On Nov. 6, Azealia Banks' highly anticipated, and extremely delayed, debut album, Broke With Expensive Taste, came out of nowhere. But it wasn't a BEYONCÉ-style drop—after countless delays, label drama, and false starts, the album finally emerged from a nearly three-year hold. Over the years, the focus on Azealia was more about her Twitter commentary than her music, but what often gets ignored is how solid her sound is, and that's exactly what fans heard on Broke With Expensive Taste.
I met up with Azealia the week of its release at her manager's sprawling apartment in the East Village to talk about the project. Years ago, as an intern, I botched a transcription and referred to her album as Broke But Expenses Paid...and, rightfully so, she corrected Complex on Twitter. Over the next few years, countless posts were made about her Twitter rants and, truthfully, some pretty unfair critiques. There have been defenses written as well, but we had a very honest conversation about how she views Complex, and male-driven urban media as a whole. But there were fun parts too. We chatted about an upcoming Fantasea release (and mermaids), A&Ring her own album, and how hip-hop doesn't really talk about shit right now.
What have the last three years been like for you leading up to the release?
They’ve been really hectic. I've been doing a lot of traveling. I’ve been here, there, here, there. I’ve been more places in the last three years than I’ve been my entire life.
People kept saying you did a "Beyoncé release," but it wasn’t a Beyoncé release. You were working on this for so long, and now a lot of reviews say, “It’s surprisingly great.”
The music has always been great. [Laughs.]
Did it feel like an "I told you so"?
It’s good to do that, but nobody wants to hear me do that. I’m obviously a very strong woman. It’s not to say that I’m at all trying to seem weak to make people like me or anything like that. I’m not going to say, “I told you so,” because you know so, and I know you know so. So we’re just going to leave it at that, and I’m going to go on and do my other things. One thing I can say, I distinctly remember what publications stuck by me and which ones shitted on me. Complex was definitely one of the ones that shitted on me.
In what way?
Just lots of ways, a lot of the times those things would happen...
I feel like you guys at Complex, it’s more like it’s a boys club kind of thing. I get shitted on by Complex a lot, like a lot. Yeah, in terms of headlines and in terms of when I put stuff out, the comments have always been shady. You guys have all of these little small bloggers there that tweet really disgusting things. I almost feel like Complex is part of that group of urban media stuff that I just you know….
It’s an interesting dynamic because it's a men's hip-hop magazine.
Yeah. I feel like Complex Magazine has done a really good job in exaggerating a lot of things that are happening in the media, and Complex has played a really great hand in putting the sour taste for Azealia Banks in the public’s mouth.
In terms of like writing a news post if you came at someone on Twitter?
Yeah. The writing and everything. Complex Magazine has played a huge role in a lot of the problems that I’ve had over the past three years. It’s such a huge publication, and when people go to search for Azealia Banks, Complex articles are some of the first to come up, and those are the first articles people are reading about Azealia. Instead of listening to my music or anything like that. There will be a publication like Pitchfork—they will cover the news, but it’s not sensationalized.
Is it the tone?
Complex Magazine has greatly sensationalized the villainist Azealia Banks thing.
How do we flip the narrative now?
Give me a cover.
That’s something to talk about with the next album. I get what you’re saying. It’s media in 2014, and some of that involves the whole "click bait" debate.
It’s all kind of like this violent media shock shit. Like forget Azealia Banks and her Twitter beef. Even the fact like a video of some guy beating up his girlfriend’s ass can go viral. You know? It’s the times we live in, and it’s hard.
When you were interviewed at Complex years ago, you said, “I want this shit to sound like New York.” You hear it with “Desperado”—it’s a melting pot of sounds. What are your thoughts on bringing New York sounds back? Your album does it not unintentionally, but it's there.
I don’t know. I think the same thing and feel like there are some rappers who are really New York. There’s some new guy named Manolo Rose. You don’t know Manolo Rose. [Sings] “It’s all about the fucking money.” He’s from Brooklyn. He's like my little brother.
I know you love Styles P and Homeboy Sandman, too.
Manolo Rose, I like Styles P, I still fuck with Cam and all that stuff.
With you both being from Harlem, have you linked up yet?
With Cam? No, I haven’t. Once I had beef with Jim Jones, I was like, "Let me leave Dipset alone."
But they all don’t even really affiliate themselves with each other that much anymore.
I know, and I love Cam’ron, and I love Juelz, but I was like let me just leave it alone.
Do you think that you were getting the same support from New York artists? Even now, do you think someone like Cam would’ve been like “Yeah, it is New York"?
No, because I got a lot of love from guys like Q-Tip and guys like Busta…those real New York guys. It’s kind of like, I don’t know.
This topic of bringing New York back, you have people talking about Troy Ave and A$AP Rocky…
—It’s really just these rap editors that are making this shit up and sensationalizing it and making this whole fucking conversation bigger than it is.
What topics in rap do you think are over-sensationalized? Maybe a lot of people also really don’t know what anyone is talking about in the industry.
That’s because I feel like hip-hop isn’t really talking about anything right now.
I feel like hip-hop isn’t really talking about anything right now.
Not really. Like not really that I know of. On the mainstream, OK, Kanye, he’ll do “Black Skinhead.” That’s talking about something. I’m not even saying that I’m talking about shit. I’m not talking about shit in my music. I’m bring more styles of music, ideas, and themes to you. In terms of that whole hip-hop with a message, no one is really bringing a message right now.
No one is conscious?
