Tracing the dissolution of Azealia Banks to figure out where it all went wrong.
The name Azealia Banks causes a strong reaction amongst almost everyone who hears it.
For her stans, she’s one of the best rappers in the game, a great dancer, artist, and the founder of all the fashion and witchy beauty trends that are buzzing today.
For her haters, she’s obnoxious, racist, both dusty and washed, and possibly on drugs with a failed career. When she dropped her first hit song in 2011, “212,” she was lauded as the next big thing in rap, period. She was feminine, trendy, braggadocious, actually a good artist, a great performer with a growing legion of loyal fans. Now she’s known more for initiating one-sided beefs than for releasing music, although every time she does, it’s still received well by her fans.
She came into the game as Miss Banks, before changing her stage name to Azealia Banks and becoming a star. Despite what many may think, Azealia does still have a career...but somewhere along the way there has also been a dissolution. Maybe it’s because of our expectations, heavily based off her break-out single, haven't aligned with who we think Azealia Banks is-- or was-- supposed to be. Either way, a lot of what’s been going on in her public persona is seen as a shortcoming and as a distraction to her true talent. She’s been coming undone in honest, cutting and hateful ways for the past six years. The biggest question remaining is when did this all start to fall apart? Was it one specific event or a series of unfortunate events?
Azealia is very intelligent and the underlying themes in her critiques on black entertainers as a whole aren’t necessarily bad. However, she doesn't allow any discourse to take place, ultimately stifling any growth that could come from her vocalization on issues of race or whatever the case may be. Most recently, her comments about Rihanna’s appearance at her much anticipated SavagexFenty show are just the latest nail in her career coffin. Azealia retaliated to a past insult Rihanna allegedly threw at her by recently saying Rih is bald with no edges, calling her fat and reiterated that we will have "no fat f****ing black icons." She said all of this wearing this wig.
The roasts continued with Fenty Beauty colon cleanse jokes.
This all happened right as she dropped Yung Rapunxel IIon Soundcloud which isn’t currently available on any streaming platforms like Spotify or Apple Music. It’s really unfortunate that someone who has worked with top artists like Kanye West, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Pharrell, and Mike Dean is releasing projects with largely no marketing, no lead up, or seemingly no thought. Trolling Rihanna might be a form of promotion but this is still just another example of how the music has seemed to take a backseat to the antics. In a December 22, 2016 Facebook post, Azealia spoke about her struggles with mental health saying “these people have no ideas about the type of uncontrollable chaos that goes on inside your head” and “these people have no idea how gnarly psych-drugs are.” However, acknowledging these issues still doesn’t erase the sting from her attacks.
The list of celebrities she’s beefed with is too long to list. In her decade long career she’s had disputes with artists like Diplo, Lady Gaga, Lil’ Kim, Nicki Minaj which have all contributed to the box she’s in now. However, her downfall sped up significantly after Zayn Malik.
In May 2016, Azealia Banks accused Zayn Malik of biting her music and style.
Zayn responded pretty mildly and then she responded with this:
The second hand embarrassment while reading this is unavoidable. Who would say these things? It’s also interesting that as Black person in America who’s been vocal about her own oppression, she would take such a militaristic stance. For her to openly support the terroristic nature of some of the US military tactics in the Middle East and use them lightly in a dalliance over music video themes when innocent people are dying in drone attacks is just tasteless. Period. For someone of her intelligence, there has to be better ways to present a point. These are playground antics coming from a grown woman. The “sand n*gga” and “extended family” comment were enough to get Azealia kicked off her headlining spot of Born & Bred Festival as well as get dropped from her London agency. Real life L’s. In addition to that, while beefing with Zayn, she came for a 14-year old Skai Jackson which further exposed more sigh-filled moments.
Unfortunately, her unraveling has been three dimensional, ranging from her physical appearance to her Twitter rants to her releases. The only thing that’s remained consistent is her talent. How did she go from releasing instant classics like "212,: which has over 177 million views to making remarks like "Beyoncé needs to stay under Jay Z’s foot where she belongs"? Personal appearance is extremely important for anyone in the public eye. For Azealia to willingly appear on social media or else out in public in a seemingly frantic state, with poorly-styled outfits as well as hair, it’s not a surprise that, by extension, people are receiving her messages poorly. Over the past few years she’s gone from looking like this:
Azealia Banks performing in 2012 - Simone Joyner/Getty Images
To looking like this:
Appearance is a personal form of expression and one has to wonder what she’s trying to communicate to us with this disarray.
When she does actually give an interview, like her Breakfast Club interview in 2018, marking her last mainstream media interview, she was able to express herself and humanize, or at least properly explain, her criticisms on Cardi B and voting for Trump. About calling Cardi B an "illiterate, untalented rat":
“I feel like the conversation surrounding black women's culture maybe two years ago was reaching an all-time high. We were really discussing our power amongst ourselves[…]and then there was just like Cardi B. I'm just talking about this caricature of black women, that black women themselves would never be able to get away with. Like if if my spelling and grammar were that bad... I'd be cancelled. If Nicki Minaj spelled like that, we'd be ragging on her all day.”
On voting for Trump:
“A big part of the reason why I didn’t want to vote for Hillary Clinton is because I felt like her movement was just shrouded in so much white feminism like yes yes yes yes yes we’re just going to get this woman to the presidency and ignore the fact that she and her husband are the reason that so many black families are divided now.”
This interview allowed her to express herself in a more valuable way than any of her social media rants. However, whether it's on the side of the media corporations or Azealia's own lack of desire, she doesn't often, if ever, have open dialogues to actually discuss and explain her controversial perspectives.
Recognizing her mental health issues is important because it gives light to the stigmas surrounding mental health in general. Remember, she was open about the negative side effects of experimenting with psych drugs and how finding the right balance can be a nightmare. “Sleepless nights, persistent paranoia, loss of appetite [...] and thoughts of suicide” are only some of the side effects she listed in her post. How do we as an audience and as fans of the celebrities that she’s attacking take that into account with empathy when she has outbursts?
Due to the way that black women, especially ethnically non-ambiguous black women, are presented in the media, it’s difficult to use the word "hateful" when describing her rants, but that is what has become most recognizable and synonymous with her online behavior.
We’re living in an age of anti-negativity messaging and anti-bullying sentiments, though. The climate online has united a movement towards tolerance which automatically spells an end for someone like Azealia, who has largely negative contributions to the digital space. This is not to ignore the fact that there is a very strong reality to the pain that she feels, and has felt, as a dark skinned black woman in the music industry. However, how you say something can be just as important as what is being said.
A key point that almost no major publication has stopped to consider is the idea that she may very well feel trapped in the entertainment industry. She has little formal education having dropped out of high school so the music industry and entertainment industry might feel like her only way of supporting herself. Although she does have her e-commerce business CheapyXO, outside of that, and music revenue, there may not be a way for her to sustain herself and actually seek treatment, to heal away from the public eye. Taking this into consideration, her need to keep her name in the headlines could be a way for her to maintain her livelihood.
Some of the conversations she’s initiating are conversations that need to be had; immigration issues, celebrities’ rights to express presidential support without consequence, race relations, and colorism in the music industry. Using her platform to create a show or podcast where she has these discussions with a reasonable, opposing viewpoint, while she shares her personal experiences as a dark skinned woman in the music industry might be a better way to get her thoughts out and maintain a career. Instead, she’s become known for attacking people with much bigger star power, bodies of released music and measurable success, while the critical acclaim that once surrounded her music falls by the wayside.