Monday, November 21st, 2011

Azealia Banks – 212



Katherine St Asaph: This is awesome. I don’t hate music anymore.

Edward Okulicz: “212” finds Azealia bursting onto the scene with a seemingly fully-formed persona and charisma to burn. She’s playful, sassy and has a dirty mind to match her mouth. And best of all, her sound and sound-bites alike would be the envy of many a more established pop star — Missy Elliott dreams of a comeback single as good as this, and Cher Lloyd should be taking notes. Take out the punchlines and you’d still have a thumping, sleazy electro glide. Keep the punchlines in and this is one hell of a warning shot.

Zach Lyon: New favorite song to blast out of my car. New favorite song that I had no idea I was waiting for. Just wow.

Hazel Robinson: Quite pleased to see some of what I’d identify as U.K. urban sounds feeding back to the U.S., extremely pleased by the fact this is excellent. It’s a little rough — the multiple parts don’t gel the way they do in, say, “Neva Soft,” and Azealia doesn’t quite have the aggression for the hard bit at the end, but there’s enough on showcase here to more than make up for its (very small) shortcomings. The beat straddles New York hipster electro without any of the other parts sacrificing themselves, she sounds amazing on both the rapid-fire rapping at the start and the taunting, cocky singing halfway through, after which it goes into a build of shouting and unvain aggression that puts it way up the “astonishing” list.

Erick Bieritz: Four distinct voices in the course of three-plus minutes, mining bits and pieces of an entire decade of vocal rhythm music. Obviously Nicki, but what else, Missy through a house lens and Björk by way of E-40? Intentionally or incidentally, it stakes out the territory that Santigold never quite claimed because she always kept one foot safely in indie rock. It’s the most original use of the vocal instrument this year, and probably of the past three or four years.

Brad Shoup: Banks employs Nicki Minaj’s polyglot approach but bends her voices toward violence,sexual and otherwise. It’s totally arresting and more than a little vile. Her flow is osmium-dense, filtered through impressions of British rappers and frat boys. Sonically, this is little more than a mixtape take on “Float My Boat,” but when the pings morph into klaxon roars at the end, I get why it was chosen: needling turns into pure menace.

Alfred Soto: When the dust settles, what’s left standing is a one-woman community, a town crier who do the police in different voices, a masterpiece of mimicry and appropriation, L’Trimm, Neneh Cherry, Lil’ Kim passing a dutchie. I’m well aware that this is the sort of track designed to make hetero guys go boom, but Azealia Banks hasn’t noticed; she has the flow and concentration to amuse herself, and ultimately her triumph consists of telling a string of five or six private, smutty jokes while dancing by herself in front of the bathroom mirror.

Michelle Myers: In her second and third verses, Banks crafts much of her lyrics out of the “oo” and “uhh” vowel sounds found in native Manhattan’s realest area code. What ensues is a relentless stream of assonance: “kool-aid dude,” “blue bayou,” “doo-rag too, son,” “the new one too, huh,” “you know you were too once.” And like any good drama student, she puts those vowels to work, stretching them, pulling on them, playing in them. Of course, it’s all a build up to that delightfully nasty “imma ruin you, cunt” punchline, which Banks delivers as if it were already Impact text on an image macro. Banks’ lyrical skill wouldn’t matter much if she weren’t also positively oozing with personality. Luckily, she spits with the kind of mirthful insolence that I imagine music-crit bros hear in Tyler, the Creator. Except she’s way better at rapping.

Anthony Easton: I keep having this conversation with a friend of mine about hip hop. She is white, and I am white, and neither of us is American — so talking about hip hop is dangerous — but she wonders if hip hop culture has turned its back on Lil’ Kim or Trina or Foxy Brown: women who use their sexuality as a political and social gambit in the same way as Bikini Kill or Liz Phair (although, you know, Kathleen Hanna’s nostalgia tour is a little better funded than Foxy’s.) I don’t think my friend is wrong, but I listen to this, and it’s tight, it’s hot, it has that air siren aggressiveness, and it calls a cunt a cunt. I don’t want to talk before my space, but this might be another way of approaching that gap that Nicki Minaj never quite fills. 

Jonathan Bogart: She deserves better than to be championed by critics as a moral rebuke to Odd Future or Kreayshawn, especially when those rebukes carry overtones of East Coast snobbery and white people deciding who’s properly black. She also deserves better than to be championed by critics as an aesthetic rebuke to Nicki Minaj or M.I.A., especially when those rebukes carry overtones of anti-chart rockism and dudes deciding who’s properly feminist. But mainly, she deserves better than to be the subject of yet another Women Rapping (Too) profile, only to be forgotten by the time the next XX-chromosomed rap hype comes along. In the relatively brief space of this single song, she’s created not just a persona and a point of view — standard tools for any would-be musician, pop or indie or hip-hop or whatever — but a fully-formed aesthetic, dirty without sleaze, aggressive without sociopathy, gleeful without dumbness. There’s a reason the video focuses so much on her mouth whether rapping, stretching, or smiling: it’s both uncomfortably intimate and unvarnishedly truthful. There’s no escape. She’s here.

