This wasn’t supposed to happen. The first commercial release from Azealia Banks was supposed to be a piece of commercial schlock, a Titanic-level disaster. It was supposed to allow us talk about whether her hype was “deserved,” and the case of the Discerning Rap Blognoscenti vs. Banks, Azealia. It was supposed to allow for a discussion about how we are all the worst for letting Banks’ frequent, and frequently dumb, Twitter outbursts paint how we see her. It was supposed to provide an opportunity to for us to talk about how indie rock sites are weirdly building up Banks with effusive blog posts about her “technical” and “complex” and “different” rhymes like she’s some second coming of Talib Kweli in a Mickey Mouse Sweater. Which is to say that the rap blog game has been waiting for Banks’ first album, just so there could be a reckoning and an appropriate appraisal.
Instead, what we have is 1991, a four-song EP I’d call a stopgap if that wasn’t an insult to stops and gaps. This thing is the definition of slight, a way for Banks and her handlers to push out some product to remind you of her continued existence, and to make time for her to work on her debut full-length (due out this fall) and debut mixtape (due out later this summer). The major thing 1991 has going for it is probably that slightness, though: Unlike, say, Lana Del Rey’sBorn to Die, you don’t have to sift through 10 tracks of Recycle Bin Pop to get to the monster singles that got you in the door in the first place.
So “212” is on 1991, and the EP begins and ends with that. Ignore any retconning that’s gone on since Banks started performing for douchey fashion types: It’s still one of the most future-forward tracks of the last 12 months, a whirlwind of mean girl taunts, ass-shaking beats, sloppy, magnetic verses and inside references. Careers have been launched on much less than “212” (see Kreayshawn), not to mention that it still sounds unique and perfect nine months after it was released.
But Banks learned all the wrong lessons from “212” in the interim: She’s gone full euro-dance-hip-pop on the rest of 1991—and on the mixtape tracks that have leaked– in a way you could see coming the moment she started talking publicly about Nicki Minaj. 1991 sounds engineered to make the Karl Lagerfelds of the world gush, right down to the Vogue dance beats (on a song called “Van Vogue”) and the nonsensical verses that exist solely to give you a breather in between when your hands should be in the air. If the end goal is to soundtrack Fashion Week, 1991 is a resounding success.
The thing that will keep me at least looking side-eyed skeptically at Banks isn’t even “212” though. It’s a two-minute diatribe at the end of “Van Vogue” where Banks, through a pitch modulator that makes her sound like an interior lineman for the Giants, goes off about girls from her old neighborhood going to NYU on Pell Grant money, studying “some shit about political science” and then acting like they don’t know her when she wants to smoke weed with them. It’s a totally weird, totally personal rant in the middle of a largely impersonal EP. Can you imagine Nicki taking a break in the middle of her label-supported album to do this? What would happen if Banks makes an entire album about hating a certain type of upwardly mobile early-20-something from New York (aka the anti-Girls)? It’ll never happen—no label would let that fly—but a personal, bug-eyed, misguided rant-filled album from Banks would be more interesting on every level than 1991.