Formerly known as Miss Bank$, 2011 became a breakout year for Azealia Banks thanks to the best House inspired Hip Hop record in decades through “212” featuring Belgian producer Lazy Jay. In a timespan where the lines between electronic music and traditional sonics of the culture began to blur, Harlem’s new “it girl” essentially created her own musical lane inspired by a seemingly forgotten Hip Hop sub-genre. There was fire starting crassness that lead to popular phrases like “I guess that cunt getting eaten” made better by Bank’s effective rhyming ability and singing. Unfortunately, that same molten attitude transitioned to a bunch of petty Twitter confrontations among other controversies. Saving Banks’ reputation were sporadic singles along with the 2012’s critically loved 1991 EP and Fantasea mixtape. Following a few years worth of label issues and various celebrity spats, she surprisingly released her debut Broke With Expensive Taste. Proving her worth, Banks has dropped an anomaly; and a delightfully refreshing one at that. Not only does BWET provide some of 2014’s most unique Hip Hop, but creates a sonically groundbreaking debut from a female not seen since Missy Elliot’s Supa Dupa Fly. Banks wisely channels the same attitude used to make her an industry joke this side of Trinidad James and Chief Keef. The effect? Creating a brilliant body of work that’s fun, aggressive and over-the-top. If Missy’s debut followed Lil Kim’s Hardcore, BWETmarks itself the first truly great post-Nicki album.
Before Banks left Interscope, two singles were released for BWET; “Young Rapunxel” and “ATM Jam” featuring Pharrell. Both duds failed to make an impression on the charts for the exact reason why the album succeeds. As Missy set the initial blue-print for approaching Timbaland’s production, Bank’s cleverly delivers her vocal performances through top-notch production from relative unknowns outside the Pop and Hip Hop world. However, those who follow the pedigree of electronic producers like Machinedrum, Lil Internet Lone, Lazy J and even AraabMuzik to an extent will know exactly how to approach BWET. Banks utilizes music video director and beat maker Lil Internet for the industrial inspired “Young Rapunxel,” a track that wouldn’t feel too out-of-place in a 90s Prodigy video. Though more than a year old, the track still fits nicely sonically within the album’s context. It’s also frustratingly limiting, as she runs headlong into the upper quadrant of her skillset, maniacally flipping bars about, essentially, nothing. Thankfully, “ATM Jam” is no-where to be found within BWET’s hour play-through. Partly because Pharrell’s production and presence simply would have sounded dated, ironic considering how old most of BWET instrumentals are in the first place. The two singles released from Banks in wake of major label divorce, “Heavy Metal and Reflective”(also produced by Lil Internet) and “Chasing Time,” are arguably BWET’s better examples of the project.
BWET’s ballsy moments all come courtesy of Banks. Album highlight “Gimme A Chance” best describes those musical set pieces. Beginning as a funk inspired tune where she rhymes her aspirations(I’m dreaming it big / 2Pac it Shakur!), it ends on a latin note where Banks sings and raps in Spanish with deft and campy proficiency. Modern surf rock nice-try “Nude Beach A Go Go” may or may not become a jarring moment for some considering it’s ironic meta-ness does nothing for the album as a whole other than to show off Azealia’s prodigious talent. Regardless, there’s a unique tonality to Banks’ voice which works well on its own terms. Tracks closer to contemporary Hip Hop standards like “BBD” and “Ice Princess” feature unique creative angles, though they can also be seen as outside the overall flow of the record.
Overall, Banks does a great job of keeping the focus on her. Even Theophilus London’s guest-spot on “JFK” doesn’t dilute but compliment.
Banks can be called a lot of things, one thing that she can’t be labeled is predictable. That mantra is delivered in spades in BWET. There’s a deep level of spindled focus past the surface sounding schizophrenia. In a time where every emerging rap or pop wanna-be yearns for Mike Will Made It and DJ Mustard productions, Banks defiantly gives trends the middle finger like everyone else she’s beefed with in her hyper political early industry history. BWET is a chaotic album from an equally chaotic specimen. And for everything it does well, it also suffers from it’s anthology like etymology. Tracks plucked out of the ether by Banks after, somehow, Interscope let her go with the rights to what she made there, it’s a kaleidoscope of sounds that feels like a best of instead of a debut. It’s jarringly airy, flitting about and flouting conventions at every turn, and it’s sometimes so steeped in it’s 90s house past that it undermines its own velocity. Still, the debut is an open world look at what for too long has been a closed genre, and, like her or not, Banks’ BWET is a true alternative to the young money princess and the Harlem harlequin is plowing a lane of her own.