Why We Can’t Tune Out Azealia Banks
In the past few weeks, the most outspoken rapper in the game has put Miley, Nicki, Trump, and Diplo on blast. But these days, her lack of filter is necessary.
Azealia Banks is necessary. And Azealia Banks is frustrating.
The 24-year-old Harlem native has become notorious for going off on fellow celebs via Twitter. In the last four years, she’s thrown jabs at T.I. and his wife, and Iggy Azalea, Perez Hilton, Lil Kim, Nicki Minaj, Angel Haze, Lorde, Donald Trump, and others—a seemingly endless stream of pop culture figures reside in Banks’s rogues’ gallery. This week, Banks decided to offer her two cents to the ongoing feud between Minaj and Miley Cyrus.
“Miley Cyrus HAS to know her shit is whack as fuck,” Banks tweeted. “It has to be a joke... Isn’t she making fun of herself? Yes? No?”“All of y’all bitches are whack and make boring music and rip all ur styles off the downtown NYC girls,” she continued. “It’s so funny to wake up and see nicki and Miley or nicki and taylor fighting when you ALL make basic ass music. It’s a ki !!!”
“ITS A CONTEST OF THE BASICS,” she added. “BASIC BASIC BASIC.”
Banks later claimed that her feisty tweets came from her having had a “lit” dinner party the night before and she woke up “feeling herself” and apparently decided to kick up some dust on social media. Which is pretty standard for her and totally her prerogative. But what’s so frustrating about Azealia Banks is how the very thing that makes her perspective as an outspoken black female artist is also what makes her frustrating as a personality. She can be bratty and petulant for no discernable reason and she seems to think that being brash is a badge of honor.
This past spring, she said during an interview with Playboy magazine that she isn’t interested in being a black celebrity that makes white America comfortable.
“A lot of times when you’re a black woman and you’re proud, that’s why people don’t like you,” she said. “In American society, the game is to be a nonthreatening black person. That’s why you have Pharrell or Kendrick Lamar saying, ‘How can we expect people to respect us if we don’t respect ourselves?’ He’s playing that nonthreatening black man shit, and that gets all the white soccer moms going, ‘We love him.’ Even Kanye West plays a little bit of that game—‘Please accept me, white world.’ Jay Z hasn’t played any of those games, and that’s what I like.”
“I hate everything about this country,” she revealed later in the piece. “Like, I hate fat white Americans. All the people who are crunched into the middle of America, the real fat and meat of America, are these racist conservative white people who live on their farms. Those little teenage girls who work at Kmart and have a racist grandma—that’s really America.”
It’s troubling that the rapper paints in such broad strokes and that she doesn’t seem to care who her words affect (she tweeted to Vice editor Mitchell Sutherland “your father did not push you out of his dick” after she was asked about using transphobic language on Twitter.) Her homophobic and transphobic language is unacceptable, which is a major part of what makes her such a frustrating personality. She refuses to sharpen her focus a bit and take aim at specific obstacles, instead opting to often spray into the ground with the vitriol of an angry teenager.
Whether anyone wants to face it or not, it is a pivotal time to be a millennial celebrity. Contrary to the early 2000s, a period when we truly embraced pop stars with nothing to say and didn’t demand anything else from them, the political climate as we head into the final stretch of the Obama presidency permeates virtually every facet of popular culture. New sitcoms like The Carmichael Show are addressing issues like police brutality and transphobia; artists like Lamar and D’Angelo are releasing more topical music; and the VMAs are being scrutinized by their own audience because people have a heightened awareness. There isn’t much space for an apolitical pop star in 2015. Being black is, in and of itself, a political stance, of sorts. Your blackness forces you to look at the world and the racism that exists in it. “Not seeing race” is a fallacy, but even as such, it’s a luxury that a black person can’t really afford. And a dark-skinned black female rapper has to be aware of what odds are stacked against her in a music industry that would prefer an Iggy Azalea. Banks doesn’t have an established male co-signer, either. There is no T.I. or Lil Wayne helping to make her a household name.
Banks is messy. There can be no debate about that. She’s said some bigoted, ignorant things and she should be criticized for that. But she also represents a generation of black girls who have had to watch Serena Williams garner fewer endorsements than Anna Kournikova and Maria Sharapova throughout her career despite being the greatest female athlete of all time. She represents a generation of black girls who have had to watch as black actresses like Nia Long, Sanaa Lathan, and Gabrielle Union become household names in the black community while being close to ignored by mainstream Hollywood. Those girls who have been told that they are too dark or their hair is too “nappy” to ever be considered beautiful. She’s had to watch as she, Haze, Rapsody, Tiffany Foxx, and others were leapfrogged by a blonde Australian mimicking black girl-speak. She’s had to watch a former Disney starlet become the “Face of Twerking” as if black girls hadn’t been shaking their butts since… forever.
“I feel like in this country, whenever it comes to our things, like black issues or black politics or black music or whatever, there’s always this undercurrent of kinda like a ‘fuck you,’” she told Hot 97 back in December. “There’s always a ‘fuck y’all niggas. Y’all don’t really own shit. Y’all don't have shit.”
“When they give these Grammys out, all it says to white kids is: Oh yeah, you’re great, you’re amazing, you can do whatever you put your mind to,” she added. “And it says to black kids: you don’t have shit. You don’t own shit, not even the shit you created for yourself, and it makes me upset.”
Azealia Banks is wrong about a lot. But she’s not wrong to be angry. She’s not wrong to be hurt. She’s not wrong to be determined to assert herself into a pop culture conversation that all too often pretends she and those like her don’t exist or matter.