One of Azealia Banks‘ issues is she’s always been too forthright for the music industry, much of which is built on fakeness and fantasy, a forever shifting foundation that female entertainers are expected to support and uphold at all times without exception. Men not so much.
Banks’ missteps since she splashed on the scene in 2011 with the single “212,” include continuing to use local Harlem vernacular with outsider populations (though since being kicked off Twitter she has reined in her use of bigoted language), engaging in conflicts with industry made men (including T.I. and Pharrell) and being transparent about lightening her skin and other forms of body modification.
One could add Banks has a reputation simply of being difficult to work with, though when one examines her record in comparison to many of her male peers, she doesn’t appear to suffer from disruptive addiction issues and her arrest record is fairly mild.
In far ranging interview with XXL magazine, Banks covered her treatment within the industry and how the double standard has waylaid her career. “I’m definitely shut out from where I was, 100 percent. People are very scared to be associated with me because of, you know, the controversy, I guess the skin bleaching or the ‘sand nigger’ or the ‘faggot’ thing,” she said.
Banks didn’t mention it in the article, but her reputation has not only translated to music labels keeping an arm’s distance, but also has meant lucrative brand sponsorship has gone out the window as well.
In the exchange, Banks pointed out how Kanye West and R. Kelly’s untoward behavior has been excused away by many (though we should point out, not by all). “I guess the source of my disappointment comes from just watching lots of other men in hip-hop, just like male rappers, have their career setbacks and go through things,” explained Banks.
Banks added, “Or even when a black male rapper misspeaks something, just seeing black men go through the motions, seeing the black mass just kind of seemingly accepting it as just an attribute of their artistry. So they’ll be like, ‘Kanye West is saying all that because he’s crazy’ or ‘Okay, yeah, R. Kelly raped a girl but damn, he makes some good music.’ I don’t feel like I ever got that kind of empathy.”
Banks also mentioned rappers Jim Jones and T.I. threatening her with violence with no push back from the hip hop community or press (though in fairness to T.I., he was responding to some extremely ugly comments Banks made about his wife, Tiny).
In support of her double standard argument, Bank called out XXL‘s decision to put rapper XXXtencion, born Jahseh Onfroy, on the cover of its 2017 Freshman Class cover. Banks mentioned his derogatory comments about black women as a reason why he shouldn’t have been on the cover, though even worse, last year Onfroy was arrested and spent time in jail for assaulting his pregnant girlfriend.
As Pitchfork wrote about the rapper in February 2017 while he was still behind bars, “As unsettling as the charges against Onfroy are, they don’t seem to have diminished his allure in rap circles.”
In further comments on the XXL‘s annual Freshman Class issue, Banks made the valid point that Cardi B should have been on the cover. “Cardi B should have been in the Freshmen [Class] for sure. I’m not trying to hate on Kamaiyah, I don’t know who she is, but I mean, you guys should have had me on the Freshman [Class] list.” [We concur.]
Interestingly, the XXL interviewer didn’t provide feedback on why Cardi didn’t make the cut, though in an interview on “The Breakfast Club” morning show, editor in chief Vanessa Satten said the panel concluded Cardi’s trajectory was headed more in the direction of TV rather than rap.
When asked which female rappers she likes at the moment, Banks mentioned Cardi and Remy Ma (though thinks Remy is better when she stays off the topic of Nicki Minaj). “Maybe I like Cardi and Remy just because they sound like home. Like I know that girl, that uptown, Manhattan, Bronx girl. I think that’s why I like them the most,” said Banks.
On an aside, Banks got some Safaree fans upset for comments she made about her mistaken assumption he had done some writing for Minaj. “But it actually turned out [to be] me writing for him. So Safaree and I put this song together and I wrote a bunch of his part and it’s really fuckin’ hot,” explained Banks.
Banks also made an astute point about her color becoming an issue only after she graduated Laguardia High School where talent trumps all. “When you’re going to LaGuardia High School with a bunch of rich white kids, they can’t use their socioeconomic privilege to beat you out of a role,” explained Banks, who pointed out disparity in payments for her music versus Lana Del Ray‘s. “It’s all about talent and hard work, but when you get into the real world, X, Y and Z label can use their socioeconomic leverage to beat me into a fucking role, and it was very eye-opening.”
The interview also goes into detail about ending her first record deal with Universal Music Group’s U.K.-base Interscope/Polydor, which she said paid her $777,000 to exit the contract.
Banks explained part of the reason the deal went south was Polydor’s decision to push “ATM Jam” as her first single because it included a not very good but costly ($40,000) beat by Pharrell, who wouldn’t help with its promotion because of Banks’ controversial reputation.
The singer/songwriter closed with a discussion around her brand, Cheapy XO, a mix of merchandise that includes a skin lightening soap call Miss Amour. “Skin lightening products can be used however you want to use them, you know? If you decide you want to take this skin-lightening bar and rub it all over your whole body then fine,” explained Banks. “[For] most people, it’s a treatment for things that are related to the detention of dead skin cells.”