confident artist, whose lyrical reflections on her troubled upbringing and NYC street smarts had finally found a funkier home, following a half-hearted attempt at musical theatre.

Inevitably, this buzz caught the attention of indie super-label XL Recordings, who signed Miss Bank$ on a development deal in 2009 – the most notable influence of which was the ditching of the slightly dodgy early moniker. It was an ill-fated partnership, with Banks later claiming to The Hundreds that “it was almost the day I signed to XL that they started checking out.” She left them behind pretty sharpish, but it didn’t halt her progression through the hippest of ranks, beating Jarvis Cocker to the top spot of NME’s 2011 ‘Cool List’ (an accolade she later gleefully ridiculed) and taking a place on the BBC’s ‘Sound Of…” list for 2012.

“I can be the answer…”

Things went into overdrive from there on out. The release of standout track ‘212’ in September 2011 rocketed Azealia Banks into the public spotlight. Later re-released as part of her first official EP ‘1991’ in May 2012, the track’s reign of terror seemed endless, and it’s still a dancefloor staple today. Despite its distinctly radio-unfriendly subject matter it was an unavoidable airwave smash, charting across Europe and in Australia as the year drew to a close. Even Samantha Cameron supposedly soundtracking 10 Downing Street with the track couldn’t stop ‘212’ and its pared down music video coming to define the start of the decade, as a generation of sweaty freshers gyrated across the country to a Daily Mail-baiting, end-of-year list topping ode to cunnilingus and, well, just being cool as fuck.

The defamation of Azealia Banks

Azealia Banks: The rocky road to release

But just as Banks was beginning to ditch the associations with internet culture and make waves solely on the strength of her work… she discovered Twitter. Like few others, Banks took to the 140-character stream of consciousness enabler with abandon. An artist who was universally praised for the control of her flow quickly saw that image dissolve around her, as we were exposed to an uncontrolled mess of every obscure and poorly-formed thought that crossed the mind of the fledgling star.

Her filterless approach to social media saw Banks pick online fights with anyone she felt like; from ‘ATM Jam’ collaborator Pharrell (who didn’t promote the single because of his, er, “lite skin comeback”, apparently), to her label Interscope (“REALLY should have signed with Sony”, apparently), to A$AP Rocky (“he wears dresses and gives make-up tips”, apparently), Disclosure (“they were really rude in an interview”, apparently), Angel Haze (“has a crush on” Banks… apparently) and a horribly homophobic slur aimed at Perez Hilton which prompted endless criticism from gay rights charities (we won’t print that one, obviously). She also went bonkers with unofficial announcements, setting new release dates for her now immeasurably delayed debut album on a seemingly monthly basis. Off the rails doesn’t really cover it.

Cut loose and footloose

Azealia Banks: The rocky road to release

Eventually, though, Banks did at least get one of her wishes. Her tumultuous relationship with Interscope finally reached boiling point, and the label dropped her in July of this year – “I’S IS FREE!!!!!” she declared via Twitter (where else?). The public backlash hit new heights too, after a string of show cancellations – including one particularly well-publicised festival slot – saw the momentum she once harboured come grinding to a halt.

Far from moping around for the next few months, however, Banks seized her newfound freedom in a manner not seen since the days of ‘212’. ‘Broke With Expensive Taste’ is finally out, and despite its bonkers lack of musical focus, Banks at least appears to be back in control of her career. “I know this is hella petty,” she tweeted earlier, “but I need y’all to know that I a&r’d that record myself.. No help from polydor or interscope.” Will she now be able to reclaim the throne she once started warming? Only time - and her tweets - will tell.

Read DIY’s first listen review of ‘Broke With Expensive Taste’ here.

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