Fraught with interminable delays and self-sabotaging Twitter beefs, Azealia Banks' career was about to take yet another, potentially career-flatlining L if her debut full-length, Broke With Expensive Taste did not drop by the end of the calendar year. By shrewdly dropping the album with virtually no notice, she seemingly found a way to generate pushback against the increasing indifference towards her. It appears, then, that Banks has managed to pull off a minor miracle, as Broke With Expensive Taste is an artistic success as well as a strategic one.
Banks has already proven herself to be a malleable artist, moving effortlessly between rapping and singing in a perfectly capable voice; it's a foundation the tracks revel in, accommodating her varied sonic whims. "Gimme A Chance" veers from fiercely spit verses to an innocently delivered chorus to an assured merengue outro, with Banks singing and rapping in Spanish. Naturally. Banks' musically omnivorous approach also includes a nod to vintage UK garage via the M. J. Cole-scored "Desperado" (which kinda makes you wonder how that ill-fated Disclosure collabo would have turned out) but it's not just about the music. Behind the club-ready house of "Soda," and "Chasing Time," Banks sheds the steely exterior to delve into emotional introspection.
Wilfully meshing styles so often might logically lead to missteps, but it's when Banks tries on contemporary soundscapes that the record sags. "BBD" is a half-baked attempt at SEO rap and "Ice Princess" is yawn-inducingly formulaic. It's ironic, then, that when Banks blows the dust off her 2011 debut single "212," it still holds up. Knowing that older tracks were being considered for the album, it's a shame that the excellent "Jumanji" from her Fantasea mixtape didn't make the cut.
Overall, Banks' inimitable alliterative flow and creative senses are triumphant, and this album lets her talent do the talking. It's probably not a coincidence this record drops after Iggy Azalea's summer has cooled and before Nicki Minaj leaves her pinkprint — given her past social media dustups with them — but Broke With Expensive Taste reminds us why we all cared about Azealia Banks in the first place. (Independent/Prospect Park)