“Can my hot fudge bitches get with your vanilla friends?”
That’s the sort of conundrum that’s a burning topic in Azealia Banks’s world. A 20-year-old Harlem native, Banks — the “pumpernickel sis” of the above equation — has created a poppy niche where her raps sit happily over dance beats; her music is rooted in hip-hop but meshes up influences like mushing together her ice-cream friends. It’s a formula that’s prepped to turn her into this year’s break-out star when she drops her debut mixtape Fantasea in July. For now, 1991 seems more like a quick gift to her fans than anything to reveal her formula for cracking the mainstream.
At four tracks long, most of the 1991 EP has been knocking around the Internet in various forms for a while now. That includes “212,” the song that clocked up something like a gajillion YouTube views and has Banks dropping a potty-mouthed rap that includes perhaps the most ever uses of the c-word by someone wearing a chunky-knit Mickey Mouse sweater and dinky shorts in its video. The rest of the songs on the EP, “Van Vogue,” “1991,” and the “hot fudge bitches”-referencing “Liquorice,” are cut from the same template as “212”: The production is unabashedly dance-based, all four-to-the-four kicks and swathes of chunky synth lines, while on top of that Banks raps with the sort of lilt that suggests she’s reciting lyrics for a soda-pop commercial. It’s peppy, poppy and more than a little fizzy, even when she’s talking about guns and claiming “I’m a hoodlum, n*gga.” (The Machinedrum-produced “Van Vogue” also includes a pitch-altered a cappella rant tacked on to the end of it that mocks a foe for drinking white wine; at the time of writing it is unknown whether Banks’s long-running nemesis Lil’ Kim likes to enjoy a crisp Zinfandel at the end of her day.)
Banks pulls off this style of dance-helmed hip-hop well. But having leaked “Jumanji,” the first song from Fantastic, earlier this month, 1991 sounds like a collection of songs she just so happened to find lying around on a dormant iPod somewhere and decided to release as a stopgap measure. “Jumanji” is as joyous and poppy as anything on 1991, but its production draws from wider sources; it suggests Banks has the ability to craft the sort of songs that so successfully shunted M.I.A. into the pop world. And the potential that “Jumanji” hints at leaves 1991 as a somewhat deflated listen, despite its outwardly upbeat vibe. Put on constant repeat, the EP sounds like a fun little summer’s dance party for Azealia Banks fanatics — but you suspect it’s songs like “Jumanji” that will finally see her storming to the top, many-colored and multi-cultural influences in tow.
1991 is today via Interscope. Stream it below via Spotify: