Album Review: Azealia Banks | 1991 EP

by Eliza C. Thompson

Every once in a while a record comes along that’s so good, you refuse to take a break from listening to it long enough to give anything else a chance. In this case, that record is a 4-song EP that has been “coming out soon” for approximately the past 5 months.

Let me assure you–it was absolutely worth the wait. 

Hyped as the savior of female MCs since last fall’s debut single “212 took everybody’s iPod by storm, Azealia Banks finally dropped her first official release, 1991 (out now on Polydor). Since I downloaded it Tuesday, I’ve only turned it off long enough to watch the Les Misérables trailer. As you can imagine, this is really interfering with my responsibilities as a music editor.

A ton of ink has been spilled about how Banks is the “next big thing,” but she hasn’t really done anything in the months since the “212” explosion besides start virtual beef with Kreayshawn and tweet her questionable opinions about the n-word. Keep in mind, she’s only 21, so we should probably cut her some slack. 

Album 1991 makes it clear that underneath the childish internet outbursts, there lies an extremely talented rapper who’s only just getting her foot in the door. “212” makes a requisite appearance on the EP and while it’s as awe-inducing as ever, the new tracks are the real standouts.

Opener “1991” (the year Banks was born–do you feel old yet?) shows off her incredible flow and rhyming skills. The lyrics are so dense it’s nearly impossible to parse them out after just one listen. When she makes standard swag-tastic boasts like, “1-9-9-1 my time has come/Oh na na Ma, your time is done,” you never think for a second that she doesn’t have the chops to back up that statement. It’s hard not to think of the glory days of Missy Elliott when you hear it. 

Banks takes a similarly aggressive tack in Van Vogue, spitting lines like, “If she ain’t know the bitch know now.” Who’s she talking about? Nicki Minaj? Kreayshawn? Iggy Azalea? Whoever it is, they should probably step up their game. 

The EP’s final track “Liquorice,” which made an appearance last winter, finds Banks switching effortlessly from filthy, fearless rhyme maven to crooning sweetheart in the span of three short minutes. Parents beware: 15-year-old girls all over are stealing this CD from the local record store as you’re reading this–or at least downloading it illegally–and blasting it while you’re not home. 

Having seen Banks at Coachella, I can also verify that she’s capable of effectively demolishing the “hip-hop doesn’t sound good live” critique that’s so often leveled at rappers. Her performance was one of the festival’s greatest, among the company of older music moguls like Radiohead, Wild Flag, and the Black Keys. Plus she was selling this t-shirt, which turned out to be the lone souvenir I brought home from the desert. I’ll probably never wear it outside my house, but I’ll definitely feel like a badass rocking it while I wash the dishes. 

Check out Banks’ new track “Jumanji” below (which for some inexplicable reason didn’t make the cut for 1991) and look for her recently retitled mixtape Fantasea this summer and her debut full-length this fall! 

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