Think of the most offensive thing someone can say… Azealia Banks has probably said it. Throughout her career, the Harlem-raised MC has played the part of controversy’s poster child and as social media’s exponential pull on Generation Z has grown, so has the public witch hunt for her reputation. Before she even released her debut – and currently only – album, Broke With Expensive Taste, Complex Magazine was noting how “she gets more attention for her public feuds than she does for her music”. If you ask Twitter then, her current dispute would be with Lana Del Rey. After Del Rey expressed discontent with Kanye West’s “extreme issues with narcissism” in response to his Instagram post supporting the current POTUS, Donald Trump, Azealia fired back, questioning Lana’s intentions and the validity of her concern based on her previous fetishization of domestic violence and work with such abusers.
Not surprisingly, fans painted Azealia as the perpetrator, while Lana received praise from them for being a “badass,” despite having physically threatened Banks multiple times. While Azealia also uses such words, – her body-shaming comments on Del Rey are equally deplorable – the double standard that their fans implore when it comes to these feuds is apparent.
This would not be the first time Banks has been misrepresented either. Amidst her chicken sacrificing “scandal” last year, Page Six painted the rapper as “crazy”. Although there may have been a sliding moral compass at play there, when concerning the mental health of her male peers, such as Kanye West, the public (generally) treats their wellbeing with respect, while simultaneously martyring Bank’s using stifling slurs. The public even gives Katy Perry, who was 2017’s favorite sacrificial scapegoat, room to grow, getting coverage in Vogue Australia and Billboard for taking the first steps towards personal enlightenment and opening up about her struggles with mental health. Of course, that type of encouraging rhetoric is what should be strived for, however when those chances are relegated only to those the media deems worthy, the supportive idea loses sentiment. If the general public gives Chris Brown a second chance, then why do they still relegate Banks to being a lighthouse for hatred and stan Twitter wars, with XXL Magazine carelessly calling her side of every spat “disrespectful”? If people defend XXXTENTACION based on the idea that he was “changing” and subsequently view his legacy as such, then why can Azealia’s growth not occur? Since it is ideologically impossible – but currently pervades the mindset – for those two hypocritical ideas to coexist, one can look to Lauryn Hill for answers.
Before Twitter users blast this article for pitting two women against each other, what do Azealia Banks, who’s musical lore seemingly cannot be discussed without bringing up her public spats, and Ms. Lauryn Hill – arguably the best female rapper of all time – have in common? Well, seeing as their mental health aggravated their excommunication from their former seat on hip-hop’s zeitgeist, they both fall victim to selective perception.
In response to Kanye West’s recent saturation in the media, Kathy Iandoli wrote an article in Revolt earlier this month, detailing this apparent injustice in relation to Hill and West. Like Azealia’s have been, Iandoli noted how Hill’s past mistakes were weaponized to invalidate her legacy, while Kanye often gets a pass and in some ways, is exalted because of his mistakes. Some paint him as a self-aware genius – and some were never fans to begin with -, but underlying his reputation is a constant desire from the public for him to grow. For no matter how many times he calls slavery a choice or rants about supporting Trump on SNL, people still regard My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as a masterpiece, hence the public’s consistent desire to see his return to form. However, for women such as Ms. Hill and Banks, the selective memory of the public slowly rewrites their respective “masterpiece” . When they are late to their show then – or in a Twitter feud with Lana Del Rey – the public often pushes their mental health aside and instead, turns it into a tool for discrediting their success. Rather than giving these women a second chance, the public pressures them to live on either end of two extremes: a “crazy” person who says too much or an artist slowly silenced into obscurity.
While the obvious difference here lies in their output – Azealia and Ms. Hill have yet to release further full-length works to be appropriately judged like Kanye’s canon – they seemingly have no choice. Despite Banks just announcing a Holiday EP on Monday, October 15, 2018, as of writing this piece, no publication has written about the upcoming release, choosing instead to flood the media with articles on her Twitter feud with Lana. Sure, concerning her past projects, Azealia has cried wolf before, but the blatant overshadowing of her craft by these beefs reveals a larger bias. At least when Kanye meets with Trump, journalists are simultaneously anticipating the equally delayed Yandhi. Whereas Kanye can be a divisive public figure and an artist then, both iconoclastic women have become unwilling archetypes for the public’s double standard regarding the female voice.
