Azealia Banks is halfway through her interview session at Hive HQ when she realizes that she’d never want any daughter of hers at the sort of sweaty dance parties she and A$AP Rocky attended as kids. Perched on a stool while wearing a glamorous frock and sparkly high heels, the Harlem-raised Banks is in the middle of recounting some unglamorous stories about growing up in New York City — and the yarns usually involve shady characters doing shady things in public.
Listening to her stories, you can see how the young rapper developed her fierce personality and razor tongue — she couldn’t survive in the city without them. So as Ms. Banks preps her Fantasea mixtape (due July 4) and puts the finishing touches on her debut album proper, Hive asked Banks for a nontraditional guide to living in the city, taking in Coney Island, and avoiding subway predators and dirty old men. We also asked Banks whether dirty young man Diplo really did discover her and who she’ll be working with on her much-anticipated LP.
You performed at the Mermaid Ball the other night. As a kid, what do you remember about going to Coney Island?
The beach was dirty! It’s really dirty, and the rides were wack! They were like all these kiddie rides. There was only one roller coaster and someone fell off. Remember when Coney Island just collapsed one summer?
Did you see the person fall off the roller coaster?
I didn’t, but it was all over the news. Someone fell off the Cyclone!
Why didn’t you like the rides at Coney Island?
I was expecting it to be more like Rye Playland. In Rye, New York, we have this place called Playland and they have better rides. Coney Island was like a carnival.
Did you ever ride the roller coaster at Coney Island yourself?
I don’t do roller coasters. I do fun rides [that go] up and down, like The [Twilight Zone] Tower of Terror in Disneyland, where they drop you. But all that extra shit? No.
On your song “212” you reference the A train subway line. What’s the most bizarre thing you’ve ever seen on the New York City subway?
Oh my God, you know that guy on the A train? The one that has the tear tattooed on his face and would be jerking himself off on the train? He’s on the A train — no, he’s on the C train, the C local. He’s nasty! The C train stops at 168th street, ’cause it’s the last stop on the uptown [line] and he’ll be there at like two, three, four o’clock knowing that P.S. 168 is right there and that’s when all the little girls get out. He’s nasty!
When I was 8th grade, I used to come from my hall — my school was on 131st street — and go up there to do my community service, help with the kindergarteners and cut their little apples and whatever just for two hours every Thursday. I would take the train two stops down, and he would be on. He’s nasty, yo. He thinks he’s mad slick: he would have like a paper bag, a hole in the paper bag and have his [genitals] in the paper bag, right, looking like he got a beer or some shit. He’ll be looking at you and then he’s got the beer still and you’re like, “He’s just looking at me because I’m cute, right?” And all of the sudden the bag is down and he got his [genitals] out and he’s staring at you and you’re like, “Oh my fuckin’ God!” Luckily that time it happened to me, the doors were still open so I ran down and got into another car.
If you had to pick one of your songs to soundtrack the C train guy’s hobby, what would it be?
[Laughs.] What would I pick? I don’t know. He needs a fuckin’ sedative and a fuckin’ straight jacket and a handcuffs and a sentence and a parole officer. That guy’s out of his mind.
A$AP Rocky also grew up in Harlem and claimed he tried to sign you to his label. Is that true?
No! That’s such a lie, and when he said that I was like, “Rocky, shut up, you were never trying to sign me!”
I don’t know, ’cause he’s in the interview just talking. Oh my God, Harlem, uh-oh! That’s what it is, that Harlem connection, like, [A$AP Rocky voice] “I know her.”
So you knew Rocky when you were growing up?
Of course, I know Rocky. I know all them kids. We all went to the same parties and the same events, everything.
What were those parties like?
[Laughs.] Real fun when I was younger, but now that I look back it’s like, you know, kinda dangerous. It would be parties at community centers where someone would rent out the community center and you’d pay $10 and dance. I would be in there, like 15-years-old and there would be grown men in there. Now that I think back, I would die if my 15-year-old daughter was at some community center with some 30-year-old-ass man lurking and dancing and rubbing his cellphone on her butt.
What advice would you give your 15-year-old daughter if she was in that situation?
I don’t know. Call the cops!
Along with the rumor that A$AP Rocky wanted to sign you, what other misconceptions have you heard about yourself?
There’s a lot of misconceptions! I don’t really pay attention to any of them … I guess that Diplo discovered me. I swear, Diplo’s running around telling people, “I discovered her!” Every magazine’s like, “Diplo produced her first track “Seventeen.” No he didn’t, I produced it. I just sent it to him. Everyone just thinks that Diplo found me, but he didn’t.
So what can people expect from the upcoming mixtape, Fantasea?
The mixtape is gonna be like a lot of rapping. More traditional hip hop. There’s gonna be a twist on it and some house stuff, but it’s gonna be hip-hop.
How will the album be different?
I don’t want to say because I don’t want anybody to copy me before I come out, but it’s going to be very good. It’s some hip hop, some house, some pop, but that’s it, I’m keeping it vague.
In a fantasy world, is there any other artist you’d love to collaborate with?
Nobody. It’s weird, ’cause I’m signed to Interscope and they’re like, “What about this person and what about this person?” But I have my guys I came up with like Machinedrum — the first tracks like “L8R,” he helped me record them — and he’s gonna help me do [the album]. And Paul Epworth, I forgot about Paul! That’s the only superstar name attached to the project.