AN ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE DEFENCE OF AZEALIA BANKS

“Shut-up you Black-bitch!”, was once yelled at me by a stranger in 2005. We were arguing at a club because she thought my friend stole her drink…. She was wrong! But in her defence, she was drunk and an idiot. I foolishly demanded justice in the form of an apology, but this actual thirsty bitch was having none of it. “Shut-up you Black-bitch” had effectively stunned me into silence (Until my friend cold cocked her, and we had to get the fuck out of dodge). Her insult got to me and my gully friend, because she made being a Black woman sound derogatory and synonymous with being a bitch; it resembled the familiar narrative that accompanies dismissive and hostile actions against Black women in general. When we are assertive, outspoken, or justifiably angry, we’re viewed as ignorant, loud, neck rolling, sass monsters, who are asking for it. In the media, or for entertainment purposes, we’re frequently made the villain or the target of jokes; a one dimensional Maury Povich Show meme, that is the accepted receptacle of abuse. Maybe some of these women on Maury don’t know who the father of their children are because of a cycle of abuse and institutionalized racism… But I guess it’s hilarious when put to Outkast.

There are many incidents where pop culture seems to tell us it is especially justified to quiet and mock the voices of discontented Black women. But I wonder if it would be harder for a bus driver to uppercut a Black woman for being unruly or for countless cops to aggressively abuse and kill Black women without any repercussions or significant outcry, if it wasn’t being so condoned in the images and sound bites we consume daily. And it may be bad form to call out Hip Hop on a Hip Hop blog; but when it comes to silencing and demeaning Black women within art, Hip Hop may not be the G.O.A.T, but it is an active participant. Which is why Azealia Banks, being as outspoken as she is talented, is remarkable and worthy of defense…sometimes.

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Azealia Banks is talented. She is clearly a musician and not some model plucked from: Oh, I don’t know, Australia? Banks is a reflection of the sound she delivers. Funny enough, the Harlem rapper is more popular in the UK than she is in North America; but this is not so shocking as her style has heavy house music undertones. And they fuck with that heavy in the U.K. Specifically, her newest album, Broke with Expensive Taste, seemed to delve into several genres by blending hip hop with dance/punk/r&b/pop. The album was received well critically, with the sometimes negative critique her focus was scattered and lyrically she is repetitive and capable of much more; which I don’t wholeheartedly disagree with; but she’s relatively new and still finding her voice. As a child of the 80’s, and a teen of the 90’s, I’m not mad at her.

A.B caught everybody’s attention in 2011 with her hugely popular track, “212:” a playful and raunchy valley girl rap, over an EDM beat, for which she also provided the soulful hook. This song was clearly not made for the radio; but I personally enjoyed how catchy she made the phrase: “Guess that cunt’s gettin’ eatin!” Her versatility and talent on this track were exciting and a nod to the new direction of hip hop. I was impressed by the early 90’s house music references, the rapping about her bisexuality in a way which seemed ambivalent and technically proficient, and her accent that fluctuated between bad New York Bitch (in a good way,) and one of Lena Dunham’s Girls (except black.) The video was simple: shot in black and white against a brick wall with A.B. in an ironic Mickey Mouse sweater and shorts, with her hipster bestie. It looked casual, like a throw-back to Bonita Applebum, but the simplicity of the video made her talent, youth and beauty stand out. And her really uncomplicated style seemed to contrast what Nicki Minaj was doing at the time; the pink beehive and the face sponsored by M.A.C. “212” was a great start! And then Banks discovered Twitter.

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This piece could just be about Azealia Banks’ various Twitter beefs, which as a lover of smack talking New Yorkers, I enjoy perusing.  But Azealia’s Twitter fights have already been well documented. To name a few she’s fought on twitter with:

Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, Iggy Azalea, Erykah Badu, Kreayshawn, Lil’Kim, Nicki Minaj, T.I, Lily Allen, Jesus (Probably), etc…

She has quite the rap sheet, even when you take into account her male peers ,who also take to social media to publicly beef. But this isn’t new. Ingrained in Hip Hop culture are rap battles and call outs on mix tapes; which definitely predate social media. Some Hip Hop careers have been made from feuds; as notoriety is not frequently viewed as a bad thing (Lookin’ at you Suge Knight and Gucci Mane… Just not in the eyes). And even though Kanye West has had the benefit of discovering fame before the social media boom; he will continue to be a millionaire several times over despite his Beyonce related Tourettes. Arrogance teetering on narcissism is still an acceptable and arguably attractive quality for a man to have. On the flip side, Banks’ feuding has definitely overshadowed her talent, and caused some to turn away from her entirely. Which is occasionally how it goes for women in male dominated industries. They’d rather view you as a bitch than a boss.

