One in a Million

One in a Million

One in a Million

Busting Out of the 212 With Raw Rap Talent and a Stunning Singing Voice to Match, Azealia Banks Isn't Out To Take Anyone's Trophy—She's Here to Change the Game. Get Ready to Become Obsessed With B-A-N-K-S

Busting Out of the 212 With Raw Rap Talent and a Stunning Singing Voice to Match, Azealia Banks Isn't Out To Take Anyone's Trophy—She's Here to Change the Game. Get Ready to Become Obsessed With B-A-N-K-S

Photography: Inez & Vinoodh

Styling: Nicola Formichetti

Text: Patrik Sandberg

Catching up with Azealia Banks might run you ragged. Brought to V’s attention late last summer via a Russian social networking site, we made several attempts to get in touch with the 20-year-old Harlem rapper and singer to little avail. When teased that she’s tougher to get ahold of than Britney Spears, she laughs. “I’m usually at home, in the studio, or at a photo shoot,” she reasons. “I don’t go out. When NME said I was the coolest artist of 2011, I was like really? I’m not that cool. I, like, read my Kindle and eat sushi rolls and hang out with my boyfriend. I stay home and play with my cat.”

There’s also a brand new record deal with Universal Music, the ink on which has barely dried at the time of our conversation. “They offered me a deal! And I got a lawyer,” she says. “It’s happening.” A week earlier, she had charmed everyone on the set of her V shoot, including photographers Inez & Vinoodh and style mastermind Nicola Formichetti. The magnitude of her connection with the latter is evidenced by what immediately followed: she joined him in Paris to debut a track at his Mugler menswear show and days later he directed her second music video—his first—for the song “Liquorice.” (In between, Banks managed to squeeze in a private performance at Karl Lagerfeld’s house.) For Formichetti, it marks the most significant artist collaboration since his work with Lady Gaga. ”I love Azealia because we have the same birthday,” he says. “Double Gemini!”

By all accounts, it feels like Azealia Banks is the only girl in the world. Just don’t say it to her face. “Ew,” she replies. “I feel so weird when people say things to me like that because it’s just hype. I never want to be concerned with popularity. I am more concerned with making consistently good music.”

If catching up with Banks in person proves to be difficult, just imagine trying to keep up with her verbal flow. Her rapid-fire, crystalline raps are astounding in their elasticity, punctuated with clever puns, one-liners, and taunting, confrontational raunch. Sex, realness, and power are trending on her breakout single “212,” which announces at the start, “I can be the answer,” before proclaiming at the close, “What you gon’ do when I appear/ W-When I premiere/ Bitch the end of your lives are near/ This shit been mine, mine!” In between lies roughly three minutes of entrancing rhythm (courtesy of producer Lazy Jay) and unclockable verses, interrupted by an unexpected bridge that spotlights Banks’s showstopping singing voice.

There’s a price to pay for such a rapid ascent, and Banks is well aware of her critics. “Everyone’s a racist at the end of the day,” she says bluntly. “I had some random girl on Twitter say ‘Can you just stick to the raunchy raps?’ and I retweeted her to call her out. You know, we’re black, we’re white, we’re whatever, but we all have hearts, lungs, and genitals. We feel the same things. Music is music. Why not pull from the places and the things that you like to mix it all together and create something new? A lot of people think that rapping is easy but it isn’t, it takes a lot of mental work.”

Banks’s defiance toward genre has attracted a diverse fanbase that appreciates her varied musical inclinations (many were surprised to discover her ballad cover of “Slow Hands” by Interpol on YouTube, but its approval rating is resting at a solid 96 percent). That, or her talent is so colossal that it’s tough not to give credit where credit is due. One thing Azealia is keen to make clear is that she isn’t just another rap chick. When it comes to role models, “I don’t have any,” she says, “except maybe Missy Elliott because she is so loved and respected. Everything she puts out is of such quality. To see that is really inspiring.”

Could a collaboration with Missy be on the horizon? At the pace Banks is moving, it doesn’t seem far-fetched. She’s already collaborated with Machinedrum and Paul Epworth, and now that she’s been validated by the fashion industry, it’s tough not to see her as bankable. “It’s been really incredible as a person who does not come from fashion, suggesting something I want to do to Nicola and him saying ‘Oh my God, that’s amazing!’ It gives me the best feeling, like, really?! Maybe I know more than I think.”


Performance, 1978-1982
Some Went Glam and Some Went Punk. Some Were Sirens. Some Were Diamonds. Some Were Roxy. One Was Nina. Mudd Club. Le Palace. The Ballrooms of Mars. Suffragette Cities. In Every Dream Home a Heartache, on Every Stage Stardust. We Had Five Years From V...