Azealia Banks’ VIBE Cover Story

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We spent the whole day together, but the best part was dinner. We’re eating out the same plates with chopsticks, and he’s freestyling for me. I was like, “Oh shit, this is real!” You know how you smile so much your face hurts? And you just feel so busted like… [screeches].

Ha, I do. Did you freestyle for him?
No! I was so nervous like, “Oh my God, I don’t want to say anything wack.” Like, I start rapping and he looks at me like, “Nah, bitch, chill, this is my show.”

[Laughs] I doubt that’d happen. Do you place a lot of pressure on yourself when it’s just you, the pen and the pad?
It depends. If it’s something really important where I’m asking someone to pay money, yeah. When you officially release something it has to be as good as it can be. And sometimes you have to move on or you’ll really drive yourself crazy, especially because you get self-conscious and think people won’t like something and talk shit. But I wanted my album to be really detailed, so I was ready to spend three weeks just on one song, like fuck it.

What are you doing during those three weeks?
Mapping out phonetically what I want [my flow] to sound like—shouting out syllables and consonants—then I’ll flirt with a few concepts. Once I pick a concept, I can finally finish the song. If you’re trying to build something that stands out, you have to create your own template. It takes patience and brainpower, and a lot of analyzing. But once I get it rhythmically and musically together I can do anything I want.

What do you find yourself analyzing the most?
Making sure I constantly try different things. Knowing the right time to put in repetition, stuff like that. Like on “212,” I’ll go on a vowel sound over and over because I feel like that’s what makes shit stick.

Ironically, the New York rappers earning the most success now are the ones who get criticized for abandoning their “roots.” How do you feel about that?
All of these New York niggas trying to rap on this “real New York” shit—none of these niggas going anywhere. The only nigga from New York who got on was [A$AP Rocky], doing some South shit. The only bitch who got on since Nicki Minaj was doing some Euro shit. Fuck y’all. New York is full of mad haters.

This seems to be the sentiment older, more elitist hip-hop heads share.
What the old heads don’t understand is that my generation grew up on AOL, so we had access to all of this shit. How the fuck you think I know about all these indie bands and every single music scene in the world? It’s called the Internet.

So you’re not weary of wavering between pop and hip-hop after seeing the side eyes Nicki received?
Not at all. The hip-hop world is used to a certain lifestyle that Nicki Minaj and me are trying to escape from. It’s weird because they like you when they can still see you, but once you try to ascend, it’s like, “What. The. Fuck?” Because they can’t reach you anymore, and they’re not rising with you. They miss that comfort and it takes a while to get used to it, but eventually they’ll understand. That’s the power of art. Art pushes culture and forward thinking. Right now, if you listen to Nicki, she’s really making good pop music and is definitely up there with Gaga and Katy—exactly where she wants to be. But the hip-hop world maybe didn’t know that’s where she wanted to be [laughs].

Tell me about the folks who get you—how would you describe your fans?
I think my true, hard-core fans are people who enjoy being bad. People who enjoy drinking and smoking, but wanna get it together and just don’t know how. When you really listen to my music you hear a girl who’s going through the motions. She’s experiencing men, having money, not having money, people who are trying to tell her she’s not cute, people telling her she can’t rap, she can’t dance… She’s really dealing with life. I’m not some little light-skinned bitch out here. It’s a young Black girl doing this for herself, by herself. Y’all can’t keep trying to pin me up against the wall. Hip-hop has to help me not let this slip through my hands.