The real deal: How New York rap sensation Azealia Banks became a style icon

The hype is huge – almost as huge as her ego. Will Self discovers why hip-hop hurricane Azealia Banks is a one-off– while the New Review's Style Shrinks put her unique sense of fashion under the microscope.

"We lived in Harlem just, like, at the beginning of its gentrification, but my mom had our apartment since she was 18, she worked a retail job, but she worked on commission, so she made like, maybe, $75,000 or $80,000 a year, but our rent was so cheap since it was, like, rent-controlled, so our rent was, like, $300 a month for a two-bedroom apartment, so we always had extra money. I grew up very spoiled... like, I had everything: I had computers, I had videogames, I had dress-up clothes, I had lipstick, I had heels – not like, actual heels, play heels – I had dolls, I had birds, I had hamsters. My mom did a good job of keeping me stimulated."

So you can't really do the... "'I've come from the ghetto and it's really hard' thing? Well, I came from the ghetto, but it wasn't hard for us, y'know what I mean? Because I lived on the block with kids who were, like, crack babies. I had other aunts and uncles who lived in other parts of Harlem, and I'd go with my cousins and we'd be out on the street, y'know. I had a healthy juxtaposition of, like, good and bad."

Here we have Azealia Banks in her own words, transcribed from a recording I made in the plush schmoozing room above the White Cube gallery in Hoxton. The 20-year-old rapper, whose irrepressibly jaunty – and equally salacious – chant "212" is a weird paean to her native island, has come to rest on our sceptr'd one. She told me that, "like, Europe and the UK have just been sucking me up", and that she was currently living in London – though when I pressed for details she would only vouchsafe, "South-west."

But the important word in the above is "juxtaposition", because this is one smart young woman. "212" may contain such apparent solecisms as "I just wanna sip that punch with ya peeps and/ sit in that lunch if ya treatin'/ Kick it with ya bitch/ who come from Parisian/ She know where I get mine from and the season," yet when I asked Banks for an exegesis, her tone was professorial. She told me that "212" was largely recounted from the point of view of a hugely self-confident Manhattanite, whose street smarts and farouche attractions lead her to be pursued by all ages, ethnicities, genders and orientations, until the point in the song where she considers what a waste of time this gnarly hurly-burly is.

Professor Banks was poised, unflappable and utterly unembarrassed when it came to explaining the distinction between the c-word and the k-word (the c-word spelled with a k), both of which bedizen her lyrics. Apparently the former is soi-disant "nasty vagina" and therefore a synonym for "bitch", whereas the latter is gay argot for the desirably feminine. Properly corrected, I ventured that possibly her material was more acceptable on our foul-mouthed side of the pond than in her own linguistically correct homeland. But Professor Banks nixed this, saying there were always going to be haters everywhere. I thought I'd been doing pretty well at engaging with her outré material, but when I mused that I probably wasn't the ideal audience for songs such as "212" and "L8r", Banks observed tartly that half of her fans were, like, middle-aged white guys. I suppose I could've bridled at this stereotyping, but she speedily set me straight, pointing out that for a long time her songs existed only in the iTunes libraries of record-company execs.

Banks's sound has now broken out from this digitised ghetto: she has been seized upon by NME and recently finished its multi-date tour with other hot new acts. After 45 minutes in her presence, alternately infuriated, charmed and deeply impressed, I told her: "You're going to be huge – but probably first you should consider being normal size."

She is indeed a rearview-mirror dingle-dangle of a woman, but her ego is huge. She's also extremely beautiful, yet she's no ingénue: she attended the LaGuardia performing arts school and cut her teeth early doing musical theatre with the Tada! Youth Theater. When, in the course of our talk, she burst spontaneously into song, I almost swooned at the coloratura and melodic purity of her voice.

I would say look out for Banks in the future, but that would be more of a solecism than any of her k-words, because it will soon be absolutely impossible to avoid her.

Azealia Banks's debut EP, '212', is out next Sunday

The sunglasses

Gemma Hayward says: Cat-eye sunnies are the shape of the season, so top marks here. The hot-pink shade ties in nicely with the ultra-feminine look for summer, without watering down Azealia's punchy personality.

Hugh montgomery says: From her twitter feed to her sunglasses, (totally Gary Larson's Far Side, btw) Banks's casual battiness puts all those "I'm Mad Me" pop tarts to shame.

The jacket/top

Gemma says: A vintage-style shearling jacket dresses up this simple cartoon T-shirt a treat – part of Banks's signature style is adding pizzazz to the most unlikely of pieces.

Hugh says: Effortlessly eclectic. Should we compare this to a summer's day, it would be one soundtracked by rare funk cuts and featuring unfeasibly convivial games of park Frisbee.

The shorts

Gemma says: Those who dare to wear a pair of classic Daisy Duke denim cut-offs usually do so because they know they have great legs. As far as that goes, there's very little to add here. Bravo!

Hugh says: Because, come rain or shine, there's a never a bad time for denim hotpants when you're in training for the role of festivals queen.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent