A mix of electro, R&B, rap and EDM that features Rick Ross, a song rejected by Rihanna and a trio of club bangers. If Azealia Banks fans have learned anything by now, it’s never to second-guess her. The Harlem rapper finally released her debut album ‘Broke With Expensive Taste’ in November 2014 after a series of painful delays had steadily cooled the once-feverish anticipation, but this follow-up mixtape dropped seemingly without warning at the end of last month. On Twitter, Banks explained she was sharing a free download link to her new music because “someone started leaking ‘Slay-Z’ and I wanted it to come from my hand”.
Capricious? Maybe, but it’s also pretty generous because ‘Slay-Z’ is a blast. What sets Banks apart from her peers is her ability to bounce effortlessly between genres. The mixtape begins with a super-catchy electro jam called ‘Riot’ which features vocals from R&B duo Nina Sky (remember their 2004 hit ‘Move Ya Body’?) before segueing into the swaggering rap of ‘Skylar Diggins’ and ‘Big Talk’. The latter teams Banks with hip hop bigwig Rick Ross and sees her boast about a “pussy wetter than the Great Lakes”.
Then comes the skittering ‘Can’t Do It Like Me’, a brag track Banks says was originally intended for Rihanna, and a trio of club bangers that remind us Banks can sing as well as rap. As she belts out ‘Used To Being Alone’, a sleek repurposing of Tony Igy’s dance instrumental ‘Astronomia’, she seems to draw from her pre-rap years studying musical theatre at New York’s LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts.
‘The Big Big Beat’ is even better, a hip house track with a bassline that recalls Alex Party’s 90s hit ‘Don’t Give Me Your Life’, while the gleefully cheesy EDM of ‘Queen Of Clubs’ sees Banks channel J-Lo as she raps: “So tell the f**kin’ DJ to play my favourite song!” Banks’ bolshy attitude dominates here – “I like unrest, understand?/I like conflict and command,” she raps on ‘Riot’ – but the hints of vulnerability are more intriguing. ‘Slay-Z’ concludes with ‘Along The Coast’, a woozy groove produced by Canadian rising star Kaytranada on which Banks shows a softer, more emotional side. It feels like a surprisingly subdued way to end this mixtape, but then again, we should know by now not to second-guess Azealia Banks.