Promising rappers derailed by hubris, homophobia, cat-fight nonsense, and Perez Hilton
Angel Haze vs. Azealia Banks began last Thursday when Banks tweeted, "Seriously, if you were not born and raised in NY.... DON'T CLAIM NY. YOU ARE NOT A NEW YORKER." Haze, who is not from New York, but recorded a breakout song over a sample of Gil Scott-Heron called "New York," responded with, "And you don't want this fade off Twitter. So knock it off. Before you get shanked through your iridescent bubble jacket @AZEALIABANKS," which is kind of funny.
Banks tweeted back, "Did Angel Haze just threaten to cut me because of a very general tweet I sent about non-New Yorker claiming NY?," and then another tweet that just declared, “SHEEEESH!” It does seem like Haze's assumption that the tweet was about her was strange, especially given that "New York" is more than six months old. "Charcoal skinned bitch. But I'm a chill. I'm out," Haze added, to which Banks said, "And now another young black woman is on twitter making fun of my skin color?" Haze later deleted that tweet and apologized for it, which is pretty respectable in the midst of a beef on the verge of going nuclear. It was a smart way of taking an "L," and actually coming out on top, as a result.
The two went back and forth, with some vague hints about an IRL flirtation, and more and more insults. Then, Haze released the song "On the Edge," the cover art a close-up of Banks' face and some private texts between the two layered over top of it. Like a lot of Haze's work, it was expertly delivered and yet performative to a fault. More about "feeling" than feeling. A line like, “Bitch put an album out / I think my album's more done than yours, I just started a week ago," though, is Jay-Z-like in its clunky cleverness. Straight "Takeover"-level bravado right there. Banks responded with “No Problems.” Produced by Machinedrum, it was, well, another hot-sounding, fast-rapping dance track in which Banks tells you she's better than everyone else. The only difference being that this time, her target is explicit, which actually lessens the blow a little bit. Haze then released "Shut the Fuck Up," which is a good example of how ingenuity doesn't last very long in rap beef these days.
Another slight problem with this beef. Though it has yielded some good music, it has not done the thing that beefs are supposed to do. Namely, elevate each artist to do their best work. What you get here is both women, skilled and clever and on fairly sick runs, basically coasting; and as a result, they expose their limits. Banks awesomely talks lots of one-note mess over a knotty dance beat; Haze hard spits J. Cole-type sincerity raw and uncooked. If only it had stayed there, with rap nerds nit-picking about whether or not it was just a platonically decent conflagration.
Then, at some point, Perez Hilton got involved, taking Haze's side, which led Banks, who is bisexual, to call the gossip blogger, among other things, "a messy faggot." From there, call-out culture took control of the controversy and it stopped being a beef between two rappers but a living, breathing thinkpiece about homophobic language, in which everyone from Banks on down, looked foolish. Hilton infamously called the Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am a “fag” and has made a career out of cruelly mocking celebrities; but now he's the aggrieved target of hate speech.
GLAAD spoke out against Banks' use of the word, and Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters (who have collaborated with Banks) compared Banks' insult to gay icon Donna Summer's alleged anti-gay remarks. This was less a dialogue than a preachy pile-on. There is a frustrating opportunism to GLAAD weighing in on "viral" controversies quite frequently (post-VMAs, taking buzz rapper Tyler, the Creator to task, but not every other homophobic MC, for example). And I direct readers to "Appropriation Without Context," a piece over at Splice Today about Scissors Sisters' “Let's Have a Kiki,” and the complete lack of people of color in the video. “I mean, how can you do a music video about serving, working, and letting them have it,” author Madison Moore asked, “and not show some fierce bitch from the blatino gay scene!"
It isn't that Scissor Sisters' boneheaded oversight is the same as calling a gay man "faggot," but that this cultural sensitivity one-upmanship, mixed with throwing people under the bus, is a no-win situation, making everyone involved look pretty ridiculous. Though, mostly, it's Azealia Banks who comes off worst here. Despite being baited into a beef by Haze, Banks more than went for it on some John Rambo "They drew first blood, not me"-type shit, mixing tough-talk with loaded homophobic language and then, attempting to explain it away in the language of the streets, or middle school (which is kind of the same thing, in a lot of ways): "A faggot is not a homosexual male. A faggot is any male who acts like a female. There's a BIG difference," she tweeted.
Then again, this thing began on Twitter, so perhaps it deserved to devolve into a sub-beef with an obnoxious gossip blogger? But for a moment there, rap fans were staring down an exciting beef that was leading to some fun, engaging songs. So, maybe we should just put a moratorium on diss tracks? If an expertly-matched beef like the one between Angel Haze and Azealia Banks can't rise above aggro-tweeting, blog coverage, GLAAD commenting, and a piece of human garbage like Perez Hilton wandering into the middle of it, then there may be little hope for intensely serious battles between MCs to ever work again. Not to mention that all of this recalls a female-rap dilemma that's been with us from the get-go: Too much so-called “catfighting,” which allows people (like male fans and rappers) to chuckle and condescend and not take either artist seriously.