her feature in the new york times, which outliines her photographic work with inez + vinoodh, as well as her being a style client of nicola's.
AZEALIA BANKS, a 20-year-old rapper from Harlem, has a filthy mouth. Very few lines, and not a single verse, of her hit song “212” can be reprinted in this newspaper.
The song’s stark black-and-white video, shot before a plain brick wall, has been viewed more than three million times on YouTube. It shows off a thumping reggae-spackled beat, her lyrical prowess and, perhaps most important, her unique fashion sense.
In the video, she’s in pigtails, denim cutoffs and a vintage Mickey Mouse sweater. And in the coming months, you can expect to see Ms. Banks and her anti-glamorous mix of Harlem swagger and downtown cool reinterpreted in numerous fashion magazines.
She has been photographed by the Dutch photo team Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin for V magazine, by Matt Irwin for GQ and by Nicola Formichetti for Elle. And in early January, Terry Richardson shot her for a spring fashion spread in T: The New York Times Style Magazine.
Fashion designers, in particular, seem to be drawn to her street-meets-chic look. Mr. Formichetti, of Mugler, played Ms. Banks’s unreleased track, “Bambi,” during his men’s wear show at Paris Fashion Week last month, and is directing the video for her next single “Licorice.” Ms. Banks even performed “212” at Karl Lagerfeld’s home in Paris last week at a party celebrating Karl, the designer’s new budget line.
No wonder some fashion bloggers are already calling her the next Nicki Minaj. But unlike Ms. Minaj, Ms. Banks still takes her cues from the street. On a recent afternoon, Ms. Banks arrived at a bustling Latin restaurant in Washington Heights wearing black spandex tights and a pink long-sleeve T-shirt, looking as if she had just left yoga (which she had). There was no Rolex on her wrist, no LV logo on her leather motorcycle jacket.
Despite her recent globe-trotting, Ms. Banks insists that she is still the girl from Harlem. “Life is the same,” she said, a sly smile forming between her churlish lips. “It would be the same thing if I were still working at Starbucks, having to deal with a manager, and a shift manager,” she said, along with customers that elicited language fitting of her lyrics. “This is a job.”
Ms. Banks grew up on 152nd Street, between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway. Her father died of pancreatic cancer when she was 2. Her mother, who worked as a sales clerk at an art supply store, and who Ms. Banks said could be physically and verbally abusive, devoted herself to putting Ms. Banks and her two sisters through school.
Performing was always a passion. She attended private and Catholic schools in Harlem, where she danced with the National Dance Institute, a nonprofit arts group. Once, she performed at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts, the so-called “Fame” school, which Ms. Minaj also attended.
The school changed her life, artistically and stylistically. She was no longer required to wear a school uniform. “That’s when I discovered Urban Outfitters, but it was so expensive,” she said. “So I would go to Forever 21 and the Spanish stores and I would put it together and make it look kind of hipster.”
To this day, Ms. Banks wears her neighborhood on her sleeve (and feet). “I wear a lot of clothes that’s going to get dirty and look cool once it gets dirty,” she said.
She took a similar approach to her rapping, which she began after failed attempts at acting. Friends were impressed by her short rhymes, so with money earned from working at Starbucks, she paid an acquaintance $30 an hour to lay down tracks in a bedroom recording studio. Her streetwise crassness and clever wordplay were evident in early tracks like “Gimme a Chance,” where she raps “Even white fellows wanna jump in the hot choco’lit/ Like marshmallows, get it?”
Her youthful exuberance turned heads. At a Nike basketball event in the East Village, Ms. Banks caught the eye of Vashtie Kola, the hip-hop tastemaker and video director. “She’s 17-year-old emcee, and she spits pure fiyah!” Ms. Kola wrote on her blog.
Early fans also included Dante Gonzales, who runs conceptual parties in New York and Los Angeles called Dante Fried Chicken, where he pairs food with up-and-coming artists. “We were all freaking out over her,” said Mr. Gonzales, who introduced her to producers like Machinedrum and Diplo. “She’s so versatile, and so hyper-intelligent, but a teenager from Harlem.”
