BLACK MUSIC NOW: What Does Azealia Banks Mean?

I was late to the Azealia Banks phenomenon. So much that I thought a picture of her posted by my 18 year-old brother, Jordan, on his Facebook page earlier this year was his new girlfriend. It wasn’t until I saw the skittish genius that is her ‘212’ video— from which the photo came— that I realized she was not. He had gone all Lil’ Kim-poster-in-a-catcher’s pose with Azealia, and I was none the wiser.

“Oh, I think she's the best female artist in the game,” he blithely told me recently over that same medium. Feeling sorry for his older brother’s lack of knowledge he continued, “She took techno-inspired instrumentals and started spitting about things females wouldn’t talk about, like ‘hood stuff and sex. It turned out to be the perfect combination.”

Azealia Banks’ biggest fan was undaunted by news this week that she was pushing her album, Broke With Expensive Taste, all the way to Black History Month. She released the news seventy-nine characters via Twitter: “Broke With Expensive Taste will be out first quarter of 2013 on Feb 12. (2/12).” And that was that.

The pushing back of an album has become something of a rite of passage in Black popular music, it’s merely a formality now. There was a day, not long ago, when it seemed at best a tragic event for fans and at worse, a career-killer. Instead, she’s managed to ratchet up the already lofty expectations even further. But for an artist so purposefully playing by her own rules—so dedicated to even the minor details of her image and craft, the delay to Feb. 12 is an alarming one. Feb. 12 (2/12) isn’t a day of reckoning, of consummation of the highest musical degree, then it isn’t an obvious play on the numbers of her area code. This fact certainly didn’t seem lost on the 21-year-old, who then tweeted, “I have ALOT of REALLY excitin ish happening in btwn! it will ALL make sense as these things start to unravel. The #KuntBrigade will b proud!”

Maybe they will. While it seemed improbable that my brother’s picture was of a female rapper—and I can admit this was due to my internalizing of a destructive bias inherent in hip-hop today—which mostly says shorties can’t rap—the most honest truth is that we wouldn’t be having this conversation if Azealia Banks did not embody such promise— brilliant and unbridled promise. No one is certain what caused a drastic lull in creativity and artists worthy of critical acclaim someone like her has received. No one is denying the collective breath of fresh air their existence affords.

Banks’ two releases—the EP 1991 and internet release Fantasea—confirmed she is the rarest of phenoms—a potentially transcendent artist whose development is happening right before our eyes. It’s the kind of mix that makes music nerds and pop culture junkies ask things like, “What does Azealia Banks mean?” and as the music site Pitchfork did, cast her as a possible “savior” for the female and gay communities in hip-hop.

But what awaits now is just more build-up, more pressure.

If public beefs with Jim Jones and Iggy Azalea, and even more public critiques of Lil’ Kim and Nicki Minaj in part accomplish what her music should have like maybe earn a her a bit more attention, it means she was big enough to do it.

And if there was any indication Banks craved pop success, it was clear when she announced on Twitter that she was going to Hawaii. It’s been widely speculated since then she was going to work with Kanye West—who is said to be putting the finishing touches on the G.O.O.D. Music compilation project, Cruel Summer.

She’s split up with her manager and said that she was going to leave the rap game, but no one's accused her of having commitment issues. And well, duh, when Kanye calls, you answer. But here’s to hoping she thinks just as highly of her most loyal fans—who will now wait through an even crueler winter. The very fans who believes she can do no wrong.