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I used to have a joke I told on stage about not judging Iggy Azalea for speaking in “Black Voice,” because Hip Hop is about sampling, and if we start nitpicking, we’ll have to come after Lil’Kim for robbing Michael Jackson’s face from the grave. Not Cool! I’m not very proud of this joke. Mainly because I don’t believe in the premise. Iggy Azalea’s blaccent is not a parody or a tribute; rather, it’s fake authenticity. But also, the truth is, Lil’ Kim’s transformed appearance exists because society/media/entertainment/history tells Black women they’d be great if they fixed their nose/hair/skin/circumstances. The real reason Azealia Banks, and other Black women, were so insulted by the support and cred  Iggy Azalea received from the industry and public was because it spoke to an insecurity we live with daily. If you take parts of Black culture and beauty, and ascribe them to a non Black woman, she is lauded as a pioneer and praised for her originality, (Fergie, Jennifer Lopez, Christina Aguilera, Kim Kardashian, Kreayshawn, Motherfucking Bo Derek, etc). I can get behind what A.B has to say, like when she calls out ridiculous faker Iggy Azalea (who some have argued stole Banks’ name,) for appropriating Black culture as a gimmick. The argument seems to ring truer and truer as footage of Iggy Azalea “freestyling” badly stolen gibberish makes its rounds. Specifically when Banks was on Hot 97 in December, she made emotionally and intellectually persuasive points about why Iggy Azalea’s success irks her so profoundly:

“When they give these Grammys out, all it says to white kids is: oh yeah you’re great, you’re amazing, you can do whatever you put your mind to. And it says to black kids: you don’t have shit. You don’t own shit, not even the shit you created for yourself, and it makes me upset.”

The interview is a great window into the sincerity and passion which drives Azealia Banks; but she also frequently bursts out into tears, talks about slaughtering pigs as a hobby, and calls T.I. a “shoe shining coon;” but I still I won’t label her as crazy. I always think about what Dave Chappelle once said on Inside the Actor’s Studio about calling a person crazy being the worst thing you can do because it’s dismissive. Azealia Banks isn’t crazy! She’s smart and passionate. But her propensity to come out swinging resembles a recurring Chappelle’s Show sketch: “When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong.”

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There are likely several fronts on which I cannot defend Ms. Banks. The main one being, I cannot defend her homophobia. It’s gross. In fights on Twitter with blogger Perez Hilton, she calls him a faggot and is fairly comfortable espousing bigoted ignorance towards gay men. And just because much of her vitriol is directed towards soulless monster Perez Hilton: that doesn’t make it OK. I will never support homophobia. Especially not from a seemingly smart, young Black woman who openly identifies as bisexual; I expect her to be able to empathize. She’s not an idiot but she is clearly hiding behind false bravado. When she’s hateful towards another marginalized group, it makes it easy to tune out the valuable things she has to say and makes it impossible to defend her. Knock it the fuck off, A.B.!

My request of Azealia Banks is this; never shut-up. There are huge benefits as a Black woman to feeling entitled to speak your mind. Even in writing this piece, I am nervous about a backlash, or a possible Twitter war with AB herself. But I would say to her,  be provocative and intelligent. Fine tune your voice as a musician and as a human being. Anytime your name is mentioned on Twitter, you appear like Beetlejuice. It’s rarely that serious. Don’t make it so easy for them to label you as an unstable hate-filled lunatic; because they will use that to shut out the intelligent things you say. They will ignore how extremely talented you are because they already want to. There is a double standard; it is utter bullshit that a long list of male rappers spit ignorant and inflammatory opinions with very little blowback as a result; but use it as an opportunity to elevate your message. There is wisdom in picking your battles more carefully.  As an example of how to be a rapper and an activist; which given the racial undercurrent of your online presence, I believe you could be;  I’ll leave you with a clip of Sista Souljah. Souljah, another outspoken Black New Yorker, was unafraid to speak her mind, and said many things in this old interview that could be said today. I don’t agree with some of her message; but absolutely nobody could credibly argue that she spoke unintelligently or insincerely… By far one of the most dynamic voices of 90’s Hip Hop:

Written By: Aisha Brown

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