After over two years of battling with Interscope Records, Azealia Banks has finally released her début album, Broke with Expensive Taste. The young Harlem rapper, singer, and songwriter was finally dropped by Universal Music Group this past summer, after Banks begged them to. In spite of all the drama, Banks opened up her own label, teamed up with Prospect Park, and surprisingly released her new album overnight. Broke with Expensive Taste is a messy concoction of the whirlwind that has been the past three years of Azealia Banks’ rise to prominence.
Teaming up with an assortment of EDM artists, a wide-range of hip-hop producers, and even Ariel Pink, Azealia Banks’ direction for her debut was to showcase her eclectic style. There are glimpses of trap (“BBD”), moments of club-bangers (“Chasing Time”), and elements of flamenco music (“Gimme a Chance”). The album is a collection of what Azealia Banks is all about – being whoever she wants to be. It’s a relentless sixteen track, sixty-minute album that follows right in the footsteps of the Fantasea mixtape back in 2012. Her first single, “Yung Rapunxel,” lets out her aggression and frustration with where she’s at in her music career. It was released before her split with Interscope, and it feels like a much-needed exercise in freeing herself from the stippling world of the music industry. Her tremendous yelling throughout the hook and chorus calls attention to her feeling trapped and restrained, like a vicious Rottweiler being chained to a fence: “let a bitch n**** drop, bet the bitch ain’t barkin’ like me.” She also separates herself from other female pop/rap artists such as Iggy Azalea or Nicki Minaj, and places herself in her own realm, outside of the industry.
Including the now legendary track “212” feels a bit out-of-place on the album, primarily because everything she has done since has felt like a push away from that sound. “212” is clean and polished, whereas most of Broke with Expensive Taste is gritty and out-there. Although “212” is a timeless hip-hop staple, Banks hasn’t tried to recreate it or even go anywhere near it again, for the benefit of expanding her sound. The second single, “Heavy Metal and Reflective,” establishes Banks as a one-of-a-kind rapper whose flow is undeniably her own. Her intricately woven and incredibly quick words could make your head spin trying to keep up.
“Ice Princess” is one of her club-friendly tracks that shines with a bright chorus. Produced by AraabMUZIK, the track is prime Azealia Banks, with her confident flow, her self-worshipping lyrics, and a danceable beat. Crowd pleaser, “Chasing Time,” works very similarly, but contains a grand pop anthem. Once again, it’s Azealia Banks going after different genres and tackling them head-on. One of the most bizarre mashups is Banks sampling Ariel Pink’s “Nude Beach a Go-Go.” It’s a 60s Beach Boys, psychedelic, tropical getaway completed with a political take on American culture: “Black women’s attraction / all the white girls join in the action.” On “Gimme a Chance,” Banks even tackles rapping in Spanish for an entire verse. Broke with Expensive Taste is as experimental as it is hip-hop. It keeps you on your toes, unsure of where exactly she’s going to go next.
The ending two tracks, “Miss Amor” and “Miss Camaraderie” run a bit stagnant, and her overzealous sensibilities take away from the overall pacing of the album. However, when Azealia Banks raps she commands a presence and respect. This album brings her back to where she needs to be, with a wide open door on her long-awaited future. In fact, without the tribulations and endless legal battles with Universal, this album wouldn’t exist. With the exuberant take on different musical cultures and styles, Broke with Expensive Taste is a début well worth the wait.