Release Date: July 11, 2012
“Welcome to the After-Future,” is how the poet Mike Ladd aptly summed up the deflationary aughts of this century. A moment in history when the choices for bold, visionary expression in popular media were reduced to Team Al Qaeda or Team Abu Ghraib, Osama Bin-Laden or Bush-Cheney. Fortunately, we all live in the Afro-Future now — a time when a two-term Black President with an African name that isn’t “Fela” looms, and super-WASP wacktresses employ conversational French to chortle about niggas in Paris.
Praise Jah, the Afro-Future also seems hellbent on expectorating a race of Black Barbarellas: Sirius Space Vixens and warp-driven Black chicks who spit, think, and morph faster than George Clinton or Eminem, and lust after haute couture and non-stop public adoration like R. Kelly once pined for his jeep. Michelle Obama, Janelle Monáe, Serena Williams, and Nicki Minaj have staked out major turf in Afro-Futurism’s elite Olympian Valkyrie circle; in less than a year, take-no-prisoners Azealia Banks has propelled herself within mere parsecs of membership in this super-fly soul-sistren-only version of the Hunger Games. A razor-sharp hip-hop-soul reanimator in her own right, Banks is surely no less Out There.
Even so, the Question has been lingering: Since Michelle runs Earth, Monáe romps and stomps in her own android-insurgent Futuropolis, Serena smacks Wimbledon to Compton with racket-teleportation every time, and Minaj controls the vast intellectual properties of her inner Sybil, what could this New Jill named Banks do to rocket her ship over the moon?
On her spontaneously combustive and utterly boisterous 17-track mixtape Fantasea, the coolheaded Banks supplies the hyperkinetic answer, plunging her slice of the Afro-Futuristic pie like a dagger into a motor-booty affair, a place where you’ll dance under extreme pressure and struggle in vain not to get wet-up or spat upon three times fast — especially when she catches potty-mouthed wreck and lets ”the pussy-game speak.” The water-sports division of Miss Banks’ Afro-Future Amusements not only features bubbly, animated, purple-lipped mermaid avatars, but themes to do Sun Ra and Detroit techno’s Drexciya proud: See “Atlantis,” “Neptune,” “Fantasea,” ”Out of Space,” and “Aquababe.”
Never fear: This doesn’t mean Banks is any less feral, ferocious, or fun than the more landlocked inner-city rap starlet who had yawl at hello with last year’s YouTube smash ”212.” It just means that she’s invented her own way of stepping to this pop era’s most daunting gladiator-level women’s event: The Lady Gaga Challenge. In essence, this your-moxie-or-your-life contest demands a grrrl dress up her most surreal sci-fi visions in hypersexual trimmings — and then strangulate the opposition. The main thing a naughty cyber-glitch like Banks must do is constantly bleep and bop slack phrases. These come at meteoric tempos designed to keep fools guessing as to whether she’s a drum and bass-infected devil woman; or Devo; or a freaky-geeky, speed-rapping succubus who graduated from Manhattan’s Performing Arts High School and loves Sondheim.
”Put your hand on your dick / Take a gander at this,” she commands on “CHIPS,” before her inner Willy Wonka takes over: ”My weave long / And my pussy good / I lift it up / I took it slow/ That chocolate body / That Tootsie Roll / That flirty Hershey / Lord have mercy / Do it to me, don’t hurt me, hurt me.” Reciprocity is no laughing matter in Banks’ lyrical boudoir, though: ”I’m countin’ back till he lick the crack / If he actin’ up then he gettin’ slapped / If I pop the trunk, then he didn’t clap / I’ll pop your rump and I’ll split ya back.”
For all the Afro-Futurism Banks has got going on with Fantasea, she hasn’t exactly turned into Sun Ra in a skirt, at least as far as basic subject matter goes (though we love the spacey jazz noodling that closes out a couple tracks). She still loves saltily assaulting various straw girls — ”These public-pool bitches ain’t fit to be mermaids” — and on tracks like “Funk Up the Fun,” she demonstrates the various ways her rhetorical twat-knowlogy can out-swim and out-femme them. Someone once asked actress Kate “Underworld” Beckinsale to name her favorite body part; her answer was ”my vagina.” We don’t know if Banks would concur, but she certainly loves being a riot of a grrrl — the rudest kinda gyaal, in fact, the type who takes supreme lyrical pleasure in treating sex talk like her personal Kama Sutra.
She also has a work ethic second to none — an official album allegedly called Broke With Expensive Taste is on its way ASAP, but Fantasea already makes her sounds mega-industrious. There’s damn near a different dope producer on every track, and all are fluent in that most ingeniously hybridized Goth-house-dubstep-drum and bass-dancehall zeitgeist that now defines cutting-edge raw riddim’n’noise. Soul-damaged types appreciate that Banks’ musical-theater training has bequeathed her a rich, velvety, melodious singing voice capable of organically hitting notes found on the piano and rocking sold-out shows without pitch-correction. Fans of femme-MC legends like Lyte, Lil Kim, and Foxy Brown already show Banks much luv-luv; her unabashed blueswoman raunch and tart rum-and-Godiva vocal timbre hot-flashes them back to ’90s hardcore.
Not to mention her warp-factor-nine elocution — how effortlessly Banks rains snappy rhyme-combinations on heads like Sugar Ray Leonard once bongo-drummed on furthermuckers’ noggins: ”Hey, feel better than X’ing blow/ Get high from a line, turn text to notes / Get these niggas gassed up like Texaco…Had magic glow, young dynamo.” She also proves on ”Nathan,” her collab with Styles P, that even the boys club’s most frank-and-beans rappers don’t intimidate her spit a whit. Your reporter is also enough of an old-skool race man to confess his favoritism for sweet, grown, sassy, and limber brown girls from Uptown Harlem U.S.A. who got the Bouncing Betty skills to blast to smithereens this charge-of-the-light-bright-brigade moment in race music and American pop kulcha.