Or conscious in just bringing a message. I’m consciously trying to bring you new things and new feelings and trying to move you in that way.
Well, speaking of Kanye, years ago, you guys did some work together. What happened to it?
[Shrugs] At an earlier point in my artistry, the idea of working with someone like Kanye West, Beyonce, or Lady Gaga was very glamorous to me. It was such a glamorous idea, but once I started to delve deeper into my music it was like, “OK, this is really what it’s about.” It’s about being the best you can be and not linking up with everybody else.
Who was the first person you played the album for front to back?
The first person to actually sit and listen to the album was [my manager] Jeff Kwatinetz. This guy right here, this is the first person I actually played it for and was paying attention to what was happening. I played it for lots of people. He got it right away.
What was there to get that other people weren’t getting?
I felt like everyone I was playing it for was listening to it in a very opportunistic way. Like, "How am I going to make money off of this? What is the single?" Rather than like, “OK, just listen to the fucking music.” Like forget about me, forget about Azealia Banks, listen to "Idle Delilah," "Give Me a Chance," or "Miss Camaraderie" and see what you think about this. Can you sell this album? I didn’t ask if you can fucking sell me. Can you sell this music?
You're not supposed to do anything with it. Put it in a fucking display case. If somebody wants to buy it, they will buy it. I need you to stock the shelves. Can you stock the fucking shelves, please? Just stock the fucking shelves. Just put it out, and if people want it, they’ll take it.
What did you do the day it came out?
I didn’t do anything because I wasn’t really prepared. In the three days before it, I was thinking that something else would fucking go wrong and this album is going to take another two weeks.... That’s why I didn’t announce it. I wasn’t trying to release it like, “Surprise.” I wanted to announce it and be like, “It’s coming, get ready.” But I was like, I’m not going to play myself this time. It’s been too many times. When we release the physical, we’ll do something to celebrate.
When is the physical coming?
January. The physical release will have other songs on it. Probably like three or four.
I want to hear about A&R-ing the album on your own.
Any time you saw me on Twitter, it was because I was just on my computer looking for songs, looking for shit to jack. I everything surf: SoundCloud surf, YouTube surf, everything.
What’s the weirdest shit you’ve come across, that you ended up using?
Probably the beat for “Idle Delilah.” I found it on iTunes. I’ll go on iTunes and I’ll buy a track. Random shit. So I’ll just check out podcasts and BBC. I just try to make sure that I stay up on what they're listening to on the stations and what they're doing on the blogs. Even to a certain extent, the people that I follow on Twitter, they tweet about what they are listening to.
Do you think your fans are listening to the songwriting especially with this album?
Oh, of course, especially the Cunt Brigade, they listen to me. What I try to do with a lot of my lyrics is try to make it literary nonsense. Sort of like some Mother Goose.
Like "Wallace,” for instance.
That song is about being really hot and high and horny. Like have you ever been on drugs and been really fucking horny?
Like Molly high and horny? Or weed high and horny?
Just like any hot and high and horny, and it just sounds like what estrogen sounds like at those levels. But this guy “Wallace”...I wrote this fable loosely based on my album, like a year I spent in purgatory. I have these fables and characters, and Wallace is one of them.
Where’s the fable?
In my iCloud.
You should release it.
I want to....
If you illustrate it?
How’d you know?! What’s your sign?
Aw, I’m a Gemini. That means you’re really sensitive.
I’m really sensitive, but I’m a bitch. But I am secretly really sensitive and fucked up all the time.
No, but Cancers are bitches. I have a friend named Melody, she’s so fly.
It’s a front.
I get why you’re like, “Fuck everyone.” I’d be like, “Fuck you too.” But she’s always crying, and I’m like, “Bitch.”
That’s what happens to me all the time.
I’m like, “What happened?! Are you tough or what? Are we riding or nah?”
When we want to be tough, we can be. My mom’s a Gemini though.
Yeah, I love Geminis. Geminis are good, right?
I don’t wanna amp you up, but I read some shit that the smartest people are Geminis. Kanye’s a Gemini. I’m border because my birthday’s June 27th.
[Laughs.] You’re not on the cusp. The cusp is June 22nd.
Anyway, you’re going to do the physical release, but what's next?
The next project is going to be another Fantasea project.
And your fans really want that.
Hell yeah, and I really want that. That’s how I spend my summer, dressing up like a mermaid. I switch my hair color and everything becomes about mermaids for the summer. I’ve done it for the past three years of my life. I’m not about to change it now.
Finally, are you still broke with expensive taste?
I’ll always be broke with expensive taste. When I first started working on Broke With Expensive Taste, it really meant like I was broke with expensive taste.
I remember reading about you growing up, sneaking on the train, getting dollar slices, really just being a normal NYC kid.
Yeah! I really wanted to be so much more. I wanted like purses and shoes, and I wanted to have my own apartment. As time went on the meaning changed into something more along lines like, there's always more to learn, there’s always more to be. You’re always broke striving for more. It’s like a life motto for me now, rather than like a joke. Like, oh you’ve got champagne taste with a beer budget, it's not that. It’s kind of humbling in the sense that…not to say you’ll never see God, but you know what I mean. It makes you happy with your day-to-day existence. It makes me feel really content when I say “broke with expensive taste.” Rather than wanting, you’re happy with what you have. Of course you want to know more. I’m making it more of knowledge and wisdom thing than a material thing.
No matter how much you know there will always be more to know.
Lauren Nostro is the news editor for Complex Music. Follow her on Twitter @LAURENcynthia.