From her clearly unabashed attacks on everyone from Sarah Palin to Iggy Azalea it is readily apparent that Azealia Banks has a lot on her mind and either a knack for remaining in the headlines by social media cat calls or a true ability to leap into verbal trouble before she knows what she said.
It is most likely that she is hot tempered but firmly grasps the ideas she spouts and the effect they may have. This idea of an artist in control of her message yet willing to throw caution to the wind is clearly defined in the sudden and lackluster release of the mixtape Slay-Z. Purportedly a reference and tribute to Jay-Z it seems difficult to really put the two together. Beyond this supposed concept of possible tribute the mixtape is aggressive and mundane. An anything you can do I can do entry that is a career bookmark, but sure to be merely an interlude for this talented artist. Is this the ultimate challenge to the industry around her? A kind of musical taunt by a clever and adept songstress? Or is this merely a search for the right genre. I will give you the ultimate clues that tell us whether Banks is just shooting in any direction or if there is a deeper meaning behind Slay-Z.
To start with Riot is definitively new pop. It has repetitive syllables and feels like a Miley Cyrus or Katy Perry cover. One wants to ask, why shouldn’t she be this pop? Except maybe for being so in your face about how she is above the common elements of the average Minaj or Iggy this is nearly a direct pandering to the common listener and effectively a destruction of that individual identity. It seems out of place from the person who has pointed the finger of appropriation at other pop artists in general. It’s loops and hits move to the resonance of overdone stadium concert club rave quantizations. I think we should rightfully expect more from her because she is more than capable of superseding the common elements including the kids song style overdubs of choral reverberated voices. It is written with almost every element needed to make it a perfect representation of pop anthems that have glutted the airwaves for the past decade. Is this an epic fail? Not really. It is an epic entrance that showcases the fact that Azealia can be just as pop star as Katy Perry but still sends the message that she is here to create conflict and not afraid to lead the charge- maybe fueled a little bit by some Appleton.
Skylar Diggins- The hard edge of this next track is more refreshing but is still caught up in itself. The mix is almost too invasive to focus on the actual quality of her rhymes which are pretty rich yet seem to promote an almost over the top thuggish gangster rap. Which doesn’t seem to fit the millennial and socially aware rapper of the future. But it seems the message is hidden in the end if you really pay attention- can you hear what she is really saying though? How money is controlling the violence? Or is that all just lost in the thick invasive mix that streams behind her and distracts with some excessive clicks. Skylar Diggins is after all a modern day sports heroine and is this the parallel that she is drawing? That you have to hustle and be that good at it? She is on the attack and powerful. Referencing Jean Grey and then seeming to put everyone on notice that she is just as strong and in rare form like Skylar.
Big Talk insists that we digitize into a deeper mix with house elements and a more than just feature intro by Rick Ross. In fact he runs the entire beginning of the song. Which tells us a lot about the power that Azealia has as an artist. She can hold her own and give him plenty of air before she comes in to match. It’s almost too short to get its point across and feels more like a teaser trailer for a movie. It’s got enough packed into it, though, that you get the feeling it is like the diamonds and big talk it mentions; over the top and concentrated. Is there actually something between them or is it just big talk? She seems to say there isn’t and it’s just about making music. However she doesn’t shy away from being provocative and that is the message. She is gonna be big and talk big. Lest we forget as Ross mentions she has been on Playboy.
Can’t do it like me? I don’t believe I’ve heard a more reminiscent of Missy track in my life than this fourth track “Can’t do it like me” which makes the title ironic. Consequently it makes me feel as though it is missing the drop and pop that many of Missy’s tracks cultivate in their mix and spit. However what it isn’t missing is the empowerment of the woman over the sexuality of a man. The song not only puts other women on notice but really says that if you can do it like her then men would burn a lot of money just to have the privilege of pleasing you. So yeah maybe she’s not Missy, but who really is?! She is Azealia Banks and her own style drives through.
