Azealia Banks – ‘Broke With Expensive Taste’

The '212' rapper's much-delayed debut finally surfaces

In the end, the surprise isn’t the snap release of ‘Broke With Expensive Taste’, more the fact that Azealia Banks has put her debut album out via official channels at all. Maybe there’s respect and joint purpose uniting the 23-year-old and new label/management company Prospect Park – certainly much more than there was between the rapper and her old label Universal – or maybe she saw what happened when occasional nemesis Angel Haze leaked her own album at the end of last year and decided she wanted none of that. No one wants their wrist slapped, least of all Azealia Banks.

And the New Yorker has taken some scolding in the two years since this album was supposed to appear. Mainly from her old bosses, who seemed unsure what they should do with her and weren’t about to appease her frustrations, but also in endless social media beefs with Haze, Dominique Young Unique, even Lily Allen. Inevitably, when the odd track (‘Yung Rapunxel’, ‘ATM Jam’) did manage to wriggle out, scandal has overshadowed it.

But ‘Broke…’ is the motherlode, Banks’ own ‘Chinese Democracy’. It’s laced with familiarity – you don’t omit a thrilling, feral beast like ‘212’, even if it is three years old. There’s room too for the 2012 ‘Fantasea’ mixtape’s garage-house throb ‘Luxury’, along with isolated singles like the tough but panicked ‘Young Rapunxel’ and Lil Internet-produced brain-blending industrial clanger ‘Heavy Metal And Reflective’ (“the loveliest thing I’ve ever heard,” declares Banks at the end – which is a bit of a stretch). But there’s no problem with that. If Banks has been sitting on this for so long, she’s not going to tear it up at the first opportunity to set it free.

The important thing is, the tried-and-tested and the “new” mix fairly well, ‘212’ slotting handsomely into a blistering opening 25 minutes that shifts from the booty bhangra grooves of ‘Idle Delilah’ to the horns and Pantha Du Prince synths of ‘Gimme A Chance’, barely finding time to gasp. Banks rarely bothers with a breather anyway, fiddling with vowel sounds and spitting rhymes at a pace to challenge Missy Elliott. A flabby middle section is redeemed by the deep-house synths of single ‘Chasing Time’ (“I try to give you a little more space to grow,” Banks says, possibly to herself) and by the time she’s cooing over the bizarre surf-pop of ‘Nude Beach A-Go-Go’ (a version of a track on Ariel Pink’s forthcoming ‘Pom Pom’ album that Banks worked on with the LA oddball) she’s properly hit her stride. Here at last, ‘Broke With Expensive Taste’ is a cascading flood of madcap imagination. Was it worth the wait? Just about.

Matthew Horton