71 Responses to “Azealia Banks – 212”

  1. BOOM.

  2. I adore the white-as-Tobey-Maguire lad in the video.

  3. Points to Alfred for the Neneh Cherry allusion. This doesn’t provoke quite the level of gobsmacking, “What the hell is that?!!” excitement “Buffalo Stance” did the first time I heard it pumping from a radio in 1989, but it’s close.

  4. Points also to Alfred for the T.S. Eliot allusion.

    I probably would have been one of the 8s, but I can fully support the score here. Best video of the year, too.

  5. Points also to Alfred for the Loud Family allusion.


  6. I was this close to bumping my score down to an 8, but then I listened to it again and nope, it’s a 9.

  7. What??

  8. This sounds like Soulwax’s “NY Excuse,” only with extra swearing. I mean, “I’mma ruin you, cunt” is an awesome lyric, but still… what?

  9. Damn, this is GREAT

  10. You should’ve blurbed it!

  11. I dunno, Jonathan, this seems perfectly catered to the collective TSJ taste-cloud. Also, it is amazing.

  12. Conceptually, sure, but in execution? I mean, I like it OK — [6] or [7] if I’d blurbed it — and I expected it to score high, but I’m still surprised at the overwhelming and consistent approval. The rapping is so flat and featureless; I wouldn’t have thought to compare her to Nicki, who is alive and elastic in all the ways Banks isn’t.

    Not hating, just baffled.

  13. Well, I think “A$$” is pretty great, too, so maybe I’m coming to this from slightly different angle. I’d compare this song specifically to the “Combo Pizza Hut Taco Bell” remix before I’d make the Nicki comparison. But I would say that you can be “alive” in many more ways than being elastic — I like the effort that goes into her costume-changes on this, though.

  14. To paraphrase Lex re Cher Lloyd, I’d say that she sounds hungry on it, which isn’t the same thing as saying she can necessarily handle everything that’s thrown at her (though for what it’s worth, I think she can).

  15. Sigh. Suggested this for TSJ, and was too busy all-nighting a paper to review it. Probably would have given it another [9] or [10], though. Well done everyone.

  16. Featureless? FEATURELESS? That is a complaint that just doesn’t make sense to me. I love pretty much all of the tones of voice here; did at first listen, and still feel like I’m hearing new things every time.

  17. Also, this functions best when played as loud as possible in a grimy queer bar with a packed dance floor as magnificent lesbian DJs triumphantly shout “cunt” over and over again. The bit that starts around 2:17 could stand to be a bit more aggressive but otherwise, this is a perfect.

    N.B.: Also, Alfred, the white-as-Tobey-Maguire lad is Jacques Greene (, responsible for the best song on the Night Slugs best-of, and “Another Girl” (the best flip of Ciara’s Deuces Remix that isn’t by Nguzunguzu). I think the other dude in the video might be Lunice, who produced her next single, Runnin’. So, if nothing else, Azealia knows how to pick her collaborators.

  18. Kind of disappointed to see this take the lead, although obviously I do think it’s great.

  19. Michelle’s blurb = my thoughts.

    This song is great, love the “cock-licking in the water by the blue bayou” line – as I said on Tumblr, it’s the way it veers between its distinct constituent sections that makes it.

    Please do Reema Major next!

  20. The gif + the italicsare so perfect.

  21. What’s marvelous about my listening experience is how I haven’t even begun to listen to lyrics yet.

  22. Yeah, I couldn’t make much out besides the cunt-gettin-eaten repeats. Apparently that latter verse is amazing though!

  23. Great suggestion, Alex. Still not a fan of the sung part, except as a sudden springboard for the shouting.

  24. I love the sung part because it feels like a strange alternate universe soundtrack to a spaghetti western.

  25. Out of curiosity, was this not a thing in everyone’s circles? I feel like this has been all over the Internet since September and all over the real world since early October. I have no sense of what gets coverage where/how/who/etc. and held off on suggesting it because I was worried that à la Kreayshawn’s ‘Gucci Gucci’, we’d missed its moment.

  26. Hadn’t heard anything about it, but I’m also completely out of touch.

  27. nobody i know IRL has heard this song and I only started seeing it online in late October. and my friends are relatively hip.

  28. y’all did right

  29. Alex, this one was wholly new to me as of two days ago. Had seen fleeting mention of her on Pitchfork, but I’ve long since stopped following every thread they leave dangling on that site.

  30. My queer bars do karaoke.

  31. My queer bars also do karaoke! On Sundays! (Also on Sundays: brunch and affordable lesbian haircuts!)

  32. I have done karaoke in a lovely little lesbian bar in my area. I got booed last time though.

  33. New goal: figure out the lyrics for 212 in time for the next monthly Hip-Hop Karaoke.

  34. Confession: never been to a lesbian bar.

  35. This one was new to me, but it’s hard enough keeping up with the scenes I *actively* follow, let alone follow via Tumblr-dashboard / Google Reader osmosis.

  36. it showed up on tumblr towards the beginning of the month but i didn’t pay it any attention, just assumed it was a novelty.

  37. Pitchfork best-new-tracked this back in October (, so it was a pleasant surprise watching this blow up on tumblr today.

  38. I first became aware of this song… today. But hell, I haven’t even had time to do blurbs for the Jukebox recently, so that’s not shocking.

    Brad: You know what we’re doing next time I’m in Austin, right?



  40. Also, I smiled when reading the phrase “back in October”.

  41. a hipster queer bar here does theme karoke, including a stevie nicks night. (also a lesbian hiphop night)

  42. sigh at having to “make out” the lyrics. We are on the internet in 2011 and look!

    I’ve had this in itunes since June, when she put it on her soundcloud. Not that it immediately sparked with me, it actually takes a few listens to get your head round all the assonance. September is when I think the video dropped, I was away for a lot of that month but even I kept seeing people keep tweeting about it. It hasn’t crossed over to any charts afaik.

  43. This will probably never be a hit in Latinamerica and I’m saddened by it.

  44. I cannot stop staring at that gif. It looks like she is saying “SHAFT mush-um-mush-um-mush SHAFT mush-um-mush-um-mush

  45. I didn’t hear this song until you all reviewed it. Thank you Singles Jukebox, and I wish I was at Alex’s party

  46. I do prefer Fannypack’s “718” (and “Smack It Up”). Which is no knock on this song.

  47. Did one of us cite TSJ on Wikipedia?

  48. It wasn’t me, but someone needs to turn that red link into a real Singles Jukebox Wikipedia page.

  49. Wikipedia’s “citations” of music writing mean absolutely nothing. You can’t blame them — the scramble by everyone for outside sourcing (one of Wikipedia’s cardinal rules) means that people just grab whatever link is convenient. But still.

  50. But still!

  51. I don’t think it’s technically accurate if you include Jukebox 1.0. But yeah, I was gonna say the same thing J.Bradley did.

  52. I believe someone also used TSJ as a citation when describing the genre of “Love You Like a Love Song.” We are a vital source of distinctions.


  54. lolwut

  55. “Keane, on September 15th, 2009 at 5:03 am Said:

    Azalea Banks is terrible and I am convinced that the people (Neon Gold) who have been pushing her on the listening public as assiduously as they have been are doing it as some sort of sick practical joke.

    (NB: this would also explain Ellie Goulding, who despite recording a nice cover of “Sleepyhead” and the decent-ish “Starry Eyed” also seems like a nasty little hipster prank)”

    apparently there was a jukebox argument re: azealia TWO years ago here?

  56. If you find me a sample size’s worth of hipsters who like Ellie Goulding, I will publicly say something good about Kreayshawn.

  57. She got a v. good reception at SXSW, and the crowd was only, like, 60% Odd Future fanbois.

  58. Haha, that’s so awesome. I love how Lex was right.

  59. SHAKING MY HEAD SO MUCH AT THIS!/AZEALIABANKS/status/150458720462176257

  60. It all depends on what the word “ridiculous” means. HOLDING ONTO HOPE.

  61. My sister came home from Liverpool for Christmas and the first thing she asked me was whether I heard of this person named Jessie J who she really liked, especially “Do It Like a Dude.” I tried to replace her with Katy B but to no avail.


    I mean, if “ridiculously talented” just means “hitting the right notes,” then Azealia is right!! Or maybe “ridiculously talented” means “inspiring life-ending rage,” some filmmakers have spent their whole lives aspiring to that!


  63. Maybe she means ridiculously talented at writing Miley Cyrus songs?? I mean, I hate Jessie J too, but “Party In The USA” guys. PARTY IN THE USA

    That and, musicians, even the good ones, usually have terrible taste in music.

  64. Just discovered this site (love it!) and I’m glad others are as excited about this song as I am.

    Part of me really wants to believe that Azealia’s tweet re: Jessie J is ironic. Because seriously, that acoustic of ‘Price Tag’ makes my skin crawl.


  66. yeah yall put good reeeviews up for this. i saw vid and it kindof went in one ear and out the other…thought her mouth was cute, nada mas. but been cooped up at a laptop this last month, it crept back big time. 4 flows/moodswings in one track? she keeps it fun and bouncy as shit . she might as well be shouting the chorus with a megaphone from on top of a newsbox! theres a lot to decipher in them lyrics too, not your usuall fluffy hipster too cool bs. visually, the vid is sick…the blacks and whites+ the mouse. dayum. lot to read into if you felt like it. i keep expecting a razor to pop out her mouth. shes real sweet and flirty but got a little hood to her. i love the lip curl too. 10 in my book. not sure how she tops this shit

  67. Freaky Trigger Readers’ Poll #1

    Also, at the Freaky Trigger Awards Gala, some of us from the Singles Jukebox were caught by fancam displaying our various reactions to the high showing (4th place) of “I Am The Best.” I’m the guy on the left, in the white jacket.

  68. Apparently every single Jukebox writer contributed to the FT poll…

  69. I front on the biography thing, but this would have pushed it close to a [10], no doubt.

  70. Hooray, surprise homophobia.

  71. Hooray Ghostbusters-style cosmology, more like!