I am always amazed at some of the statements people make in public. Sometimes very derogatory, and based on race, religious beliefs and sexual orientation, people are prone to say things that offend others. Now that social media has become the preferred mode of communication, it seems like more folks have found the courage to say anything they feel, regardless the pain their statements may cause others. For those of you reading outside the US, you may or may not be familiar with the laws that govern this country. The United States Constitution guarantees certain rights to all citizens, and the first amendment grants citizens the right of free speech. Many test that right daily by voicing opinions that the majority of inhabitants may find distasteful. Nevertheless, they always seem to find a number of likeminded individuals. At the top of the list has to be those within the entertainment industry. Fame provides a major platform for singers and actors to voice opinions, both popular and unpopular, and move many people to respond and possibly take action. The past months we have watched and listened as this week’s featured artist has really exercised her right of free speech. Yes, this week I chose to feature Azealia Banks.
The young rapper, singer, songwriter has created quite a stir with her music, as well as some questionable public statements. Of course, Banks is not the first, or only one today utilizing her freedom of speech and expression, both on stage and off. Nonetheless, I would like to examine if her opinions and expressions of art have affected her potential fan base.
Azealia Amanda Banks was born on May 31, 1991 in Manhattan. Her mother raised her and two older sisters in Harlem, after their father died of pancreatic cancer when she was two years old. At a young age Banks became interested in musical theater, dancing, acting and singing. Aged ten, she began performing in off-Broadway musicals with the Tada! Youth Theater in Lower Manhattan. She had lead roles in three productions (Rabbit Sense, Sleepover, and Heroes) in addition to performing as a soloist. Banks attended Catholic school in Harlem in her childhood, and danced with the National Dance Institute. As a teenager she trained in the performing arts at the LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan. At the age of sixteen, Banks starred in a production of the comedy-noir musical City of Angels. Banks began writing rap and R&B songs as a creative outlet. She never finished high school, instead choosing to follow her dream of becoming a recording artist. After signing a development deal with XL Records in late 2008, Azealia soon left the label due to conflicting ideas. Following her departure from XL Records, Banks experienced a tough time just trying to make ends meet until later 2011. Then Banks released her debut single “212” as a free digital download from her website, which was subsequently released officially on December 6, 2011, as the lead single from her EP 1991.
Azealia Banks’ path toward success has not come without several bumps in the road. Banks surprise-released her debut studio album, Broke with Expensive Taste on to iTunes, on November 7, 2014, while the album got its physical release last month on March 3, 2015. Banks started working on the album despite not having signed to a record label. She signed a contract deal with Interscope and Polydor Records to work on the album. However, Banks felt dissatisfied with the labels’ representatives and consequently, she ended the contract with the labels in July 2014 and signed to Prospect Park.
AllMusic characterizes Banks as “a stylish vocalist who combines hardcore hip-hop, indie pop, and dance music.” Meanwhile, The Guardian ’s John Robinson considered Banks’ style “an appealing blend of Missy Elliott and dance-pop.” In regards to her musical style, Banks has frequently been noted for the use of profanity in many of her songs. Because of her propensity for use of foul language, there have been some music critics who have been extremely critical of her music. However, there have been quite a few critics who deemed Broke with Expensive Taste one of the best albums released this year. Why the broad difference of opinions? Maybe there are some who do not appreciate Azealia Banks’ use of her freedom of expression. Others may not agree with her personal ideas. She has spoken publicly on topics like gay rights, and African-American civil rights. Such topics are already divisive, but Banks has stated her personal opinions using very “colorful” language. Those who disagree do so at times by dismissing her and her music simultaneously. Should Azealia Banks be dismissed as an artist based upon her personal opinions? That is a personal decision for each individual.
Azealia Banks has said she admires American recording artists Beyoncé and Aaliyah stating the former “[is] the queen of everything. She’s the most remarkable performer and musician. And this is just my humble opinion, but I just think she’s better than everyone else making music right now.” However, she has been very public with her dislike of Australian rapper Iggy Azalea. I guess even Azealia Banks is free to dislike other artists. Will Banks continue to gain fans or will potential fans choose not to listen to any of her music? I cannot say for sure. It is just one of the complications that arises with exercising one’s freedom of speech and expression.