Azealia Banks: Hip-Hop's Most Problematic or Unapologetic?
Every story needs their good-guys and their bad-guys. Without them, we'd have no story. Stories are based on the experience and background of the heroes and even the villains. When you examine the case of Hip-Hop, you find it is no different. Based on the stories of the unvoiced Black people, Hip-Hop was born from the cries of poverty, kids running the street and making it whatever way you can whether it was through drug-dealing, pimping or robbing. However, Hip-Hop has a distinction from other stories in whom we glorify. Unlike other stories, we listen to and love our bad guys. The narratives of our villainous rappers matter.
It's no secret that these narratives historically belong to men. Until Roxanne Shante, who proved to be superior to most men on the mic, women were just cheerleaders to the men who portrayed them as side-chicks, gold-diggers and sex objects. Through the years, we have watched the coming and going of female rappers whose narratives have countered and challenged those of their male counterparts. We have seen our pioneers like Salt-N-Pepa, Queen Latifah, and MC Lyte. We have watched the rise and commercialism of provocative rap from Lil Kim, Foxy Brown and Trina. We have witnessed the hard-hitting gangsta-girl spits from Eve, Remy Ma and Rah Digga. We have even witnessed our drama and theatrics come into play with pop culture influencer, Missy Elliott. Today, we get a blend of those same spirits in the likes of Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, Kash Doll, City Girls, CupcakKe, BbyMutha, and so many others. While we could say that some of these girls are definitely "good guys," we know that some of them are definitely "bad guys," in the sense that they are not socially responsible with their industrial decision making.
However, out of all of the women named, one, who goes unnamed, seems be overlooked. And while home girl has some very problematic ways about her, we have to appreciate honesty, and this girl will bring it. She is Azealia Banks. Azealia Banks may have been the first female rapper to hit commercial spotlight and success for infusing the sounds of ballroom and queer sounds with Hip-Hop. And say what you want, but Azealia Banks singlehandedly helped uplift the voices of Hip-Hop that are often forgotten: the queer lives.
Hip-Hop is an art form for Black expression, and that is not limited to what one person may think is right and what others hold true. It is solely up to the artist for their artistic expression. In that, we have unfortunately found some of the highest selling acts and songs in hip-hop history to be filled with misogynoir, internalized racism and colorism, and more to the point of this section, anti-queer & -trans rhetoric. Her witchy fashions, ballroom beats and lyrics allude to the welcoming of queer & trans persons in Hip-Hop. While on the Breakfast Club, Charlemagne Tha Goddess informed Banks that people believe that she "makes music for the gays," in a very unsure and negative manner. She assured him that the allegations were true and that they needed a seat here to because the queer experience is the Black experience. If they don’t like it, don't listen.
We have also seen Banks comments seem to get her trouble way more often than other artists. From calling Zayn a "sand-bagger," Cardi B a "caricature" and an "uneducated bird," and T.I. a "coon" whose wife can't read, Azealia has offended (and read) just about everyone. However, under her the surface of what she says, Azealia seems to have a message behind what she says. It's usually about how she goes about addressing her opinions is what seems to be more annoying to people. But honestly, has she really lied about most of the things she has said? T.I. has 100% embarrassed his wife in more than one way. She caught a charge for him and yet he still managed to cheat on her. Cardi B is 100% the hispanic girl that can claim and disown her Blackness when it benefits her. Because up until her commercial success, she wasn't giving clear answers on whether she was Black or not. While I don't think Banks had a good reason to call Zayn a 'sand-bagger,' it definitely shows the double-standards of if he would have called her the N word. He would still be flourishing, meanwhile she is still receiving backlash until this day.
I have to ask everyone, in an age of everyone wanting people to live as their "unapologetic" selves and stand in their Blackness, what's the problem? What is it that she isn't doing right? She understands who she is. She knows when she is wrong, and she owns it. Even better, she stands strong on her beliefs. Also, nothing she has said has compromised the mental space and capacity of Black people. Whereas, we see male villain, Kanye, receive streams and furthered success for his views of "slavery as a choice." Home girl says that y'all other problematic fav, Nicki Minaj, is essentially running out of creative direction and she's somehow hating? It's an observation. I love Nicki as much as the next, but I can whole-heartedly agree that Nicki's mermaid concept was a knock-off Broke With Expensive Taste vibe.
Her words are way less hurtful than the acceptance of pedophiles and the new anti-Black rise of white rappers in modern Hip-Hop. The misogynoir a lot of people hold, thanks to Hip-Hop, prevents you from seeing that sis has valid points and opinions. It also reinforces that we'd rather invest our time and prioritize the headspace of men in Hip-Hop, overlooking that Black women hold the same cases, if not more, of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Post-Slave Syndrome, depression, anxiety and other toxicities that infiltrate Black minds.
She is a constant call for help that mirrors the long-lasting effects of the degradation of Black women, dark Black women to be exact. Her cries about Wild'n Out were more than just being a "bully who can't handle her own medicine." They were the cries of women whom have been raped, beaten and displaced. They were the cries of those women whom have never seen themselves on television, and when they have, it's only been that of a caricature of a maid, a jezebel or a Saaphire. Her cries were real hurt.
While Banks does not fit the role of what some of you see as "unapologetic Black girl," that is exactly what she embodies. However, I think that we have limited ourselves to seeing unapologetic-ness as an aesthetic rather than a mindset. We see it as kinks and curls, big earrings and "fuck police" shirts in professional settings, as well as Instagram photoshoots.
Whether you accept it or not, Azealia Banks is important to our culture and how it will shift moving forward. She embodies that honesty factor that Hip-Hop was built on and continues to create fresh sounds that no one else can imitate. And while you may not always care for her thoughts, her pen proves to be a force to be reckoned with in the industry. Giving unapologetic realness, Azealia Banks seems to be sitting, comfortably, and does not seem to be going anywhere any time soon.
Reminder that her singles, Anna Wintour and Treasure Island, are available on all streaming platforms and her second album, Fantasea 2, will be out soon.