There is a running joke in the family that I don’t read books by women. The rumour was probably initially started by me back in the heady days of my teenage invincibility where I was pretty sure I could say anything and get away with it. Deriding an entire gender and the concept of their literary enterprise was just the sort of thing I might’ve done at the time. Needless to say, the assertion doesn’t hold true and likely never did. Although I patently didn’t know much, I did know that J.K. Rowling was a woman and her wizardry narratives were a must read back in the day. In the time that’s elapsed since, I’ve welcomed Nadine Gordimer, Zadie Smith and countless others into what was once, ostensibly, a male-only domain. But where the literary hypothesis turned out to be a fallacy, it’s always been far easier to maintain such a ridiculously anti-feminine perspective when it comes to the world of rap. If you don’t count the eye candy starlets that flit in and out of RnB quicker than Ja Rule can say ‘arghh’, there have been only a handful of prolific women MCs of late.
As with the no-chicks reading policy that has haunted me for years, fostering any notion that women are not up to rapping is patently misguided. If Lauryn Hill, Remy Ma of Terror Squad, Eve of ‘Let Me Blow Ya Mind‘ fame, sometimes Lil Kim and Nicki Minaj’s early work, particularly her monster verse on ‘Monster‘ (subsequent pop-ification aside) prove anything, it’s that female rhymers can definitely mix it with the best of their male counterparts. Where the literary and lyrical situations diverge, however, is that while there are any number of women trying their hand at writing a novel, there has been a historical dearth of those interested in entering the rap fray, especially where the game, more than any other genre, conforms to James Brown’s maxim. To make any sort of impression, a female act has either had to have serious connections or, counter-intuitively given the small field of competitors, boast some claim to being seriously distinctive. Azealia Banks, once niche and independent, now mainstream and with major label backing in the form of Interscope/Polydor, isn’t doing too badly in the originality stakes either. By all accounts, she should be on the way to world domination of the female rap game.
And yet, ‘Liquorice’, even almost six months after its release on four-track EP ‘1991’ (including the ubiquitous, and excellent, ‘212‘) remains a little to left of centre to really be popularly palatable. It’s almost as if Banks has realised the depressing state of the female rap world and decided that she doesn’t want any part in it. Instead, ‘Liquorice’ is Banks journeying out on a frolic of her own, being her super-sexualised, hyper-crude self with little concern for what anybody else – label, industry, peers or consumers – think. It fits with a pattern of behaviour that saw her leave XL Recordings (M.I.A, Adele, Radiohead) in 2010 due to conflicting artistic ideas. Having followed Ms Banks on Twitter for the past year or so, watching her interact with Lady Gaga, discuss fake nails, douchebags who won’t call her back and Paris Fashion Week all with equal zeal has evidenced that she’s not interested in fitting the ever stricter mold of what female rap success looks and sounds like. ‘Liquorice’ is alternatively sensual, aggressive, beseeching and rejecting, confident and vulnerable and, tinny synth line aside, majorly focused on Banks. If that’s all she can bring to the table – a focus on personality rather than gender – Azealia Banks, scoffing a hot dog or not, might be the most important thing in rap for a while.
Azealia Banks – Liquorice