Used to being alone; what the do we need? We need more true Azealia Banks and she delivers in an entirely retro scream anthem that is deliciously over the top. It’s too short to be a 90’s dance anthem but it definitely would’ve been at home amidst the neon, goth and animal prints. It deserves to be counted in this bracket of music. Although a lot of those anthems are hard to match in singing power. The songstresses of that era were so epic you didn’t care what they looked like because the sound was a belt away from greatness. Which is really what this mixtape is. A small touch away from being new and refreshing. Or is that the candy coating on a hard driven message against anyone who dares to say Azealia isn’t a force to be reckoned with?
This song is probably a statement against Iggy Azalea and here is why. The track is a full playback with overdubs of Astromania by Tony Igy. This song is familiar to you maybe not only as itself, but primarily as the main thematic sample element in Iggy’s My World. Not only that; the vocal line that Azealia belts out is full throttle and probably, she hopes, beyond anything Iggy could accomplish on a mic. The subject matter is more poignant and less poser. The track is more classic and less borrowed. Her melodic line soars above the track as though it belongs there as the final version of this song- groove up and away!
More than any track this sends and solidifies what I believe this mixtape is all about. It is the clearest representation of Ms. Banks’ direct attack on whatever she takes aim at. Here it seems she is aiming directly at what she believes is inauthentic artistry. What better way than to take the full track behind the sample and write a glorious melody over it. This doesn’t make Iggy irrelevant though rather it just continues a battle that we thought was behind us.
The Big Big Beat is finally a profound reinvention of her sounds. It is a refreshing release from being stuck in a club playing everything on the top 40. It is old school cool and absolutely worth the wait. But why have to wait? This is the directive and direction of her momentum as an artist. We clearly need more of the big big beat instead of the big big mess before it, but the mess is just the montage of thoughts that are rattling around in this opinionated artists mind. Let’s be clear I’m not speaking for her I’m merely trying to interpret what I think she is saying with what she is musically presenting. And here she seems to be pulling the message all together. She came from the gutter and isn’t above it she is merely willing to rise up and speak her mind. She is the big bad witch with the Big Big Beat. As though she still has to put people on notice!
Pick a card- The Queen of Clubs- From this stronger basis of hip hop we steer directly into a pop-DJ anthem that might be more at home in a Britney Spears concert if it weren’t for the lusciousness that is often present in her vocals. There is a strong push to her voice that rides over an almost ridiculously antiquated been there done that club anthem sound that releases into juxtaposed sustained guitar arpeggios. This song may be maliciously predictable for the purposes of sarcasm. That is the hope because if not it uses every nuance of club anthems that has almost existed from a call for hands up to the rising tones preceding the ubiquitous explosions that no dance anthem would be complete without. However as we have already established she seems to be taking aim at individuals she feels the need to criticize and in general an industry at large that she seems to feel slighted by. She claims more authenticity and does seem to speak her mind with an ease that many wish they had only if doing so could keep us out of trouble.
Along the coast is a dream hop and skip forward with a breezy surfer guitar phased into it that gives the impression of the beach, maybe sun and sand. It is a gentle dare I say pastoral ending; a flowing evocation of what it is like to get hot on the beach and seems closer to sex on the beach than the drink. It is sparse but full figured just as its messenger.
I can’t be totally enthusiastic. I think that’s what critics try to do- temper their enthusiasm with critical listening and well— a temperament of dislike. However this isn’t a hit after hit journey. It’s a little disappointing merely because she seems to be very good at standing away from the common pop rocks crackle. However it feels like here she gave into being a part of the rabble she criticized. The more I delve in and try to appreciate and understand the mixtape the more I feel it does show that she can and could easily be what they are. Yet there are several tracks that show she could easily be beyond the scope of their limited possibilities.
The question is what kind of dish or dessert does this mix make? Maybe we are a few ingredients short of the finished product. This could be the point. This is a buffet of possibilities and now whatever we show we like will be what Azealia banks on.
Listen to Azealia Banks‘ Slay Z here: