English chaps and chicks saluted Azealia Banks after she took her talents overseas. Now she’s setting out to complete her manifest destiny
Words: Tracy Garraud
AZEALIA BANKS SHOWED UP FOR her big break a few years early. It’s 2008, and the Harlem-born rap rookie is dilly-dallying on the music video set for Juelz Santana’s ’hood carol “Jingle Bellz,” red peacoat beaming, knapsack bulging, lip gloss poppin’. She thumbs her Blackberry while awaiting an impromptu audition for her around-the-way heroes, only to be brushed off before uttering a single syllable. “I was prepared to spit for Dame Dash, but he kind of just went ‘Nah!’ and walked away. Womp,” recalls the now-20-year-old cocoa-toned rascal, choking with laughter. “Juelz looked at me like, ‘Whose little sister is here? Please get her the fuck out.’”
Today the petite eccentric phones from her North London flat, conjuring recent memories of the December date when Kanye West picked her brain over breakfast, lunch and dinner. Harlem block stars are in the rear view; these days the singing rapper is focused on performing at style god Karl Lagerfeld’s Paris estate and nailing a sold-out string of U.K. tour stops. The kindler behind Azealia’s across-the-pond fame and fortune is her irresistible breakout “212,” a grizzly, electro-hop number ironically named for her hometown area code. “American culture is mad programmed and excessive with that quantity-over-quality mentality bullshit,” explains Banks, whose provocative, brilliantly simple “212” video has racked up 14 million views, even earning Twitter approval from unlikely stan Gwenyth Paltrow. “In Europe, your art is looked at on merit and how you hold up your integrity. The people here are just deeper thinkers, ya know?” Banks is on an expedition to mum stupid hoe shenanigans and import a higher level of creative sonics for America’s team estrogen. That is, once she readjusts her British iPhone’s bloody autocorrect.