As light travels faster than sound, I saw Azealia Banks before I heard her.

In the black and white video for her debut single 212 she is all smiling eyes and cheekbones and carefree charm and serious charisma. And then the delightful nastiness of her lyrics hit, her lips fill the frame and she is pretty much chanting the word c–t.

Azealia Banks is one of this year’s hot young things: The most highly ranked female on the BBC’s Sound of 2012 poll, she was invited to tour the UK by NME with other musical up and comers. She’s sung at Karl Lagerfeld’s house and the Chanel big wig recently asked her to perform at an exhibit in TokyoShe has just collaborated with wearily well prolific producer Diplo on a new song “F— Up The Fun,” and is rumored to be working with a host of other heat generating humans including M.I.A., Lana Del Rey and Kanye West.

Every time I listen to her or read or watch an interview I feel better, relieved somehow. I just like her. I like that Azealia is even out there for me to like. I like that she seems a little reckless. I like her languid cover of Interpol’s “Slow Hands”. And I like that in the Iggy Azealia XXL magazine cover kerfuffle she defined herself as a ‘pro-black girl’.

I like the picture of Azealia sitting on Mulberry’s front row at London’s 2012 fashion week. It feels political somehow that the Harlem-born, La Guardia-educated rapper in the throng of it girls is the only person of color; she’s the only one whose public image isn’t of sweet compliance, and is the only one you can imagine using the word c–t, as a term of endearment, no less.

I like to like black women who have the audacity to be creative. Because audacity isn’t easy, but it is exactly what it takes for black women to get things done, made and presented in their image without compromise.

I think about creative black women a lot.

I wonder about them and worry about them. I feel hyper protective of them and all their audacity. I think of Black Female Audacity as its own thing with hard and loose rules:

  • Create on your own terms
  • Understand what it means to be a black woman and the implications of being a black woman and choosing to create on your own terms
  • Do not pretend it is easy for you to get things done just because it’ll make others feel comfortable
  • Do not shy away from vulnerability although you understand that vulnerability isn’t art in and of itself
  • Do not explain yourself

The musical artists I’ve loved the most have all been black and female and had oodles of audacity.

Nina Simone always bold as brass, whether damning the state of Mississippi, or facing down a lover foolish enough to leave. And Grace Jones whose music was full of sounds my 8-year-old self found so pleasingly complicated. I remember looking at her album covers and becoming transfixed. She was black like me, my mum and my aunts, but looked different in a way that I felt different.

When I was a teenager it was Lil’ Kim’s lewdness that meant the most, because it never felt like a for-the-sake-of-it endeavour, but always as though she was making a point about femininity and strength. More recently it is the lyrics of the delightfully uncategorizable Santigold that I play over and over again in my head when I’m feeling fearful and my brain needs an infusion of courage. On the way to work, I sing to myself, “I know someday they’ll make a martyr out of me.”

I wouldn’t put Azealia Banks is in the same league as these ladies who are my personal hall of famers—she is too young in age and career, and I have no idea where she’ll go or if she’ll be more than that one rude hit wonder. But more than any artist new artist she interests me. Azealia Banks vibrates with energy and brims with playful audacity, and I can’t help but root for her.

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  • Bisous

    LOOOOVE Azealia. Heard about her at the end of summer last year. She doesn’t seem to be another female artist exploiting Bi-sexual or gay culture stereotypes just for controversy or because it’s “sexy”. I love that her image is accessible yet slightly off. She comes from a musical background not just in rapping and she’s just F-ing cool. I wish her the best of success. If she does use racy language it does seem to be on HER own terms. Some other cool female rappers are Domonique Young Unique and Angel Haze.

  • Cecily

    It’s interesting that a lot of the greatest criticisms of Azealia’s appearance comes from urban web sites. When a feature article was written about her for the New York Times, the writer described her as “extremely beautiful”. And yet on certain websites you will finds comments about her ‘crusty lips’ or her ‘ugly weave’….there’s a lot of hate going on. Azealia is a dark skinned beauty, with beautiful, authentically black features…and this seems to offend a LOT of black folk, for some reason. They also seem to paint her as ‘angry’ and perpetually starting beef, but to me it is son plain to see from reading and listening to interviews that the girl is sweet beyond measure, sensitive, and playful.

    I will also add, that musically she is gifted. Nothing short of that. She can spit so damn well that it has me shaking my head in astonishment. On the track ‘runnin’ as well as ‘f**k up the fun*, I am in awe.

    Add to that that she has pipes. In that same New York Times interview, the writer said:
    “When, in the course of our talk, she burst spontaneously into song I almost swooned at the coloratura and melodic purity of her voice.”

    He ended the article by writing:
    “I would say look out for Banks in the future, but that would be more of a solecism than any of her k-words, because it will soon be absolutely impossible to avoid her.”

    The thing I love most about her, is her intelligence. She is so obviously a very perceptive, complex human being, and I respect her for that.

    I love Azealia so much, I don’t remember the last time I was this excited about an artist :)

    • Co-sign Cecily, the self hate some of our people suffer from is sickening.

  • TAE


  • Reason

    Why is she cussing out Spider-Man?

  • omfg

    i like her a lot but she uses the n word too much. dunno, to me using the n word is not so modern esp. for someone like her.

    personally, i wouldn’t put her in the same category as grace jones or nina simone as azealia is nowhere near them. they didn’t degrade their people by using the n word. interestingly, i believe they were both mostly natural. she also doesn’t even really have full disc out so it’s premature to lump her with those goddesses.

    i’m also happy to see a dark girl getting attention. but that weave is not so good on her. sorry to say. maybe she should get a better one done?