In 2009, with her music career starting to bud, she dropped out of high school and signed a development deal with London-based XL records, but early tracks failed to take off. A year later, she was looking for new label when she met Mike DeFreitas, a manager from Montreal who had a small roster of up-and-coming beatmakers including Machinedrum.
Mr. DeFreitas oversaw a club-friendly mix of “212,” shepherded the video and cultivated radio play in London. The song, which could be heard on BBC 1 in the fall, was included on the NME 2011 Cool List and the Pitchfork “Top 10 Tracks of 2011.”
It had a celebrity following as well: in December, Gwyneth Paltrow tweeted that she was “obsessed” with the video. Soon after, Ms. Banks became one of five people whom Kanye West follows on Twitter.
The aggression in “212” is palpable, not just in the beat but also in the crass lyrics, in which she asserts her dominance over a male opponent. Ms. Banks considers herself bisexual, but, she said: “I’m not trying to be, like, the bisexual, lesbian rapper. I don’t live on other people’s terms.”
Now, her budding star power has landed her on a major label. Two weeks ago, she signed a deal with Universal Music and she plans to put out her first album this spring.
Ms. Banks takes it all in stride. “I’ve been out for three years,” she said. “I’ve been around.”
the insider: azealia banks
"Of course they're real! Everything on me is real!"
Are you obsessed with Azealia Banks? Duh. So when we spotted the up-and-coming rapper in the front row of this week's Mulberry show (where she sat next to her future duet partner, Lana Del Rey) we knew we had to interview you. Fortunately, so did Leigh Lezark, who introduced us after the Topshop Unique show. (Thanks LL!)
How's your first Fashion Week? It's great; I love London and all the kids with their style... There's so much energy here, it's exciting!
Karl Lagerfeld made you the face of his Net-a-Porter collection, and Nicola Formicetti used your track in his Thierry Mugler menswear show - the only other person he's used is Lady Gaga. How's the whole fashion muse thing going? It's a flatter, but I'm just trying to stay focused and get my album done, you know? I'm keeping my mind off of it.
That must be hard in the front row of a show! Yeah, well I'm not trying to withdraw, but I am trying to find that personal space again because I have an album to finish. All the praise from the fashion world is great but now everybody wants a piece and everybody wants an interview, but I need to step away and get my music done!
Tell us about your album. It's gonna be amazing!
Tell us something we don't know about your album! Aw, thank you. Okay, it's called Broke With Expensive Taste and it's coming out in September. The theme is a young girl trying to find it, you know?
Find what? Success! Herself! Her path! The young girl trying to make it! That girl who's at the end of her childhood trying to get a job and make some money, you know? She needs to get what she can get! She needs to go out there and show people she knows how to work for it.
What's the first designer thing you ever bought? I think the first piece of designer clothing I ever owned was a Louis Vuitton bag that my boyfriend bought for me when I was eighteen.
Good boyfriend! Yeah, right?! (Laughing.)
Last question for now - are your eyelashes real? Because they're hypnotizing. Yes my eyelashes are real! Of course they're real! I was born this way. Oh, and I use this mascara by BeneFit called "They're Real." And they are! Everything on me is real!
The young hip-hop phenom came out as bisexual today.
We've had a desperate, pathetic crush on Azealia Banks ever since her video for "212" (below) came out last fall. Since then, none other thanV, Elle, GQ, and T: The New York Times Style Magazine have pounced on the 20-year-old hip-hop artist's rare blend of talent, rambunctiousness, and personal style ("street-meets-chic," as The New York Times put it in their recent profile of her).
We're loving the way her seemingly innocent Mickey Mouse sweatshirt and pigtails clash with her aggressively suggestive lyrics. (Girl knows how to mix and match.)
One more thing that we love about her? She just casually came out as bisexual, no big deal.
“I’m not trying to be, like, the bisexual, lesbian rapper," she tells the Times. "I don’t live on other people’s terms.”