Friday, November 7, 2014

Azealia Banks - Broke With Expensive Taste Review

Of all artists to come out of the post 2010's era of Youtube-dominant Hip-Hop, as music videos went viral enough to make a certified artist out of nothing, no one faced the harsh reality of the music industry than Azealia Banks, the vicious vixen who floored listeners with her pompous, vulgar '212.' Released over 2 years ago, and intended as the first single to her album Broke With Expensive Taste, '212,' despite running the summer of 2012, eventually faded, along with Banks' notoriety. That was before, as most know, her endless fabricated beefs with artists for what just seemed like petty excuses for remaining relevant. Things haven't gotten much better for Banks since, that is until last night where she seemingly released her long-delayed album out of the blue, sailing her to #3 on iTunes almost instantly. Seems like she still had a legion of fans all along, and thankfully for her, and us who choose to listen, Broke With Expensive Taste is surprisingly good. It may have taken years to come out, including a rise and dip in hype, but that lack of intrigue and expectations, along with the surprise release, allowed for Banks' debut to strike listeners with her female-spin on braggadocios Hip-Hop with subtle tinges of Big Beat and World Music. 

Azealia’s style, while she’d disapprove of this connection, is one-third M.I.A., the futuristic, dance-induced production third, another third Missy Elliott, the varied flows, quick-tongued spitter, and the final third goes to Nicki Minaj for the insistent shit-talking and sexual innuendos that aren't anything but obvious. One can deduce all this from her music released thus far, but Broke makes it more prominent, entirely reminiscent of M.I.A.’s Kala, swapping the swagger of international African roots with the cocky streets of Harlem. See standout, and previously released, Heavy Metal & Reflective. It reeks of confidence, as jarring one-step beat progressions carry the track, in forms of hi-hats, low-end bass thumps, and skittish synths, all whilst Banks declares herself “head bitch” of any city she steps in. This isn’t anything new to the Hip-Hop game, in fact much of Banks’ allure isn’t fresh in any way, but what carries her music is the undeniable skill she possesses on the mic, something we see once a year from Nicki and saw time and time again from Missy Elliott. The album, while entirely one-dimensional in terms of topics, latches itself wholeheartedly to Banks’ voice, flows, and style, something fellow Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky relies on with his music too. 

The structure of Broke, from the outside looking in, plays much like a Pop-Rap crossover, with a tinge of what’s popular in big beat production styles. However, the actually construction of most tracks are more free-forming. There’s hardly a proto-typical track here, as most sport verses at odd points, instrumental segments, and pre and post-bridges that effectively make each track a joy to listen through, unbeknownst to the listener as to what might happen next. Amongst others, ‘Idle Delilah,’ best shows this off. A progressive instrumental intro is followed by Banks’ premiere verse, which cuts at various points, disjointed and disconnected. Ensuing is a jittery record-skipped vocal effect layers over her, which bleeds into a secondary verse that concludes with an elongated instrumental breakdown featuring howling monkeys, before concluding with a restless outro. It’s a whirlwind for an opening track, as the album follows suit. ‘Gimme A Chance,’ the next track, evolves into a Spanish-sung jubilee perfect for a rendezvous of salsa, while ‘Desparado’ begins with a Peter Rosenburg sample of all things. It’s this immediate uncertainty which adds to Broke’s charm, without unique subsets for each instance of nearly every song.

As the album begins hitting its second half, the zaniness begins to take its toll however. The clear example of this is ‘Nude Beach A Go-Go,’ a take off Ariel Pink’s song of the same name released…in two weeks. They’ve apparently worked together, but it’s unsure of whose song it actually is. Thing is, the track fits into Broke like a square cube into a triangle fitting, forced into the tracklist despite resembling very little of its surrounding architecture. On this half is where ‘Soda,’ a song about, you guessed it, soda, clashes with ‘Chasing Time,’ an ode to a failing relationship and Banks’ escape from it. This incoherence forces the album to stumble to the finishing line, before closer ‘Miss Camaraderie’ revamps sturdiness just in time to make for a successful culmination. Overall, Broke maintains a level of curiosity that’s mostly derived from Banks’ skill on the mic and the production that carries her. ‘Ice Princess’ needs no other description that to call the track a certified banger. Starting off as a twisted Disney fairy tale soundtrack, with twinkling piano chords, floors itself with a brooding bass that acts much like Drake’s ‘Worst Behavior’ or Mac Miller’s ‘Insomniak.’ The previously mentioned ‘Desparado’ without the needed Hip-Hop background sounds similar to an eerie Radiohead melody off Amnesiac or In Rainbows. It’s bizarre in that it works.

If the album were taken as a compilation of presumably Azealia’s last few silent years, Broke stands defiantly as a great piece of work featuring a multitude of catchy songs, despite nothing catching ‘212’ in terms of overall perfection for a Pop song. ‘212’ is the kitchen sink with Broke gathering up traces of the remaining pieces, not a knock to the album, just an approval to ‘212’s’ long-lasting success. Broke With Expensive Taste may have slipped two years past its due date, but it’s certainly not covered in mold and mildew. In fact, regardless of when these songs were composed, the majority of the album sounds shockingly fresh with its focus on electro/Hip-Hop production. Azealia Banks may be a drama queen who allows the music industry to hate her, but ones who look past the shallow exterior may find a record brimming with talent, with the occasional slip-up scattered throughout.

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