When “212” appears five tracks in on Broke with Expensive Taste, it’s almost surreal. Here’s the song that first brought attention to Azealia Banks, resulting in much acclaim, as well as anticipation for her debut album.
That was over three years ago. Now, after parting from Interscope Records, Banks has surprise-released the album Beyoncé style, and “212” is still featured.
Thank God for that, too. While the song is not new, it’s still a pleasure to hear it. Because, even with the lackluster mixtape, album delays, and Twitter feuds, “212” is there, the best single of the decade, still as miraculous as ever. Now you can focus on the rest of the album.
Since Banks was so hyped, the delays resulted in a bit of uncertainty as to whether or not her early successes were flukes, and if she was capable of delivering a satisfying album. She has already proven that she can make a great EP with 1991, but that was essentially “212” and three other similar sounding songs. Stretched out to an hour, that formula could easily get repetitive.
Broke with Expensive Taste is a big success, though, and its success is far removed from that of the EP. If 1991 expanded on the single’s sound, Broke with Expensive Taste distances itself from it. More than anything, the album is a mishmash of different genres, from the horn-driven U.K. garage of “Desperado” to the surf-pop of her Ariel Pink cover “Nude Beach a Go-Go.” Then there’s “Heavy Metal and Reflective” (lives up to its title), “Chasing Time” (what Random Access Memories should have been), and “Ice Princess” (trap done well). It’s as varied as an album can get, proving that Banks was underestimated not only by her haters, but by many of her fans as well.
Beyond the production, Banks also proves that she’s an exceptional rapper. Several of her verses—the ones on “Wallace” in particular—showcase her gift for wordplay, and the songs have as much thematic variety as musical variety. On “Ice Princess,” she’s gonna steal your man. On “Soda,” she’s self-medicating. She goes over the top, but never far enough that it feels less than genuine. Then, near the end, she goes in a more emotional direction than you would expect from her, and it works just as well.
But even though this shows her going in new directions and moving away from the sound she perfected early on, it still could have possibly been improved by including an extra song from 1991. Maybe the title track or “Liquorice.” Or hell, she could just release a deluxe edition with all the remaining songs from the EP added and wind up with a masterpiece.
Broke with Expensive Taste’s delayed release seemed like it had the potential to ruin Azealia Banks’ career. Instead, it’s given her more time to put together a nearly flawless tracklist that reveals her to be an ambitious and musically adventurous artist.
The obvious question was always: Once someone records a song like “212,” where do they go from there? Now, it’s apparent that the even more obvious answer is: They recorded “212”; they’ll figure it out.