The same thesis that Beyonce applied in her 2014 feminist anthem, “***Flawless”, which featured a speech by writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, persists in the Ms. Hill and Banks narrative, that girls “can have ambition, but not too much… otherwise you will threaten the man… because I am female I am expected to aspire to marriage”. Like Ms. Hill’s June 1999 Essence Award speech then, which Salon Magazine labeled her as a destructive role model for being an unwed mother of – at that time – two children, the public’s perception of her essentially foreshadowed the sentiment of Adichie’s speech. While Lauryn obviously has not spit any of the slurs Azealia has, in the pantheon of music, both are unfairly ostracized and held to the same double standard. Similar to Ms. Hill’s role in her respective time too, in 2012, Azealia Banks was hip-hop’s answer to the diatribe of pop superficiality and the male dominated rap game. With her inventive witch-hop flow, she was poised to be a breakout star, following in the path that Nicki Minaj was laying for female rappers of the new generation. Whereas now female MCs are dominating chart-wise – Cardi B just scored her third number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 – back then, Azealia – along with Nicki – was an outlier. For that reason, although Banks is famous for using slurs to address minority groups, some root for her, as she herself is an underdog. When Banks uses the word “faggot” then, it is not coming from a place of homophobia. Herself being bisexual, which itself has a history of being a devalued label, her use of the derogatory slur is a reclamation. Of course, that does not excuse the times she has used it as a slur, but if the public – wether intentional or not – does not allow black, female artists to learn and grow from their mistakes, what can they do?
It is 10:27pm on October 10, 2018. Azealia Banks logs onto Twitter. Pulling a photo of a local twink’s bare asshole into a tweet, the Harlem-raised entrepreneur types : “Hello new followers and Lana Del Rey fans! Do you want your bussy to sparkle like this? Does it look like a rusty bolt instead of a sparkling gold coin fresh from the US mint? Follow us on twitter for all news and updates regarding #BUSSYBOY , a CHEAPYXO BRAND! !”. Banks has just finished packing another box of soap orders and is going to ship them in the morning; she is not working on her previously promised sophomore studio album, Fantasea II: The Second Wave. Her other previously promised, third studio album, Business & Pleasure,’s existence is even more unlikely. Since signing her development deal with XL Records in 2008, leaving the label, and then bursting on the scene in 2011 with “212,” Banks has released one studio album. Paralleling Ms. Hill, the public’s perception of Azealia following her acclaimed debut overshadowed her further musical endeavors. There was even a time when Rolling Stone listed “212” as one of the 100 best songs of the century, but now Banks seemingly can not make it into news unless it is about her “fighting” with another celebrity. Instead of listening to the nuanced concepts she explores daily then, people characterize Azealia as an archetypical villain (Gizmodo knighted her with the exclusive title of “Twitter villain” earlier this year).
If people are going to shun her, while simultaneously overlooking the “problematic nature” of other artists, Banks wishes they could at least be transparent. During her 2018 Breakfast Club interview, when promoting the then upcoming Fantasea II and discussing her reasoning for initially supporting Donald Trump over Hilary Clinton, Banks states that she “like[s] [her] racists racist”. Later in the year though, after becoming emotional on MTV’s Wild ’N Out over colorist jokes, host Nick Canon suggested Azealia was a hypocrite, causing her to cancel Fantasea II. Even during her December 2014 interview on Ebro in the Morning, where Banks made several revelatory remarks about racism in America while promoting her – actually released – debut studio album, the majority of headlines overlooked those points to comment on how “Azealia Banks and Remy Ma traded shots on Instagram over the weekend”. These oppressive types of optics with which people cherry-pick instances to “cancel” an artist over then lead to hypocritical assertions and to a certain point, the gentrification of the music industry.
White people liked Azealia when she was not talking about race, but turned on her once they got uncomfortable with her bluntness; they want to hold her accountable for her actions, but will label her as “crazy” when she holds them accountable for theirs.
Until the public holds artists accountable for their actions with a moral consistency, the “cancel culture” that pervades the popular music industry will continue to disenfranchise black female artists while simultaneously giving a “Get Out of Jail Free Card” to those deemed culturally palatable. By allowing the racial ambivalence that supersedes this concept to continue then, the only thing the world is getting is a Miseducation.