Azealia Banks might just be the long awaited solution, or revolution, concerning misogyny in rap. The opening line of her hit, “212,” “Hey, I can be the answer,” is perhaps her subtle recognition of her position at the helm of constructive feminism in hip-hop. For years women have been voicing their frustration with the portrayal of females in hip-hop, and rightly so. Hip-hop is a genre dominated by males, and women are consistently reduced to sexual objects in the lyrics, music videos, and even the business of the rap industry. (“I wish I could fuck every girl in the world”- Young Money).
Compared to her female contemporaries, Banks is an understated radical, whether she realizes it or not.
Banks foremost accomplishes feminist music naturally, through her individuality. Unlike other female rappers, including Nicki Minaj, the most prominent woman in rap today, Banks has yet to sell out her image to a popularly “appropriate” conception of a female star. Early Nicki Minaj freestyle tracks demonstrate a Banks-like talent for verse, yet once commercialized, Nicki’s image transformed to what critics call the “black Lady Gaga.” Her most recent works lack unity, and intersperse rap with songs whose lyrics she very obviously had no hand in writing. Once solely a rapper, Nicki Minaj has since migrated to electro-pop club hits with short, repetitive verses devoid of continuity. Even Nicki has publically admitted that she alters her image for commercial value. Her status as a feminist rapper has suffered greatly from the degradation of her lyrics and individualism. For example, the entirety of her second verse in “Starships” literally consists of:
“Jump in my hoopty hoopty hoop/I own that/And I ain’t paying my rent this month/I owe that/But f-ck who you want, and f-ck who you like/Dance our life, there’s no end in sight/Twinkle, twinkle, little star.”
The utter simplicity and superficiality of content in Nicki Minaj’s recent songs should practically disqualify her from being considered a female rapper. In fairness, Nicki does continuously release tracks with larger ties to rap’s roots. Yet, she often relies on a male alter ego, “Roman,” for her harder, street-centric songs. Under the veil of Roman, Nicki Minaj frees herself to talk about subjects much more typical of a male rapper—aggression, violence, bragging, etc.; subjects that Banks never shies away from.
Banks is thematically consistent and personally honest. From her freestyle to her mixtape, Fantasea, she’s been spitting the same fire since the beginning. Banks’ newest single, “Yung Rapunxel,” which is a slight departure from her previous work, demonstrates her ability to experiment musically without straying from her original style. The song is far from commercial; it is backed by a largely disharmonious beat—yet she stays true to herself with trademark blazing fast verses.
Banks never relies on the guise of a man’s persona to rap about things that are unfairly deemed “manly” hip-hop subjects. She is unabashed and fearless in her dealings with all topics sexual, violent, and monetary. Female hip-hop artists are normally reduced to singing about the same subjects as their male counterparts, only in a more seemingly polite manner. For example, it’s acceptable for Lil’ Wayne to rap, “Wide receiver Weezy/Throw da pussy at me/Ya pussy lips smiling/I make da pussy happy.”
Yet, comparing his sexual elusions to Rihanna’s, the self-proclaimed “baddest bitch,” in her song “Where Have You Been?” reveals how much tamer her lyrics are: “I’ve been everywhere, man/Looking for someone/Someone who can please me/Love me all night long.”
In Banks’ most commercial song to date, “212,” she eradicates the taboo of a female music icon talking about sex. She does so in an impressively vulgar manner, rapping:
“Kick it with your bitch who come from Parisian/She know where I get mine from, and the season/Now she wanna lick my plum in the evening/And fit that ton-tongue d-deep in/I guess that cunt getting eaten.”
Banks is openly bisexual, her lyrics are dirty, she’s offensive, and she’s unapologetic. She’s everything men don’t want women to be in rap; yet very importantly, she also maintains a sense of femininity.
In “Van Vogue,” a track off of her 212 EP, Banks brags about trendsetting in fashion: “Dolce crop top, my play close down/Those line wedges are way downtown/Best dressed up, better, you best dressed down/Oh, it’s me, fella, the banji gets out/All females fledge to bambi style.”
In her most recent video for the diss-track “No Problems,” she wears a form fitting, metallic jumpsuit to accentuate her womanly frame. Banks refuses to become manlier to fit in to rap culture, the way Missy Elliott, for instance, another homosexual female rapper, chooses to wear baggy jeans and puffy coats. Banks successfully walks the line of being feminine without subscribing to the male image of what a woman should be.
Banks’ uncompromising personality happens to make her rap’s chief feminist, and there are times when she shows she is acutely aware of being a woman in a man’s world. In these cases she again demonstrates little remorse by openly addressing issues via extremely direct Twitter rants.
In one example, Banks deplored women for using their bodies to make it in the industry. She tweeted, “These bitches giving up their pussy and have nothing to show for it!!!!! LMFAOOOOOOOOOOO.”
On a separate occasion, Banks furiously rebuked producer Diplo for precluding her from a remix due to her gender. She wrote, “@diplo just sent me an email saying the reason they won’t let my harlem shake remix fly is because they’d rather have juicy j on it,” adding, “@diplo you’re a real fucking snake. you owe M.I.A. everything you have,” giving credit to M.I.A., another respectable woman in rap.
In the midst of this “Harlem Shake “argument, Perez Hilton jumped in and sided with the song’s producer, Bauuer. Banks responded to Perez by calling him a “fag,” resulting in a major media backlash about her word choice. Again, Banks took it personally, stating gender differences as a source of the problem.
She tweeted, “Men in hip hop and beef say faggot and all kinds of other craziness but I get shunned for doing it,” concluding, “This situation a perfect example of how difficult it is to be a female who raps.”
In the same vein, her consistent employment of offensive words, especially those in regard to the female gender, has many women denouncing, rather than praising Banks. Yet, her prolific use of “pussy” and “cunt,” in actuality are adding to the strong feminist message of her rap, as backwards as that might sound.
The n-word once solely functioned as an extremely nasty racial slur, but has become a word of solidarity and friendship among black men and women. The evolution of the n-word has come so far as to be employed by Tyler, the Creator in reference to Asian people and Jesus. On an Instagram caption he wrote, “TBT: ME WIT DAT ASIAN NIGGA AND ICE ON MY NECK OF OF DAT NIGGA JESUS.”
Though the n-word is far from commonplace or universally appropriate, the original hurtful sting it once exclusively conveyed towards African-Americans has been softened in many contexts. Banks can offer a similar linguistic repurposing of “pussy” and “cunt.” By owning the words and driving the definitions away from uniquely female connotations, women like Banks begin to lessen the power of the words to demean solely women. If the words become less gender-specific, and more universally insulting, it will linguistically empower women by removing sexuality from offensive slang.
In the earlier quoted Lil’ Wayne lyric from his No Ceilings mixtape, the word “pussy” quite literally defines the woman. He creates gaps where pronouns or names should occur and fills them with the word pussy to evoke the presence of a woman, effectively reducing her to her pussy. When Banks uses the word “cunt” or “pussy,” she often directs the word towards men and women alike, with an entirely different meaning—that of a weak, or unlikeable person.
Despite my attempt to analyze Banks, she will always speak for herself. There is hardly anything one could definitively conclude about her, for no one knows what she will do or say next. Her disregard for expected behavior, her most concrete characteristic, distinguishes her as a pioneer in her field. The only certainty with Azealia Banks is uncertainty.